By Glen Mason
Contributing Feature Writer
New Journal and Guide
Since its inception the Jazz Legacy Foundation, Inc. has held to its mission with aplomb. As it sets out to embark upon its third “jazz-tastic” weekend with stellar jazz concerts, greet-ups and impromptu soirees, it seems appropriate that the salute to jazz, its preservation and music education highlight the region’s 2015 jazz performance calendar with an internationally renown lineup.
The schedule of events begins Thursday, Nov. 12 with a kickoff party at Roger Brown’s in Portsmouth, VA. Then the venue switches Friday Nov. 13 through Sunday, November 15, 2015 to the Hampton Roads Convention Center in Hampton, VA. The jazz foundation’s lineup of jazz artists scheduled to perform puts the region on national and international jazz promotional schedules, as well as those of the artists.
The JLF, Inc. mission statement says it was founded to “transform lives through charitable support by way of educational scholarships, creative arts, leadership development, mentoring, workshops, and community partnerships; all with the aspirations of enhancing the appreciation and preservation of the Art of Jazz, America’s only true original art form.”
With this year’s weekend heading toward a sellout with the addition of a jazz and gospel brunch on Sunday, I interviewed Jazz Legacy Foundation’s president and CEO Alvin Keels and vice president and treasurer Jerilyn Horne.
NJG: Has the development of the Jazz Legacy Foundation exceeded your expectations?
Keels/JLF: Yes. We have grown very fast over the past three years. Starting out with just 500 in attendance for our first gala in 2013 and now to over 1100 per night for a three-day weekend of world-class jazz talent.
“The overall reception and support of the community and schools as to what we are trying to accomplish for jazz has been humbling. Many people and organizations are taking notice and are excited about helping us raise funds to meet our mission goals. We have been able to support students and music programs in schools in each of our three years of existence. We are also attracting exceptional jazz talent to our region as artists are eager to support what we are doing.
NJG: With the cutbacks in high school arts and music budgets, how has the JLF tried to impact and support these creative and cultural expressions?
Keels/JLF: Students are always hungry for the arts, however the cutbacks continue to reduce opportunities for creative expression. The awareness of cutbacks and getting to know the true needs in the schools to provide opportunity, instruments and programs for their students, has created an urgency on our part to do as much as we can to assist in filling in the gaps to meet those needs and ensure that the music (instruction) will continue at level that is beneficial to students. Music education is key to academic achievement. Studies have proven that.”
NJG: Since you book the artists what have been their impressions of the organization? Or, is a JLF concert just another gig to them?
Keels/JLF: The artists have been great! And they think what we are doing is great. They have been very supportive and eager to help bring their talents in support of our mission. Being that most of them started at very young ages as musicians themselves, they understand the importance of keeping quality music education in our schools and providing students with the materials and guidance to make them successful musicians and better overall students.
Many of our artists are also educators, at schools and universities, and are always willing to participate in workshops and feed young musical minds with knowledge. The great Karen Briggs gave an outstanding workshop to the Portsmouth music students last year and this year we will have workshops conducted by Brian Culbertson and Jackiem Joyner.
NJG: What do you envision five years from now for The Jazz Legacy Foundation?
Keels/JLF: We would like to see the Hampton Roads area become a major center for exceptional jazz talent through our organization and strong music jazz programs for our schools. Our current vision is to be able to significantly support each of the schools music departments in our own back yard (the seven cities in the Hampton Roads Area), and to have a solid footing of support and impact in music and jazz through the programs that we offer for many years to come. We are well on our way, currently including Portsmouth, Norfolk, and now Hampton in our efforts.
Jerilyn Horne, Vice-President and Treasurer
NJG: Are there plans for the JLF to create its own youth jazz ensembles or orchestra?
Horne: We do hope to do this in the not too distant future creating a central program to make a significant impact on a group of young musicians that can represent the works of the Jazz Legacy Foundation. Stay tuned.
NJG: How have the music departments at various schools you have helped expressed their support and/or gratitude for what you have done … and what you plan to do?
Horne: The schools have been extremely grateful and enthusiastic about our plans for them. We have been invited to see programs and performances and we are highly impressed with the talent in our schools. This past year Mrs. Gwen Jenkins of the Portsmouth Public Schools music department put on a fantastic awards program to distribute the funds that JLF had provided them.
NJG: How would you rank the JLF concerts and the region’s jazz calendar in Hampton Roads against some of the national concerts you have attended?
Horne: We are avid lovers of the incredible musicianship of jazz and travel to many jazz festivals and performances all over the country in order to scout talent, and for the exposure and to experience the magnificent talents out there. Seeing what works and what could be better about how we experience the music. We also note how other (jazz heritage) organizations impact their communities. There are countless and wonderful opportunities to listen to great jazz all over, indoor, outdoor, summer, winter spring and fall, large and small. This is a unique opportunity to acquire the knowledge to create a unique jazz experience based on what we see and take from it what we feel makes the JLF experience stand out on its own.
NJG: What can jazz fans and your supporters expect in future events?
Horne: “There are many ideas simmering about ways to continue and improve on the Jazz Legacy experience. At this years gala, we will kick off part of our “Instruments for Change” program, accepting tax deductible donations of gently used musical instruments to distribute to our participating schools.
We are developing and improving our membership program and benefits for our gala supporters and exploring other unique ideas for supporting music and jazz in the schools and communities.”