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Music lessons

On a Tuesday morning in November, at Roxbury’s Paige Academy, dozens of children broke into a scat choir.

“Ba-ha-ba-bee-ba-bop, Ba-ha-ba-bee-ba-bop,” they shouted, led by Northeastern music professor Leonard Brown.

Brown, fellow music professor and African-American studies chair Emmett Price and three other musicians were giving the students from Paige — a nonprofit school for children aged six months to 12 years — an up-close-and-personal experience with jazz.

To watch a video of the event, please click here:

The event, part of the John Coltrane Memorial Concert Educational Outreach Program, was one of many that Brown and Price have staged over the years at schools in Boston and Cambridge. Brown estimates that since 1992, when the two began the program, it has reached more than 10,000 students.

“We need to let the kids hear the music,” said Brown, who played tenor sax on songs such as Coltrane’s “Equinox.” “It’s as simple as that. Music is part of you from the time you are born to your last breath on earth.”

Brown said showcasing Coltrane’s music at Paige Academy — which he called “a leader in terms of Afro-centric education for young kids”— was particularly appropriate. “They know how important music is within the African-American culture,” he said.

The outreach program’s ultimate goal is to expose students to qualities such as perseverance, focus, positive self-image and the willingness to learn, said Brown. With younger students, the goal is more straightforward: to bring music into their lives.

“It’s important to see professional musicians up close,” said Price, who played electric keyboard for the event. “That’s how music is passed down — it’s about sharing that passion.

“It’s not about us performing for them. It’s about the interaction between the musicians and the kids.”
Over the course of the morning, students sang along to a jazzy version of the “Itsy Bitsy Spider” and sashayed around the room in conga lines. As Brown jammed on his tenor sax, one young student edged nearer to Price to get a better look at his keyboard.

For Northeastern student Brittany Wells, who sang Billie Holiday’s “God Bless the Child,” the performance of the quintet—which also included a drummer and bassist—gave the students a chance to learn about musical instruments.

“After the performance, they came up to us and talked about scatting and how they understood what the instruments were — the drums, the keyboard, the bass,” said Wells, ’11, a music industry major.

The outreach program opens up new creative possibilities for even the youngest students, said Paige Academy cofounder Dr. Angela Paige-Cook.

“When Northeastern brings in the jazz ensemble, it allows the children to see people who look like them playing instruments,” she said, noting that the outreach program has returned to the academy for the past 17 years. “That inspires them to say, ‘If they can do it, then I can do it.’ It’s an opportunity to showcase what’s available in terms of hobbies and maybe even careers.”

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