In 1998, Ed Joffe, music director of NJCU, asked if I could create a vocal jazz program at New Jersey City University. I said that I would try. I've been performing in one way or the other my entire life. I've learned from some of the finest jazz musicians in the world and created twelve albums under my name, but the thought of being a teacher was scary yet intriguing. I fell in love with teaching and working with young singers. I am dedicated to exposing singers, young and old, on to the history of jazz, ear training, repertoire, rhythm, beginner piano, lyric interpretation, lyric improvisation, scat singing, arranging, stage presence and the business (and what a business it is).
Along in 1999, my good friend, Don Braden asked if I would take Dena DeRose's chair as the voice teacher for the Jazz for Teens class at the NJPAC on Saturday's. I said, yes, especially when I learned that Phillip Thomas, the creator of our program, along with Dorthaan Kirk of WBGO, mandated that all the teachers must be performers and good teachers. The teachers were given great respect, concerts once a year in The Victoria Theater. Each year a different teacher performed along with a famous jazz icon in concert who would talk to the students before or after their concert. We brought in Horace Silver, Cedar Walton, Joe Lovano, Ron Carter and Bennie Golson to name a few. The students were exposed to a myriad of great jazz artists and they heard their teachers perform along side the masters.
Joanna Gibson was our program coordinator and she worked very hard and ran a tight ship at Jazz for Teens. In corporate companies and performing arts centers, one can always expect changes when a new administration comes in or when a pivotal leader departs. Joanna departed for a new married life and was not replaced for three years. Many wonderful people I enjoyed working with moved on, ie. Jeff Griglak and Sanaz Hojreh and Joris Teepe, our bass teacher for many years.
In 2011, NJPAC hired a new CEO, Mr. John Schreiber, a famed jazz producer known for working with George Wein. A gentleman with many accomplishments under his belt and a love for jazz; what could be better than that? Jazz for Teens was in dire need of strong leadership and advertisement.
The teachers were ecstatic to welcome in a real jazz lover as CEO of NJPAC. Fortunately at the same time, great bassist Christian McBride and fine vocalist, Melissa Walker started "Jazz House Kids" in Montclair, NJ. Our jazz community is a family, even when we squabble within the family, jazzers are family around the world, so we welcome another wonderful program for teens to New Jersey.
I have loved teaching at NJPAC and nothing would make me happier than to see Jazz for Teens thrive in a new season. I love all the teachers I have worked with; Don Braden, head of our jazz program, Mike Ledonne, Dion Parson, Andy McKee, Ron Jackson, Bruce Williams, Steve Colson, Valery Ponomarev, Earl McIntyre. Thank you all for your great musicianship and inspiration.
I'd like to thank all of the students who wrote to me when they heard I was leaving. All good things must come to an end for new beginnings to start. Each student wrote beautiful statements about our NJPAC Jazz for Teens Program and me as their teacher. I've shared these statements and a few photos as a testament and memory to the past 14 years and the knowledge and love that was exchanged. I've given my best to be a good teacher. I'm so proud of what our students have accomplished. I love, love, love them and wish the program and all the new students, teachers and administrators the best of luck.