Find Out What Jazz and Democracy Have in Common

What do jazz and democracy in New York have in common? They are both improvisational, they both celebrate personal freedom, and they both encourage individual expression. They both help people find common ground, and they both inspire people to overcome adversity. That's a hole-in-one for the Altman Foundation, which loves to support arts & culture programs with a hidden youth-development agenda. (Read Altman Foundation: New York City Grants).

In 2013, the Altman Foundation announced a $75,000 arts and culture grant to Jazz at Lincoln Center, Inc. The purpose of this grant was to support and expand the nonprofit organization's Middle School Jazz Academy for underserved communities in New York City. The nonprofit's director, Wynton Marsalis, visited schools around the country and observed that jazz education was vastly inferior to that of other fine arts training. In response, he created a continuum of jazz education programs for children, teenagers, and even adults.

The Middle School Jazz Academy that Altman supported offers tuition-free instrumental jazz instruction to sixth to eighth graders in the five boroughs. These students meet every Saturday from 9am to 5pm from October through May to practice, with a performance at the end of each semester.

The Altman foundation doesn't fund art for art's sake. Instead, it believes in art for a purpose. Altman also believes that art programming for young people is most effective, so most of the arts programs it supports are for kids and teenagers. Therefore, the foundation spreads its support among programs for figure skating, mural painting, creative writing, choral music and more.

As Director Wynton Marsalis puts it, “There’s a whole relationship between the history of the music and race relations in our country. Jazz just deals with a lot of different aspects of our way of life.” And perhaps with a little practice and a lot of mentoring, youngsters in New York can begin to see the connection between jazz and democracy in their own lives too.