Students get chance to jam with professionals

By KatherineGamby

Chicago Public School students are getting the opportunity to perform jazz pieces with local master musicians.

The Jazz Institute of Chicago and the Chicago Cultural Center have partnered to create an opportunity for high school students and jazz professionals to jam together in monthly Jazz Links Jam Sessions.

“It gives them automatic feedback on their development as a young musician,” said Diane Chandler-Marshall, education director for the Jazz Institute of Chicago.

The sessions allow the students to perform in front of audiences and build confidence and performance experience before they attend college.

“They get a chance to perform at major venues in front of people who wouldn’t have ever known they existed,” said Ken Chaney, pianist and member of the Board of Directors for the Jazz Institute of Chicago.

The Jazz Links Jam Sessions are a part of education initiatives offered through the institute, which include an artists’ residency program, where professional artists are sent to various Chicago Public Schools for eight to 10 weeks to work with students. Other initiatives offered are a Jazz Links Student Council, a Jazz Ambassadors Camp and a scholarship to assist students with music lessons.  Out of all of the other intiatives,  links sessions are still the most effective way to gain performance experience.

“This is a traditional jazz approach, jam sessions …  are a traditional part of the development of a jazz artist,” Chandler-Marshall said. “All of our great and well-known jazz artists had opportunities like this … this is probably how they got bit by the bug.”

Being an alumna of Columbia, Chandler-Marshall said she appreciates what artists contribute to society and education, which is why, she said, the sessions are important.

“This is a part of my calling and to me it’s about supporting the next generation of artists,” Chandler-Marshall said. “I’ve always felt that they are a very important part of our society [and] our ability to have a well-rounded view of education and citizenry.”

Zakiya Powell, an intern, has been working with the Jazz Institute for eight years and said the program is an important experience for aspiring jazz artists.

“Many students don’t get the opportunity to play out on the jazz scene because you’re too young to get into clubs,” said Powell, a freshman jazz studies major at Columbia and intern at the Jazz Institute of Chicago. “This program really helps them with that opportunity.”

She began her career with the Jazz Institute of Chicago when she was 12 years old as a volunteer and now works there part time as of last year. Powell plays the trombone, and she started to participate in the Jazz Links Sessions when she was 15 years old.

“It really got my confidence up,” Powell said.  “When you work up your confidence, you can accomplish anything when you’re on stage.”

Powell said she knows the importance of the program to students who commute to the city and would like to see the sessions become more frequent so they can participate more often.

“I would like to see it go all-year around because it’s a really good experience for students to participate in,” Powell said.

Though she is certain of where she would like to see the sessions progress in the future, Chaney is only certain of the direction.

“I don’t know where it’s going, but it’s definitely going in the right direction,” Chaney said.

For more information on the Jazz Links Jam Sessions, including dates and information on other education initiatives offered at the Jazz Institute, visit