The Jazz Mentor Program inspires, encourages, and trains talented high school student musicians. Founded in 1995 with the help of Ravinia Life Trustee and Emeritus Director of Jazz at Ravinia Ramsey Lewis, Emeritus Coordinator of Jazz at Ravinia Penny Tyler, and former Chicago Public Schools music administrator William Johnson, the program was the very first CPS initiative of Ravinia’s Reach Teach Play® programs.
The Jazz Mentors, a teaching and performing ensemble consisting of eight of Chicago’s finest jazz musicians, give performances and master classes in Chicago Public High Schools. Beyond building on concepts taught by school band directors, these national leaders in the arts impart their wisdom and skills to the next generation of great musicians.
A central component of the Jazz Mentor Program is the selection (through audition) of the Ravinia Jazz Scholars, a group of Chicago’s most talented student musicians. The Jazz Scholars receive intensive year-round training by the Jazz Mentors, as well as scholarships and opportunities to perform, including at Ravinia’s Music Matters event every spring and in the festival’s Martin Theatre in June. In addition, the Jazz Scholars are often invited to perform at events throughout the city.
Each summer the Jazz Scholars are sent to the Jamey Aebersold Jazz Workshop in Louisville, KY, a prestigious training center for pre-professionals. Many Jazz Scholars alumni have gone on to study music at such colleges as Juilliard, Oberlin, the Manhattan School of Music, and NYU. The Jazz Mentor Program has produced a number of professional musicians, including Calvin Rogers, a drummer who was sought out early in his career by Ramsey Lewis for a recording session, and Franklin Vanderbilt, a drummer who performs with Lenny Kravitz. Former Jazz Scholars Marquis Hill, Alexis Lombre, Michael Piolet, and Kyle Swan have been participants in Ravinia’s Steans Music Institute Program for Jazz. In 2014, Hill won the Thelonious Monk Institute’s Trumpet Competition, the most prestigious of its kind