Agnes Varis Jazz in the Schools Program

The Agnes Varis Jazz & Blues in the Schools Program creates performance opportunities for elder masters of jazz and blues for whom the phone hardly rings anymore yet who still have so much to give.

"The Agnes Varis Jazz & Blues in the Schools programs keep food on musicians' tables and a roof over their heads, but more importantly, they change the darkness to Light. They give someone who was all alone a chance to feel part of the world again, with a reason to be here. 

We are eternally grateful to "Saint" Agnes Varis for having the wisdom, the compassion and the beautiful heart to fund these programs. They have allowed us to give musicians the only thing that ever mattered to them...that next gig." —Wendy Oxenhorn, JFA Executive Director

These hardworking, self-sufficient musicians who used to play six nights a week now have little or no options due to age, illness or lack of work. These individual grants give them a dignified way to pay their own rent.

These musicians often have backgrounds in teaching or working with children, and they are grateful for a chance to earn their assistance in these times of hardship. They feel alive with purpose, sharing their life stories with hundreds of new fans and passing on valuable lessons about the history and practice of America's only original art form. 

The program preserves the legacy of jazz and blues by introducing this music to thousands of public school children, many of whom have never been exposed to it. At the same time, it is actually preserving hundreds of the very pioneers who created it. 

The one-hour concerts provide educational performances from living jazz legends who share their individual histories and experiences. The sizes of groups range from solo acts to quintets, and the range of styles includes bebop, blues, New Orleans brass, R&B and Latin jazz. The program has introduced live jazz and blues to over 40,000 public school children. Kids end up dancing with their teachers and the musicians get the audience they've been missing and feel a sense of love and purpose again in the world. 

In this mutually beneficial relationship, students receive a live musical education at no cost to the school, and the musicians are able to earn their individual grants, pay their rent and build new audiences while keeping jazz and blues alive. 

Since the program began, it has expanded to include venues like childrens' hospitals and nursing homes, offering senior citizens in elder care a chance to recapture their youth and in many cases sing and even get out of their wheelchairs and dance! The program has benefited over 1,000 elderly jazz and blues musicians in need, offering a unique chance to extend the careers of aging artists while exposing audiences to living history. Approximately 350 musicians are currently participating in the program in 17 states. Over 120 musicians perform throughout New York City and 90 musicians just in New Orleans area alone.

Jazz in the Schools Program reaches approximately 85,000 audience members per year.

Program Background 

In the aftermath of September 11, 2001, when restaurants sat empty and it became much more difficult to find paying gigs, the Jazz Foundation began employing local musicians in New York to give concerts in the city's public schools. The program was conceived as an opportunity to create steady work for elderly musicians with limited incomes and to provide arts education to students with little access to enrichment programs. 

In 2005, pharmaceutical industry pioneer and celebrated philanthropist "Saint" Agnes Varis made an unprecedented $1 million grant to expand the program and provide relief to New Orleans musicians displaced by Hurricane Katrina. Jazz in the Schools, which took on Varis' name, became the Jazz Foundation's largest program. Varis' generosity kept the musicians' sense of hope alive in a time of crisis and continues to keep the music alive around the country today. 

Since Hurricane Katrina, the program has created over 9,000 performance opportunities in places around the country where displaced musicians were forced to relocate and has dramatically affected the lives of more than 1,000 musicians, making it possible for them to survive after Katrina and after the economic collapse we have been battling in this country. 

Jazz in the Schools "Master Classes" 

Some of our Jazz in the Schools musicians have started to work even more frequently in schools. New Orleans icon Edward "Kidd" Jordan is presently leading "Master Classes" in Louisiana. He visits a high school once a month for a full semester. Using special lesson plans he had developed for the program, Jordan turns the classrooms into musical workshops, combining live performances with in-depth instruction in music theory. Past participants included Clyde Kerr Jr.

The "Saint Agnes" Recording Sessions 

In early 2009, the Jazz Foundation began to release the "St. Agnes Sessions," a series of CDs featuring artists who were unable to participate in the Jazz in the Schools program due to disability or poor health conditions. The first three volumes feature bandleaders Clyde Kerr Jr., Wardell Quezergue, and Ernie Elly. All three are New Orleans legends, and the music on the CDs, which ranges from Dixieland to soul to progressive jazz, speaks to the enduring richness and vitality of their native city's musical community. Special thanks to Jay Griggs for working tirelessly to make these projects possible. Artists keep 100% from the sales of the CD's. 

The St. Agnes Sessions: 

Clyde Kerr Jr. - This Is Now! 

Wardell Quezergue - Music for Children ages 3 to 103 

Ernie Elly - Trad Back Home 

Wardell Quezergue - After The Math 

This Clark - An Affair with the Blues




Watch a Jazz in the Schools performance by Evelyn Blakey in a NYC public school.

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ABC news spot about Jazz in the Schools Program, New Orleans, Summerville Assisted Living Facility. Gary Brown & Feelings.

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New Orleans musicians performing for public schools in New Orleans, LA, as part of the Jazz in the schools program. Sullivan Dabney & band.

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See and hear what Dr. John and Wardell Quezergue say about the "Saint Agnes" Recording Sessions in New Orleans. Recorded in 2008.

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