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Seattle's KPLU, Jazz and Kids: Who Could Ask For Anything More?

Students at Seattle-area Jackson High School practice in the jazz band. Mike Sharpe hide caption

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Mike Sharpe

I got rhythm
I got music
I got my girl
Who could ask for anything more?

"I Got Rhythm," George and Ira Gershwin's iconic jazz standard has been performed by some of the finest singers, from Judy Garland and Bing Crosby to Ella Fitzgerald and Barbra Streisand.

Each school is paired with a professional jazz artist, who gives them tips and pointers. Mike Sharpe hide caption

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Mike Sharpe

But perhaps, even after all these years, no other performance of the piece could do more to instill a love for jazz in yet another generation than Jackson High School's rendition of the classic for NPR Member station KPLU's School of Jazz program.

Now it its seventh year, KPLU's School of Jazz pairs a dozen Seattle-area high school jazz bands with professional musicians. These mentors work with the student musicians to prepare them to record a song for a compilation CD, which KPLU features on the air and is sold at school fundraisers and on the KPLU website.

Once the station selects the participating schools, KPLU asks each school's band leader to pick an instrument and share their suggestions for a mentor to work with the full band. KPLU then approaches the professional musicians on behalf of the schools and asks if they'd like to participate.

This is the second year that Jackson High School's jazz band has participated in KPLU's School of Jazz program. Mike Sharpe hide caption

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Mike Sharpe

"As a jazz station we are well connected," says Brenda Goldstein-Young, promotions director at KPLU. "We have our finger on the pulse of the jazz community."

Each mentor meets with their band a minimum of four times over the course of a month to help the young performers prepare one song for recording. Many mentors meet with their bands more often than is required. Not a small feat, Goldstein-Young says.

"For many schools music lab is usually at 6:30 a.m.," she says.

After the mentoring sessions, each band spends three hours in a Seattle recording studio recording and mixing their song.

More About School of Jazz

The program is getting national recognition. This year the National Association of Broadcasters recognized KPLU's School of Jazz with a Service to America Award, honoring the program's contributions to the station's local community.

In 2010, KPLU School of Jazz won the MySource Education Innovation Award and grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. This award recognizes public broadcasting stations for the use of pioneering approaches and emerging digital technologies to serve the educational needs of their communities on-air, online and in the classroom.

School of Jazz's seventh compilation CD is now available. If you can't get to one of the participating high schools in the Seattle area, it's also available on KPLU's website.

As fun as it is, it's not all about the recording of the CD for Lesley Moffat, director of jazz bands and percussion at Jackson High School.

"As teachers, we don't get much time to play our own horns," she says. "It's good to have the mentors modeling for the students."

From the mentors to the people at the recording studio, everyone treats the kids like pros, Moffat says.

"This experience gives the students responsibility and the kids really step up," Moffat says. "The younger kids see this experience and want to be a part of it too."

Aside from arranging for a bus to transport the students to the Seattle recording studio, the School of Jazz program doesn't cost the schools anything. That price makes the program possible for Moffat and Jackson High.

"We could work on some tunes ourselves and even pay for the recording studio," she says. "It would be cool, but we couldn't do the other things like bring in a mentor or market the CD, with our budget. We could do one or the other, but not both."

Walter Cano practices the trumpet for Jackson High School's jazz band. Mike Sharpe hide caption

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Mike Sharpe

One of Moffat's students, Walter Cano, had heard previous editions of School of Jazz on KPLU and wanted to be part of the program so much that he sent emails to the program's directors encouraging them to pick his school.

Cano's school was chosen, and he has participated in the program for the last two years.

The first year, Jackson High was paired with trumpeter Chad McCullough, which was perfect for Cano, a trumpeter himself.

"He is an amazing soloist," Cano says. "He added different ideas and his expertise. He brought more of our potential out and made the band sound better."

The expertise McCullough shared with the students went beyond the notes on the page, Cano says.

"He told us that it really doesn't matter who you are as much as it matters what you put into the music. It's the time you invest in becoming a whole musician. As long as you are willing to invest the time, you can become a great player too," Cano says.

According to Cano, the best part of the entire program is the recording session at a studio.

"Recording in a studio is completely different than playing live," he says. "Not a lot of kids get that kind of experience."

After several practice sessions with a mentor, the students perform their song at a recording studio in Seattle. Mike Sharpe hide caption

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Mike Sharpe

For Cano, the training from his school's mentors has reinforced his desire to make jazz music his career. In the fall he'll be attending Michigan State University as a jazz studies major.

"This program gave me insight, reinforced my interest in jazz, helped me as a player and broadened my view of jazz," he says.

And, of course, Cano adds, it's pretty cool to hear yourself playing on the radio.

Who could ask for anything more?