For the last few Sundays, Kyla Gilmore, 11 years old and a budding piano player, has been taking part in the Chica Power Residency, a free program for girls interested in playing jazz.
For Kyla, who has been trained in classical piano since the age of 5, learning to play more like Keith Jarrett and less like Mozart has been a fun experience. “I like learning how to improvise, because I’ve never done that musically,” she said.
Begun the first weekend in March, the five-week Chica Power program is an initiative by Jazz House Kids that aims to give young women musicians an artistic edge and the tools needed to break down barriers to a life-long love of playing jazz. So if Kyla is learning how to play like Keith Jarrett, she’s also learning how to play like Shirley Scott.
“Despite a growing presence of jazz in schools and strong programs in colleges and universities, and the fact that females make up more than half of the population, we see only a small fraction of young women playing jazz across the county,” said Melissa Walker, President & Founder of Jazz House Kids. “We know women want to try this music out because the response to this program was overwhelming.”
The program is led by two accomplished musicians and educators, bassist/cellist Jennifer Vincent and pianist/composer Nicki Denner. Each week, students learn about jazz pioneers such as Shirley Scott, Mary Lou Williams, Melba Liston and Marian McPartland, and present day jazz icons such as Esperanza Spalding, Anat Cohen, Terri Lyne Carrington and Geri Allen. Students break out into ensembles by level, learning compositions by female jazz artists.
Each week there is also a special guest: last Sunday it was Regina Carter, who is widely considered to be the foremost jazz violinist of her generation.
The Chica Power Residency is the newest addition to Jazz House Kids’ Young Women in Jazz Initiative, which supports young women’s continued success. Funded in part by Montclair Fund for Women, the initiative provides young women with private lessons plus need-based tuition assistance to study at the Jazz House and participate in the nationally recognized Jazz House Summer Workshop. Last August, renowned clarinetist Anat Cohen led a special masterclass for the female musicians, who represented about 24% of the 131 campers.
“I love that Chica Power is a positive experience for girls and young women, showcasing talented female musicians and great role models,” said Kyla’s mom, Georgette Gilmore. “All this, and it’s free!”
On May 15, Jazz House Kids will pick up the conversation about women instrumentalists again for its annual event, Inside the Jazz Note, with special guest, percussionist Sheila E. (of Prince fame), who will also do a special program with Chica Power the night before. Hosted by Christian McBride, there will be a master class on the campus of Montclair State University for 150+ high school band students and their teachers from across New Jersey. In the evening, there will be a benefit concert and conversation for the public. For more information, visit https://jazzhousekids.org/events/inside-the-jazz-note-2/.