It's no secret that starting young as a musician is a great way to get good at an instrument. But the benefit of playing and performing as a child goes far beyond that if nurtured in the right environment. Plenty of older musicians who've been playing for years struggle with confidence issues and stage fright. These are the stumbling blocks of plenty of talented players who only started performing in their late teens, 20s or 30s.
It's the reason why the Jazz Angels program in Long Beach was created back in 2007. Two local musicians, including the program's organizer Barry Cogert, designed Jazz Angels as a way to pair middle school musicians with seasoned players to learn a wide variety of jazz standards to perform in front of different crowds all over the city. The hope is that by the time they reach college, their confidence and skill level will both be at a very high level.
"We thought if we could have some music mentoring, professionals sitting in and playing with younger people, the younger musicians would feel better about how they were playing and feel more motivated to improve," Cogert says.
This Sunday, the Jazz Angels continue their weekend residency at Bixby Park in Long Beach, sponsored by the Long Beach Arts Council, Port of Long Beach and the Friends of Bixby Park. Rotating through a different band each week, the students will get on stage with their ensemble and perform songs they've learned from Cogert and his staff of professional musicians—everything from classics like "Blue 7" by Sonny Rollins to jazzed up version of Joe Cocker's "Unchain My Heart."
Over the last 10 years, Cogert says Jazz Angels has had a major effect on the kids that come through the program, including a boost in their goals and confidence as well as team building. "They’re in a better position to express their ideas about music and even beyond that," Cogert says.
For the mentors teaching these kids, it's also a learning experience in how to shape and mold young minds just by giving them access to their skills and inspiring them by doing what they do. Each weekend, the show ends with the jazz mentors playing a set of their own, tackling more complex numbers and different styles of jazz that incorporate elements like funk, swing and salsa. Cogert says their demonstration of skill and their love of performing gives the younger generation of musicians something to aspire to.
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"It’s just wild, I didn’t know the impact it would have. We did it last week and all the kids stayed to watch the pros play and be so excited," Cogert says.
The fun continues with a show this Sunday and next Sunday from 6-8 p.m. at Bixby Park.
More than just the music, this show is a testament to the power that comes from being able to get in front of an audience and express yourself in the real world at the risk of being imperfect. These experiences, repeated over and over again, transform their fear of public performance from a stumbling block into a building block of character.
"The kids really pick up on that vibe of confidence, just to get over that hump, realizing you’re gonna make a mistake," Cogert says. "Just shake it off and sometimes out of those mistakes, rally cool things happen."