JazzU – A High Note for High Schoolers

Since its founding in 2007, JazzU has become the premier jazz education program in St. Louis for talented high school students who share a passion for the performance of jazz music. Open to music students, grade 6-12, the JazzU program provides intense training to those who pass its rigorous audition. In fact, of the 130+ students who audition, only 60 or so are accepted. Many JazzU students go on to perform with Missouri’s All-State Jazz band and attend some of the best university music programs in the country.

Phil Dunlap, Jazz St. Louis

JazzU’s founder, Phil Dunlap, says the goal of JazzU is to provide an opportunity for middle and high school students to advance their musical abilities and also to develop their love for jazz. In doing this JazzU is cultivating the next generation of leaders in jazz. “Most of our students don’t go on to become professional jazz musicians, but they end up with a life-long appreciation of jazz music and live performance. They help jazz thrive whether they’re on stage or in the audience,” says Mr. Dunlap.

Intensive Training from the Best Teachers

All JazzU students are required to participate in their school bands, and most work with private teachers. What JazzU provides is more focused, intensive instruction on how to play jazz. Instruction is provided from local teachers, as well as professional artists that come to perform at the Bistro, Jazz St. Louis’ live performance venue. And the Jazz St. Louis “artist-in-residence” program gives students a chance to perform with some of the best jazz musicians in the world. Some students develop personal relationships with the artists. Dunlap recalls one student, Nathan Pence, who met acclaimed trumpet player, Terrel Stafford, at JazzU. Now Pence studies under Stafford at Temple University and plays bass in his quintet when Stafford returns to perform at the Bistro. Other students have gone on to receive full and partial scholarships to universities nationwide, including Julliard, perhaps the best music school in the world.

JazzU – A Truly Different Music Program

JazzU is one of the only music programs in St. Louis focused exclusively on jazz performance. Students learn improvisation technique, jazz history, and are exposed to a wide range of jazz styles. And thanks to generous corporate and private donations, JazzU is free for the students. Often the program will pay for private lessons and even provide transportation. The advantages that JazzU offers are extensive. Not only are students given accessibility to top tier talent, other JazzU resources include expert teachers, state-of-the-art performance spaces, and a proven, diverse curriculum. “Students are opened to a larger world of jazz that’s bigger than their high schools can offer,” Dunlap goes on to say.

JazzU Teaches More than Jazz

Beyond musicianship, JazzU teaches students teamwork and learn that being a jazz musician requires responsibility that’s greater than being part of a bigger unit, like playing in a section with many more players of the same instrument. Performing in a jazz combo teaches creative choice making and being accountable to the group for those choices. “It’s challenging because young people have to figure out a musical landscape that affects the course of the group and then deal with those choices, right or wrong. It can be incredibly intimidating, but it builds confidence, independent thinking, and accountability,” says Dunlap, who is an accomplished jazz pianist in his own right. Lifelong friendships are also found among the JazzU students. On a weekly basis the students get to be around other kids who really value the music. These friendships go on long after their time at JazzU ends.

Seeing is Believing

JazzU students perform two showcase concerts at the Bistro, with the top groups performing during an exclusive weekend at the Bistro with a guest artist. Students also do a jam session at the Krantzberg Arts Center Studio. The top group, including the JazzU All-Stars occasionally play at community events. You can catch JazzU performances this weekend! Friday, March 8, 2019 – Jazz St. Louis Gala 2019Sunday, March 10, 2019 – JazzU Big Band