Jazz Speaks for Life

“Jazz Speaks for Life” – Martin Luther King Jr.


Educational inequality in America has many root causes.  To fix these issues, our country will have to revolutionize many different aspects of our education system such as core subject curriculum, classroom management systems, and student engagement.   We at Jazz Empowers believe that jazz education reform in low income schools needs to be one of these areas.  If we want to preserve jazz and fight education inequality, we need to provide low income students the opportunity to a high caliber jazz education.

Jazz was formed by great Americans that grew up in poverty.   Blues music, the predecessor of jazz, was formed by musicians who grew up in the poverty of the Mississippi Delta.   Buddy Bolden, who many consider to be the founder of jazz, grew up in poverty after his father died from Yellow Fever when he was six.  Louis Armstrong, the father of jazz improvisation, grew up in one of the roughest neighborhoods in New Orleans and worked many odd jobs as a child to support his single mother.    Trombonist Curtis Fuller’s immigrant parents died when he was a young child, and he was forced to grow up in a Detroit orphanage.  The list of additional jazz legends that grew up in poverty is staggering including Ornette ColemanBillie HolidayElla FitzgeraldCharles Mingus, and many more.  These pioneers did not only overcome their personal poverty through jazz, they also helped found and contribute to America’s most prized cultural contribution to the world.

The solidarity that today’s low income youth can find with the pioneers of jazz has the potential not only to change the course of their own lives, but also the future of jazz.   Just like the young Ella Fitzgerald used jazz as a way to escape the unfair reality of growing up in poverty, today’s low income youth who encounter similar hardships can use the dynamic nature of jazz to channel their emotions.  The creativity in the improvised solos, intimate collaboration between band members, and diversity in styles all contribute to the passion that jazz musicians pour into the music.  This necessity of providing low income youth with an opportunity to a high caliber jazz education can best be summed up in the wise words of the great drummer Art Blakey.

“Jazz washes away the dust of everyday life.”

Jazz Empowers