Seattle JazzED: A Seattle Music Education Organization

  • By Peter Blecha
  • Posted 11/13/2015
  • Essay 11144
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Seattle JazzED is a privately funded non-profit organization founded in 2010 and dedicated to providing an excellent music education to Seattle-area students regardless of their ability to pay. The students' interaction with professional instructors, and the experiences they gain through rehearsals, public performances, and distant tours with various ensembles, nurture budding talents, helping them embrace artistic risk-taking and gain an understanding the value of discipline and teamwork. Within its first half-decade of existence, JazzED has created an award-winning year-round program which has attracted an impressive staff of instructors and has positively impacted the lives of hundreds of up-and-coming musicians.


In 2010 a few parents of students from Seattle's Garfield High School, which like the city's Roosevelt High and Washington Middle School has a decades-long national reputation as an incubator for seriously talented jazz musicians, realized that other students did not have the same opportunities that their lucky children did. Those inspired parents included Laurie de Koch (whose son Willem played trombone at Garfield and then went on to study at New York's Manhattan School of Music), and Shirish Mulherkar (whose son Riley played trumpet at Garfield and then studied jazz at the Julliard School).

Laurie de Koch explained that getting the best music education in the Northwest was a bit of a hit-or-miss proposition: "We have an incredible legacy in our region but it is limited to being in the right school and the right program" (Kugiya). Shirish Mulherkar concurred: "We thought, 'Wouldn't it be great if everyone had that opportunity.' Conceptually it was a no-brainer" (Kugiya).

In a 2015 interview, de Koch shared further thoughts about the origins of the JazzED idea:

"Both of my children went through Washington Middle School and Garfield High School and were very involved in the music programs there. I was very impressed with the level of education that they were receiving -- and with the kind of impact that music education had on kids in terms of developing character and giving these kids life-skills. But, what was disturbing to me was how white the bands were -- especially because both schools are located in a very urban part of our community in neighborhoods that are historically very African American. And the schools themselves were very diverse but the music programs didn't reflect the diversity of the schools. It is changing. It is getting better. But at that point it looked like it was a program designed to serve white boys, essentially. So, while my kids were benefiting, I was keenly aware of how inequitable the situation was. And, the deeper I looked the more I could see that it was tied to economic and racial disparity in our city. So, the idea came about to start an organization that would celebrate jazz education, which is such an important part of Seattle's cultural fabric, while ensuring that kids across the city, every kid, had access to high quality arts education" (Blecha interview).


And thus JazzED was born: Shirish Mulherkar became president, de Koch became executive director, and a governing board was formed. The board included Dr. Mike Halperin (whose trombonist daughter Lucy joined JazzEd as an eighth-grader) and executive David Zapolsky (whose son Ian played piano with the Garfield jazz band), who were the founding sponsors. Joining them on the board were John Gilbreath (longtime executive director of Seattle's Earshot Jazz organization and a DJ at Bellevue's KBCS-FM) and Bob Roseth (a University of Washington administrator whose son Ben played at Garfield and went on to the New England Conservatory of Music.) Halperin said regarding the organization's goals: "We want socio-economic diversity. We want ethnic and geographic diversity. We want to level the playing field" (Kugiya).

By recruiting a couple of esteemed longtime music instructors, Clarence Acox and Robert Knatt, as the initial staff, Seattle JazzED was primed for success. With 60 students placed into three different bands, rehearsals began at the Rainier Valley Cultural Center (3515 S Alaska Street) and the Cornish College of the Arts (1000 Lenora Street). Then on Thursday evening, December 9, 2010, Seattle JazzED held a public launch party at the Northwest African American Museum (NAAM), at 2300 S Massachusetts Street, where the organization's two inaugural jazz big-bands performed for 150 attendees.

In time Seattle JazzED found a home in Seattle's Madison Valley, in a building housing another organization with perfectly aligned goals. That was the Martin Luther King Jr. Family, Arts, Mentoring & Enrichment (MLK F.A.M.E.) Community Center at 3201 E Republican Street, whose mission is "promoting social, cultural, economic and community service for Seattle area residents of all ages, races, cultures and ethnicities" ("Mission Statement").


So far, so good. By 2015, after but a few short years, Seattle JazzED boasted more than a dozen experienced faculty members instructing as many as "350 students from fourth grade through high school, who come from 75 schools in the Seattle area. It supports six big-band ensembles, offers master classes, and helps young musicians create combos and find performance gigs" (Laine) -- including a multi-band tour into the heart of New York.

Indeed, Seattle JazzED developed numerous programs -- including Girls Jazz Day and a Master Class Series -- to provide an array of differing opportunities for young musicians of varying skills. Another key to the organization's success was the stellar staff recruited as directors and the distinct ensembles that those instructors led. These included:

  • All Star Combos: Led by percussionist Aaron Walker-Loud, a composer and producer who served as Seattle JazzED's Education Director in addition to directing the drum lines at Roosevelt and O'Dea high schools and Washington Middle School.
  • Ensemble 1: Led by Clarence Acox (percussion), a Southern University graduate, Downbeat magazine 2002 Educator of the Year, and longtime director of the Garfield High School Jazz Ensemble.
  • Ensemble 2: Led by Darin Faul, a UW graduate with a master's degree in Curriculum and Instruction who also directed the concert and jazz bands at Mountlake Terrace High School.
  • Ensemble 3: Led by Robert Knatt, a graduate of Grambling State University, winner of the Washington State Golden Apple Award, and past director of concert and jazz bands at Washington Middle School.
  • Ensemble 4: Led by Jacob Zimmerman (saxophone), a composer, improvisation teacher, and graduate of Garfield High, Boston's Conservatory of Music, and Oakland's Mills College.
  • Girls Ellington Project: Led by Kelly Barr Clingan (trombone), a Roosevelt High and University of Washington graduate and director of concert bands and jazz at Washington Middle School.
  • Introductory Ensemble: Led by Colin Pulkrabek (trombone), a graduate of Roosevelt High School and the UW with a degree in jazz studies.
  • Jazz Orchestra Project: Co-led by Elizabeth Fortune (violin), a University of Montana graduate with a master's degree in music education and violin performance and director of orchestras and eclectic strings at Washington Middle School, and David Marriott Jr. (trombone), an award-winning player, in-demand recording artist, and past director of jazz bands at both Edmonds Community College and UW.
  • New Works Ensemble: Led by keyboardist Wayne Horvitz (b. 1955), a prolific composer, recording artist, and bandleader who has served as director of the jazz band at the University of Puget Sound, and also taught electronic music and composition at Seattle's Cornish College of the Arts.
  • Summer Jazz Ambassadors: Led by Aaron Walker-Loud and Ariel Loud (saxophone), a graduate of Garfield High School and student of contemporary writing, production, and film scoring at Boston's Berklee College of Music.

In addition Seattle JazzED students benefit from additional specialists in various areas including Naomi Siegal and Colin Pulkrabek (trombone coaches); Levi Gillis, Kate Olson, and Jacob Zimmerman (reeds coaches); and Tony Sodano and Aaron Walker-Loud (rhythm-section coaches).


In 2015 Seattle JazzED was one of five individuals and organizations, winnowed from an initial pool of 400 nominations submitted by the public, to receive that year's Mayor's Arts Awards from Seattle Mayor Ed Murray (b. 1955). The awards were presented on September 4, 2015, at the Seattle Center Mural Amphitheatre, coinciding with the opening of the annual Bumbershoot arts festival. Seattle Arts Commissioner Amy Pinon announced JazzED's award in the Future Focus category, which "is all about making a difference in arts education and youth work" ("2015 Mayor's Arts Awards" video).

In a description accompanying the awards announcement, Seattle JazzED said:

"[W]e are known for innovative educational initiatives like the New Works Ensemble, Girls Ellington Project and Summer Jazz Ambassadors. Along with musical skills, JazzED students learn the values of discipline, focus and teamwork. JazzED also develops citizenship by providing students with opportunities to perform, volunteer and mentor in the broader community. Our goal is to instill a set of values in every child that makes them not only a successful musician but a successful human being" ("Mayor Announces 2015…").

Sources: Peter Blecha telephone interview with Laurie de Koch, November 3, 2015; "About Seattle JazzED," Seattle JazzED website accessed September 7, 2015 (; Hugo Kugiya, "New Jazz Group Matches Budding Musicians with Legendary Teachers," Crosscut website accessed September 9, 2015 (; "Mission Statement," MLK F.A.M.E. Community Center website accessed October 29, 2015 (!our-staffmission-statement/c11yl); "Mayor Announces 2015 Mayor's Arts Awards Recipients," Seattle Office of Arts and Culture website accessed September 8, 2015 (; "Mayor's Arts Awards," Seattle Office of Arts and Culture website accessed September 10, 2015 (; "2015 Mayor's Arts Awards," video, Seattle Channel website accessed September 11, 2015 (; Cat McCarrey, "Mayor's Arts Award: Seattle JazzED," City Arts website accessed September 10, 2015 (; Kristen Laine, "Getting Jazzed in Seattle," Constant Contact website accessed September 9, 2015, (

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