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Learnin' the Blues During Black History Month


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By Lookout Staff

February 22, 2024 -- School District students were immersed in the legacy of the blues during a crash course offered by the New York non-profit JazzReach during Black History Month.

JazzReach staged a series of "engaging and interactive assemblies" that "showcased the evolution of the blues from its roots in the 19th-century American South to its influence on contemporary genres," District officials said.

JazzReach assembly at SMMUSDJazzReach assemblies durung Black History Month (Images courtesy of SMMUSD)

JazzReach assembly at SMMUSD

Using live music, videos and PowerPoint presentations, JazzReach traced the influences of the genre on rhythm & blues, funk, gospel, rock and hip hop.

“The assemblies were more than just educational experiences," said Tom Whaley, the District's Visual and Performing Arts coordinator. "They were transformative journeys into the heart and soul of American music.

“By delving into the rich tradition of the blues, we aimed to instill a greater appreciation, awareness and understanding of African American heritage among our students.”

Whaley led the effort to bring JazzReach to the District and secured grants to pay for the organization's four-day visit to Elementary and Middle schools in Santa Monica and Malibu.

Two assemblies were held at each middle school, one for the fourth and fifth graders for each elementary school pathway and one for the sixth through eighth graders, District officials said.

"Each assembly provided a unique opportunity for students to connect with history, culture, and music in a meaningful way," officials said.

"With a three-pronged approach incorporating multimedia elements and live performances, the presentations captivated audiences and left a lasting impression."

The students learned "new ideas for improvisation, and how to play together more effectively, and how to perform at a higher level in front of a crowd," District officials said.

On the final day, the JazzReach professional combo joined the Samohi Jazz Band for a lunch-time concert at the Discovery cafeteria after three two-hour rehearsals to prepare for the performance.

District Superintendent Dr. Antonio Shelton said the assemblies offered valuable lessens beyond music.

“As we look back on this year’s Black History Month celebration with JazzReach, we remain committed to fostering appreciation and understanding among our students,” Shelton said.

“Through initiatives like these, we honor the past, inspire the present and shape the future.”

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