- The Washington Times - Monday, March 24, 2003

Imagine being a 14-year-old aspiring jazz musician and getting the chance to perform at the White House or the Kennedy Center instead of the usual high school assemblies.
For youngsters in the Blues Alley Youth Orchestra, this dream has come true.
At the initiative of jazz legend Dizzy Gillespie and John Bunyan, the Blues Alley Music Society (BAMS) was founded in 1986. Its mission was, and is, to preserve jazz for future generations by promoting jazz performance and education in the District.
Children between 14 and 17 years of age have been offered advanced education in jazz through the Blues Alley Youth Orchestra, which has performed at local and national jazz festivals in addition to those dream gigs at the White House and Kennedy Center.
The teens have to meet the following criteria: They must reside in the District, already play an instrument and be committed to pursuing the jazz medium.
"I go to public schools and talk to teachers who recommend students, and I audition them," says Harry Schnipper, president of the Blues Alley Music Society. "By and large very talented, they have all been interested in jazz. We have just channeled their talent."
Jacques T. Johnson Sr., a 28-year veteran of the U.S. Army Band, conducts the school-year orchestra and runs the year-round program. Mr. Johnson has taught jazz studies at the University of the District of Columbia and served as assistant band director at Eastern High School.
BAMS is a nonprofit organization run by volunteers. It is funded primarily by surcharges on the patrons at Georgetown's Blues Alley nightclub and secondarily by private donations. In addition to sponsoring the orchestra, the music society actively supports similar nonprofit organizations in the Greater Washington area by accepting performance requests for auctions and fund-raisers.
Since 1986, BAMS has expanded to encompass a six-week Summer Jazz Camp, held at Carter Barron Amphitheatre in Rock Creek Park. The camp follows a "play and pay" format, which means that the teens are compensated financially for rehearsing. Youngsters who participate in the camp get to play at some of Washington's best-known venues, including the National Zoo, the Library of Congress, the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center Plaza, and Blues Alley. This year, the camp starts July 7 and concludes Aug. 15.
In sponsoring the music programs and summer camps, BAMS is filling a void, Mr. Schnipper believes.
"The District of Columbia school system is suffering financially, which means that there is a limited number of programs for children and the arts," he says. "We wanted to do something for the children. We want to take the children to the broadest number of stages. The next challenge is to raise enough money to send the kids on the road, to New Orleans and Louisiana, for example."
He adds that "most music festivals take place during the summer and the weekend, so they will not be missing school."
Sorry, kids. Can't have everything.

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