The blog of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation
By Peter Leggett, Walker West Music Academy
The Academy's youth jazz ensembles have had an exciting summer performing throughout the Twin Cities at festivals and community events. Public performance is one of the pillars of the program and we believe getting out there and playing in front of people is one of the best ways to help young musicians develop. Our youth jazz ensembles rehearse weekly and focus on developing technical and theoretical skills. They also work on developing a repertoire of music that they can play at performances. A unique feature of this approach is the way in which we will often mix and match different players from different groups to perform together. This relates to a fundamental of a jazz which is the ability to play with others without rehearsing using a collective knowledge of repertoire. In this sense, the program models the way that any professional jazz musician approaches collaboration making performances exciting and challenging exercises in musical communication.
This summer, the youth jazz ensembles demonstrated this approach as they performed on the main stage of the Twin Cities Jazz Festival in June, were featured at the MN History Center's 9 Nights of Music in July and performed at the Freedom Jazz Festival in Minneapolis in August. Each of these performances provided the opportunity for students to showcase their skills in front of audiences large and small. It is estimated that the audience for the group's performance at the Twin Cities Jazz Festival was close to 1,000! The Freedom Jazz Festival brought several hundred out during the day to experience performances from many of the Twin Cities finest jazz musicians along with the Walker West Youth Jazz Ensemble. The MN History Center 9 Nights of Music provided an intimate venue to share the stage with T. Mychael Rambo and Half Pintz Drill Team. Be on the lookout for more youth jazz ensemble performances out in the community this fall by checking out the Academy's event calendar.
For more information about Walker West Music Academy and its history, please visit us at