Category Archives: Education

‘Seeking light through sound’: It Takes the Village

By Adrianna Gardner

The outdoor drumming that wafted through the air last Friday night around Leimert Park Village took me back to the days when I lived in Ghana: those familiar sounds calling me back to that West African country that I still consider home.

Those sounds in the park made me want to live there – literally pitch a tent and live there, in the park across from the African-themed stores where old men chewing licorice root sit on their stools and banter about black life in America and “the good ‘ol days” when “kids had manners.”

Women with their babies sauntering from shop to shop, their little ones gazing up from their strollers at the brightly colored painting outside an array of arts’ studios, while in the park dreadlocked sisters danced to the beat of the drums near the cascading fountain; the water smacks in rhythm with the beat and the spirit of camaraderie and interconnectedness of the people who come there from all around the Southland.

It’s the pulse that drew journalist and broadcaster, Peter J. Harris, to the Village’s storefront performance gallery, The World Stage. “It just gets a hold of you,” says Harris, producer of the Friday and Saturday night concert events there, which includes this weekend’s Women in Jazz event hosted by …but can she play?

The Stage was founded in 1989 by the late jazz drummer, Billy Higgins, and poet/community arts activist, Kamau Daáood, hosting weekly creative writing workshops, music and vocal training programs, and live weekend concert performances, including its popular Sunday night jam, Sisters of Jazz.

This grassroots community-supported non-profit organization has birthed the renowned Anansi Writers Workshop (notable alumni include Michael Datcher (Raising Fences), Ruth Forman, Derrick I.M. Gilbert, Jenoyne Adams (Selah’s Bed) and Harris, also a published poet, essayist and fiction writer.

Jazz legends Max Roach, Ron Carter, Elvin Jones, Pharoah Sanders and contemporary artists, such as Geri Allen, have performed at The Stage.

“What makes this place work is the love of art – and the people who are affiliated with it really dig the culture and the writing and the music,” says Harris.

He discovered The Stage in the summer o 1991, shortly after moving to California from Chocolate City. He was in Leimert Park interviewing Daáood for a magazine article.

“In the middle of the interview, I asked him, ‘What about this place, The World Stage,’ ‘cause I’d heard about it from some friends, and he said, ‘All you need to do is look up,’” Harris said with a laugh.

They were standing in front of The Stage. But Harris says he didn’t even realize he was there. “It really is a place that you’ll miss if you don’t look up.”

Patrice Quinn performing at The World Stage

Sandwiched between a row of arts and culture shops along Degnan – with food and wares of the African American and African Disapora — The World Stage is a humble, unassuming landmark. Inside, it’s nothing fancy: a small performance stage for the artists; plastic chairs for the audience. There is no food; no bar service; just a gathering place for artists and those who appreciate their work.

Harris appreciates the unpretentiousness of the venue. “People don’t come here to become famous,” he says, “you come to blow.”

The women featured in this weekend’s concert, will definitely be blowing the roof off the joint, with straight-ahead and Latin jazz sets concert, spotlighting The Caitlin Moss Quintet. The band features emerging female jazz artists from around Los Angeles, including: Caitlin Moss, drums; Iliana Rose, piano; Keiko Okamoto, flute; Aneesa Al-Musawwr, bass; Lindsay McMurray, trombone; Ashley Jemison and Angela Cross, saxophones.

Special guests, veteran bassist Nedra Wheeler and former American Idol-contestant, trombonist-vocalist Aubrey Logan will be performing with the band.

Harris says The Stage continues to draw musicians “seeking light through sound.” And it’s those sounds that will draw me back.


Starting a Fire

by Sheila D. Jackson, Founder, Believe Fine Arts
Guest Columnist

If you experienced something that made a profound impact on your life, wouldn’t you want to pass on it along?

The Arts have an impact on all of our lives, and yet we seem to be “missing the mark” in exposing our young people to the importance of The Arts and arts education. We now live in a society that does not see the importance or the value in it.

Every child has a gift or talent that is inside of them that can be expressed through The Arts. The art of experiencing art engages our mind, body, and spirit leaving a profound impact on us all. It is through art that we create an expression of who we are and share it with the world. The Arts give each of us the opportunity for an artistic experience that can move us and engage us emotionally.

Read any good books lately?

Enjoying your latest iPad?

What about the last movie you saw?

From the cinematic arts, dance, music, photography, theater, visual arts, to voice and writing, there are countless people using their artistic gifts, talents, creativity, and imagination to shape, inform and reflect our culture.

An Arts education gives our young people creative tools and outlets to become more than artists, but the next great engineers, surgeons, chemists, creators and innovators of our society. Whether they are educated through an Arts program in the schools, private lessons, or afternoon school programs, The Arts make an impact!

Most adults who have been educated in the United States have had the privilege of being exposed to The Arts. Most of us can remember picking up a paint brush, or a musical instrument, or dancing to music in a dance class for the first time. The feeling that one gets being able to express oneself through an enjoyable discipline makes the individual a better human being.

Every person who experiences The Arts is forever changed.

Some just like the feeling that The Arts give them, while others find a creative expression that can be turned into a career.

I urge and encourage each of us to take the time to remember the first time that you were exposed to The Arts (school classroom, field trip, or lessons) and consider giving that same experience to the next generation. Help start that fire in our youth. We have a responsibility to pass the torch.

Wanna be a torch bearer? Learn more about arts events and “like” Believe Fine Arts on their Facebook page at


A plea from the producers of …but can she play?: We urge parents of the LA Unified School District students to serve as speakers at the next LAUSD Board Meeting on March 13th at 1 p.m. to prevent the board from dismantling music and arts education programs throughout the district. Contact Abe Flores of Arts For LA at THANKS…your kid will thank you later.

Choose to Improve: Learn more about our music education partners: Just Lovin’ Music Studios, Inc., has established, strengthened, and expanded instrumental programs in public, private and charter schools in the Inglewood and Los Angeles, California areas.

Music LA offers FREE after school lessons
Tuesdays and Thursdays 3:30 p.m. to 5:30p.m.
NOW through April, 2012
2911 Altura Street, Los Angeles, CA 90031
For additional information, please call DCA at 213.202.5562
or email:


This one time at Grammy Camp…

by Adrianna Gardner
Production Assistant, …but can she play?

Jazz bassist Esperanza Spalding performs with members of the Grammy in the Schools program.

The team at …but can she play? is committed to supporting, and spotlighting, programs which foster new generations of jazz musicians. The Grammy Foundation – committed to making a difference in the lives of young people through music – is now accepting applications for their annual summer Grammy Camp.

The Camp is part of the Grammy in the Schools program giving 35 high school students from all over the country opportunities to work with music professionals, acquiring real-world experience and advice on careers in the music business: audio engineer, concert promoter, electronic music producer, manager, musician, music journalist, singer, songwriter. Financial aid is provided for students in need.

Camp will be held for its 8th year in Los Angeles, for the 2nd consecutive year in New York, and for the first time ever in Nashville, TN for three sessions in summer 2012. For more, click here.

Besides the summer camp, students can apply for the Grammy Camp – Jazz Session in which students perform with Grammy winners and nominees, at jazz venues and during Grammy Week events – including the official post-Grammy celebration.

Students of this year’s Grammy Camp Jazz Ensemble performed with Grammy winners, drummer Terri Lyne Carrington (2012 Best Jazz Vocal CD) and bassist-vocalist Esperanza Spalding (2011 Best New Artist, featured in the video) during in a live Grammy-week concert. Applications are now available for the 2013 Grammy Camp – Jazz Session. Click here for more details.

Grace KellyJazz alto saxophonist- vocalist Grace Kelly, a featured artist of …but can she play?, is among the illustrious alums of the Grammy in Schools jazz band.

“Being a part of the Grammy band was a really incredible experience,” Kelly tells in a recent email. “I met many other extremely talented peers and got to work in a very intensive, stimulating work environment with master musicians who I look up to – and I got to go to the Grammys and see what goes on live! It’s an experience I’ll never forget, and was so much fun.”

Kelly, recently profiled for, The Making of a Prodigy, is a recent graduate of Berklee College of Music in Boston. Berklee is a jazz education partner with the producers of …but cans she play?. Read more of Grace’s story here.

To learn more about the Grammy in the Schools programs, or for application information and deadlines for the 2012 summer Grammy Camp, visit


Auditions Set to Begin for Players in Disney’s 2012 All-American College Band

"..but can she play?" trombonist, Jennifer Wharton, is a Disney All-American Collegiate Band alum.

The audition process for the 2012 Disney All-American College Band will begin in January.
Organizers are especially encouraging students of color and women to apply. There is a  particular need for lead trumpet players, bass players and drummers. The audition dates and sites are available at

This program brings talented musicians together for a summer of high-powered performances at a Disney Resort Theme Park, while giving them training and educational opportunities with some of the most successful and talented professional musicians in the world. The students are also paid a weekly salary in addition to receiving this amazing experience.

The Yamaha Corporation serves as the primary sponsor and provides the entire band with professional level instruments. When the summer program has concluded, the student will have the opportunity to purchase the instrument at major discounted prices.
This program is renowned as a life changing experience for many students. Past alumni, including …but can she play? featured trombonist Jennifer Wharton,  have performed with: Woody Herman, Maynard Ferguson, The Count Basie Orchestra and Los Angeles and Chicago Symphony Orchestras.  Others have become highly successful educators and professionals in all facets of the entertainment industry.
Among the clinicians that have worked with College Band participants in the past are Gregg Field, Rick Baptist, Peter Erskine, Jiggs Whigham, Sal Lazano, Wayne Bergeron, Steve Houghton, Matt Harris, John Clayton, Bob Mintzer and more.  The students are given the opportunity to embrace two educational tracks that will enhance their experience.  Each student will complete a major project by the conclusion of the summer that will reflect one or more of these tracks.
·      Composition and Arranging
·      Careers in Music (The Business of Music)
·      Big Idea Project
For those unable to attend any of these sites, they may submit their audition via video.  Here are the guidelines:
Video Audition Guidelines
-Submit electronically via
-Video audition should be no longer than 10 minutes and highlight your specialty (i.e. lead player, jazz player, etc.)
-Introduce yourself at the beginning of the video with your NAME, SCHOOL & YEAR, and a BRIEF BIO
-In the body of the email, please be sure to include your contact information
To learn more about the All American College Band, please visit the
Please Note: There are no string, theater, singer or dancer positions.



Students and Artists Jam During L.A. Jazz Clinic

Saxophonist Hailey Niswanger (left) and bassist Shin Sakaino perform with Music LA students

The first …but can she play? hosted student jazz clinic was a resounding success!  Berklee College of Music and the Berklee Global Jazz Institute‘s Hailey Niswanger Quartet graciously shared their talent and musical expertise with the 45 students who attended the November 11th clinic at the Lincoln Heights Youth Arts Center in East Los Angeles.

Hailey Niswanger leads Brass/Woodwind workshop

Despite the holiday from school for Veteran’s Day, these students were more than happy to spend a few hours of their day off for this unique music education opportunity. After an introduction, and short set from the band to whet the students’ appetites, they broke out into their individual instrument sessions with saxophonist Hailey Niswanger (leading Brass/Woodwinds), pianist Takeshi Ohbayashi (Piano/Guitar), bassist Shin Sakaino (Bass) and drummer  Joey Lefitz (Drums/Percussion). The afternoon concluded with a lively student and artist jam session featuring a couple of tunes the youngsters learned during the workshop.

Music LA student guitarist

“It was very inspiring to witness these young music apprentices come together to celebrate what they all have in common- a love for music,” said Angelica Loa Perez, Music LA Program Manager who partnered with the production on the event through the City of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs. “We certainly hope that the event sparked the desire for them (the students) to continue on their journeys as musicians.”

About 20 parents and teachers attending the event also participated in a round table discussion with Berklee College of Music representative, Peter Gordon, who elaborated on the world’s premier music school and answered parents’ questions about careers in jazz.

Pianist Takeshi Ohbayashi leads largest workshop: piano and guitar

The workshop led by Takeshi Ohbayashi (left) was a popular session among the piano and guitar students

Each youth and Berklee musician walked away with a goodie bag stuffed with items courtesy of event sponsors, ChopSaver Lip Balm, the Walt Disney Company, Fox Audience Strategy, as well as Berklee College of Music and DCA Music LA. Breakfast and lunch were also provided by donations from the Los Angeles Baking Co. and Chick-fil-A, respectively.  And a special note of thanks to bassist Nedra Wheeler and Just Lovin’ Music Studios for providing a bass on “emergency loan”.

Music LA student percussionist

“This was an amazing collaborative effort,” said Janice Rhoshalle Littlejohn, director and producer of the forthcoming documentary …but can she play? “Because everyone involved was focused and aligned on making this the best event possible for the students.”

Littlejohn added: “I was really overwhelmed by the number of students who approached me after the event to thank me for putting this together,” she said. “I’m looking forward to the next clinic which I suspect will be sooner than later.”

For more photos from the event, see our Facebook album here. All clinic  photos are courtesy of Sarit Photography, Copyright 2011.


Hailey Niswanger Quartet Lead Successful Jazz Clinic in LA

Our first jazz clinic…a huge success. But not without the contributions of many!

Shout outs to Hailey Niswanger, Takeshi Ohbayashi, Joey Lefitz and Shin Sakaino for leading a fantastic jazz clinic; to Just Lovin’ Music CEO Michelle Love and Board Memeber Catrina Smith and bassist Nedra Wheeler for helping us out of a jam; to Sarit Rogers for not only shooting, but tweeting, throughout the entire event; to Tracy Littlejohn and Adrianna Gardner for “representin’” and enabling me to enjoy the day; to my producing partner Glen Golightly, and our partners at Berklee College of Music and the Department of Cultural Affairs Music LA Program and their sponsors and our sponsors ChopSaver and Chick-fil-A; to the 58 students who attended the clinic (and especially those who personally thanked me at the end of it); to my folks and Hailey’s folks who, albeit not in attendance, were still making things happen for us, and to Londell Littlejohn, for going above and beyond the call of brotherly duties. Thanks everyone for everything today.

What an amazing day! — Janice Rhoshalle Littlejohn