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Elementary Students Bop Together In New Jazz Program

jazz academy
Ambriehl Crutchfield
Eleven-year-old Sajid Hossain practices his solo for International Jazz Festival.

"A one, a two; a one, two; a one, two, three and…"

A drummer starts pumping out a solo.

Twenty-eight Cincinnati Public School students are getting a new opportunity to learn and play music.

The Elementary Jazz Academy is an after-school program that offers free transportation, instruments and snacks to students throughout the city in hopes of lowering barriers to access one-on-one sessions.

CPS Fine Arts Curriculum Manager Isidore Rudnick runs the program. He says the beauty of the genre is all instruments contribute to the dynamic rhythms and its roots in African traditions. "This amazing music that was created in the turn of the century by African American musicians who, for generations, have overcome immense obstacles," he says.

Rudnick says teaching the roots of jazz is just as important as jamming out.

Credit Ambriehl Crutchfield / WVXU

CPS music teachers recommended 4th, 5th and 6th grade students to participate. To be eligible, students must attend at least 90% of school; have no more than three discipline referrals in a year; and no suspension or expulsion. The student and their guardian have to attend an evaluation and go through an interview to be considered.

Rudnick says every family that was interviewed and agreed to the rehearsal schedule were admitted into the group.

During a practice, Rudnick does a call-and-response to see if the students know their history.

" 'When the Saints Go Marching In' is an example of a…"

"New Orleans street march" the students yell back in a scattered ripple.

"What kinds of functions or events would this New Orleans street march be played at?" Rudnick asks.

The students stagger their shouts on top of each other: "at funerals;" "weddings;" "celebrations."

Students come from Price Hill, Kennedy Heights and North Avondale to jam to the lively black bop of jazz.

The group is diverse in background and in musical experience; most have one or two years of experience.

Credit Ambriehl Crutchfield / WVXU
Ten-year-old Anita Gomez warms up before practice starts.

Eleven-year-old Osayanare Sherman goes to College Hill Fundamental Academy. She played the xylophone at school but learned how to play the trumpet seven weeks ago. She says the hardest part is "the notes. It's a lot more notes than the instrument I use to play and its different ways to play it with your mouth." 

She says she doesn’t like practicing after school because it keeps her away from studying for the Iowa exam to test into Walnut Hills. But her mom, Cecelia Aikhionbare, says the program was her daughter's idea.

"I think it’s a good experience," Aikhionbare says. "It gives her a chance to meet kids from various parts of the city and it helps her through the challenge of how to manage her time."

The students will show their skills Saturday at the Cincinnati Public Schools International Jazz Festival from 9 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. at the Aronoff Center