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All That Jazz: Music Makers Find Opportunity and Education in Pennsylvania's Capital

By Kelly Gallagher

Centuries before the word "jazz" ever appeared in print, the genre was already very much alive, changing and growing as musicians from different backgrounds came together to create something new and unique. This evolution continues today. While New Orleans is largely considered to be the birthplace of jazz, another city- Harrisburg, Pennsylvania- is playing an active role in the continued development and advancement of this uniquely American musical genre thanks to the efforts of the Central Pennsylvania Friends of Jazz, an organization that has been dedicated to supporting local jazz musicians and promoting jazz education in the Harrisburg area since 1980.

"Imagine a community where there was no live music...how sad that would be," says Central Pennsylvania Friends of Jazz Office Manager Steve Rudolph. "Live music- in our case, jazz- is the soul of a community. Most people take for granted that the music they want to listen to will always be available to them. Central Pennsylvania Friends of Jazz is committed to presenting quality live jazz across our area."

In addition to providing opportunities for seasoned jazz artists to perform, Central Pennsylvania Friends of Jazz also provides jazz education to budding Harrisburg-area musicians. Each June, Central Pennsylvania Friends of Jazz hosts a jazz camp for young musicians between the ages of 10 and 21. The jazz faculty at nearby Messiah College and a variety of nationally known jazz musicians are on staff to help campers improve their improvisation skills and learn jazz history, theory, composition, and other elements that will help them advance their understanding of jazz. A free concert is presented to the public at the conclusion of the camp.

Central Pennsylvania Friends of Jazz also offers a youth band program for grade school and high school students. This is not a cookie-cutter music course that teaches the same curriculum each year. Like the jazz art form, youth band evolves to suit the participants, taking cues from their strengths and passions in order to create a product that complements its pupils. All instruments- even instruments not traditionally found in jazz, such as the accordion, oboe, and flute- are welcomed in youth band. The band presents the Harrisburg area with year-round concerts, as well as performances at the Central Pennsylvania Jazz Festival, Jazz Picnic, Harrisburg ArtsFest, and many other events. Both jazz camp and youth band are excellent opportunities for kids in and around Harrisburg to connect with peers who are interested in jazz, and no audition is required in order to attend either program. More educational opportunities for budding Harrisburg jazz musicians are also in the works.

"CPFJ is in the process of developing "Jazz for Juniors" to bring jazz education to fifth and sixth grade classes in our region," says Rudolph. "From a flexible curriculum, local jazz musicians would play for the students and give them a simple history of jazz."

Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, Ella Fitzgerald, John Coltrane. These are jazz legends, whose names are synonymous with immense musical skill and influence. And maybe- just maybe- the next jazz legend is in training in Harrisburg, waiting for his or her chance to liven up the scene.

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About The Author

Kelly Gallagher studied creative writing at SUNY Oswego and Vermont College of Fine...

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