Legendary musician Wynton Marsalis makes commitment to Flint’s cultural district and community

Legendary musician Wynton Marsalis makes commitment to Flint’s cultural district and community

No one knows big business better than Wynton Marsalis.

Big musical business, that is.

This fall, the renowned trumpeter, composer, and bandleader is bringing a serious note to Flint with Jazz at Lincoln Center.

It came about via a simple phone call to Ridgway White, president of the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation two years ago. Marsalis had been working on a program for kids with Jazz at Lincoln Center for decades and wanted to expand it in order to teach music and the rich cultural history of jazz to the children of Vehicle City. Knowing how such a storied art form relates to our country, White chimed right in.

“In city after city, it’s arts and culture that galvanize rebirth and growth. They create a social fabric that continues to invest many times over and move people forward.” -Jarret Haynes, Executive Director, The Whiting

He was intrigued by Marsalis’s proposal for Flint given the history and heritage it has in its own right. Uniquely American, jazz emerged from the black experience in America’s cities during an age where citizenship was still unequal and struggle was somewhat customary. Molded by ragtime and blues, jazz also blends swing, improv, and multiple rhythms. Why not bring it to the kids in the community so they can learn even more about their history and heritage?

“We want to connect people to their community in special ways,” says White of one of the core goals of his foundation’s work. “Our afterschool programming is meant to connect and engage kids, and inspire them so they stay in school.”

The effort was announced with a free concert for the community last Thursday night at the Whiting Auditorium when 100 school children from the Flint community attended a 45-minute Q&A with Marsalis in the afternoon, followed by a performance that evening.

“To walk out on stage and see a sea of 2,000-plus community members was magic,” says Jarret Haynes, executive director of the Whiting. “It got the kids exposed to the live performing arts. That is its power and influence.”

The event was as much a celebration of the community as it was about the community recognizing the challenges it’s faced and the healing power of swing.

Tickets were given away through various community-based organizations since many of those in attendance couldn’t afford these tickets at the sale price. The event served as a kick-off for the concert series Let Freedom Swing,” a year-long series the children will take part in that will align with study of various periods of American life.

When approached by Jazz at Lincoln Center (JALC) and the Mott Foundation about hosting the concert, Haynes says he was glad The Whiting could help launch the broader afterschool program.

“There are 2,043 seats in The Whiting,” he says. “We immediately asked ourselves what we could do to push this along.”

Charles Stewart Mott Foundation’s President Ridgway White is supporting efforts to connect and engage students, inspiring them to stay in school. Photo courtesy of C.S. Mott Foundation

The Mott Foundation has a long history of support for afterschool programs. White notes that the foundation partnered with the federal government in 1997 to help launch and bring to scale the country’s 21st Century Community Learning Centers afterschool initiative. Mott also supports afterschool networks in all 50 states. In Flint it funds YouthQuest, an afterschool program that primarily serves children attending Flint Community Schools.

“With roughly 10.2 million children around the country enrolled in afterschool programs, the potential reach of the JACL program is significant,” says White.

“When Wynton brought this to my attention, I thought, ‘This program is amazing.’ The next step is to start to roll out the curriculum in the schools here [in Flint], then begin expanding it to other programs across the country,” he says.

JALC is in its own right as celebrated as Marsalis, who serves as managing and artistic director. The enormously popular program is celebrating its 30th year as part of the cultural complex of Lincoln Center, home to New York City Ballet, The Metropolitan Opera, The New York Philharmonic, Juilliard, Lincoln Center Theater, and The School of American Ballet, among other notable cultural institutions. JALC started out with summer performances to fill in the gaps while companies of residence were out touring. It grew fairly quickly to become an official department of Lincoln Center in 1991.

By its second season, JALC had its own radio series on NPR and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra was touring the country. In 2004, Frederick P. Rose Hall was finished, joining Lincoln Center as the world’s first performance space exclusively devoted to jazz. There are now listening parties, a songbook available for purchase, and more concerts year-round than you can shake a stick at.

White realizes the beauty of having a nine-time Grammy award winner at the helm of a project means the music will be put into the best cultural context possible. Jazz is, as Todd Stoll, vice president for education at JALC puts it, part of America’s mythology.

“The men and women in the pantheon of jazz were not from communities of means. Many were brought up under dire circumstances. Knowing the background and where the music comes from will help many of these kids further understand their place in our world,” he says.

Haynes knows that, for Flint, this is about much more than music.

“It’s my firm belief that arts organizations can make differences in the communities they serve,” he notes.“In city after city, it’s arts and culture that galvanize rebirth and growth. They create a social fabric that continues to invest many times over and move people forward.”


Wynton Marsalis, Jazz at Lincoln Center managing and artistic director, and Ridgway White, Mott Foundation president, have partnered up to increase access to high-quality afterschool programs for kids in the Foundation’s hometown of Flint and across the country. Learn more at http://bit.ly/as-jazz.

Posted by Mott Foundation on Thursday, September 21, 2017





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