Three NAfME Members Share Why They Believe Every Month is Jazz Appreciation Month

The 2014 NAfME All-National Jazz Band played at the Grand Ole Opry House in Nashville last October.



Each April, in observance of Jazz Appreciation Month, many music educators bring jazz instruction, jazz history, and other jazz activities into the classroom. Three teachers whose students were chosen for NAfME’s 2014 All-National Jazz Ensemble discuss why they believe teaching jazz throughout the school year offers valuable benefits for them and their students.

The application deadline for the 2016 NAfME All-National Honor Ensembles is May 11. The Jazz Ensemble will perform during NAfME’s 2016 National In-Service Conference Nov. 10-13 in Grapevine, Texas. Visit this page for more information.

Mark Foster is in his 25th year of teaching band, and in his 15th year as the director of bands at Mountain Brook Junior High School in Birmingham, Alabama. He previously taught band in the Jefferson County Schools as director of bands at Gardendale High School and assistant band director at Hueytown High School.

One of his students, trombonist Adam Thomas, played in the 2014 All-National Honor Jazz Ensemble. Foster discusses his love of jazz, what it brings to his classroom and his experience with the 2014 NAfME All-National Jazz Ensemble.

How do you think students benefit from the study and the playing of jazz music?

They develop listening skills through listening to jazz greats. They read more music, so their sight-reading is better than non-jazz students.  They are more aware of articulations since students have to read around the notes so much when playing jazz [in order] to play with proper jazz style.

They get to spend a lot of time learning improvisation, which helps all aspects of their playing because they develop more dexterity and skill awareness on their instruments. They get to know each other better since it is a smaller group and everyone has to depend on each other more. They are more accepting and appreciative of their fellow musicians since we all improvise and they are not allowed to say anything negative about their fellow band mates. This has been great because junior high is an intimidating place in our community, and jazz band gives our students an outlet where they are accepted and their efforts are nurtured in a safe environment.

Did you encourage Adam to apply for the All-National Jazz Ensemble? What were your impressions of the Ensemble?

Adam brought the idea of auditioning for the All-National Jazz Ensemble to me last year. I strongly encouraged him to pursue it, and I helped him with evaluation and refinement of his audition recording. I attended the concert in Nashville, and I thought it was fantastic.

The students were engaged in their performance, and there appeared to be a lot of rapport among the students and director. All feedback I received from Adam was very positive, and as a result, a couple of other students from our school are interested in submitting audition recordings this year.


Mark Foster with trombonist   at the Grande Ole Opry House, october 2014.
Mark Foster, with trombonist Adam Thomas at the Grande Ole Opry House,October 2014.

Do you have any thoughts on jazz education that you’d like to share?

Don’t be afraid to try jazz education. You don’t have to be the best jazz player to have a good jazz program—you can learn along with your students. Don’t get trapped into a certain mold for jazz by saying certain instruments cannot play jazz. Two of my best improvisers over the years have been a flute player and a horn player who both started playing in my junior high jazz band and continued with me through high school.

They develop a love for playing jazz and it has shaped their musicianship significantly because of the experience. Start small with improvisation by playing charts based on blues or modal chord progressions. We started our jazz library by purchasing a lot of KJOS charts from their young band jazz in concert series because they have parts for every instrument, and they are written so the improv section can be performed by using one or two scales throughout the entire set of changes. This provides a friendlier approach to jazz improvisation and allows more students to be engaged in the process.

Jeff Melsha is the director of bands in Kirkwood, Missouri.  He is the Past-President of the Missouri Association for Jazz Education, and the President-Elect of the Missouri Music Educators Association. A St. Louis suburban school district, Kirkwood High School students are near many enrichment opportunities, including the St. Louis Symphony Youth Orchestra and the Jazz St. Louis Jazz U program.

 What role does jazz play in your band program?

“Jazz is an integral part of our program in Kirkwood. Participants of the jazz band or jazz combo receive instruction in theory and improvisation. Our jazz ensembles allow each student to improvise to a variety of standards and styles. This level of creativity doesn’t exist in other components of our band program. When describing the difference in their band classes, students recognize the contrast of listening skills, and how the spontaneity and creativity in jazz is invigorating. The jazz program also allows our students to explore a second instrument. April may be Jazz Appreciation Month, but we celebrate the opportunity year-round!” 

Melsha’s son Jacob was chosen for the 2014 All-National Jazz Ensemble. What was that experience like?

“After a successful audition during his freshman year, Jacob was named the lead trombone in the Missouri All-State Jazz Ensemble. I encouraged him to submit an application to the NAfME All-National Jazz Ensemble. It was really quite simple to apply, and making the video recording was an easy project. He was thrilled to be accepted to the Jazz Band that played under the direction of Bob Baca last October in Nashville. Jacob enjoyed the experience with the All-National Jazz Ensemble, meeting other musicians from different parts of the country, and performing great literature with superior quality musicians. He plans to audition again this spring and has convinced three other friends to apply as well!” 


  Melsha adds:

Jacob is in the high school band program and takes lessons from two outstanding instructors, performs with the St. Louis Symphony Youth Orchestra, and is a member of the Jazz St. Louis youth program called Jazz U. Jazz U features student combos with a jazz theory and performance curriculum. Throughout the year, clinicians work with student groups and play alongside them in performances. Below, Jacob plays on stage with the great Byron Stripling.

Jacob Melsha, left, plays trombone on state


Mindy Scheierman, director of ban ds at Millburn (New Jersey) High School, is currently in her 28th year of public school teaching. She’s  a Yamaha Regional Artist/Clinician and published in two volumes of the Teaching Music Through Performance in Band series. All of her bands have received national recognition in all areas, and positive comments from professionals including Mark Scatterday, Dana Wilson, Bruce Yurko, Andrew Boysen, Jr., and Sam Hazo.

What role does the jazz program play in your music program overall?

The Millburn High School jazz program is highly regarded by guest artists and music educators alike, and consists of two auditioned bands: Stage Band for advanced players, conducted by Ms. Scheierman and Lab Band, for the beginner to intermediate, conducted by Mr. Spatz.

There is also a middle school jazz band which feeds into the high school program. Many students are also enrolled in enrichment programs including the Grammy Band, Juilliard, Manhattan School, and NJPAC Jazz for Teens.

Millburn’s jazz concerts are scheduled annually in April to celebrate Jazz Appreciation Month. The Pops Concert is held the beginning of April and the Night of Jazz at the end of the month. The Millburn High School  jazz program has hosted artists including Maynard Ferguson, Mingus Big Band, Diva Jazz Orchestra, Ed Palermo, Tim Reis, Chris Jaudes, Andy Fusco, Fred Maxwell, Miguel Gandelman (Millburn High School ‘01), James Walker, and Darrell Hendricks.


Louis Danowsky, All National Jazz Ensemble member, on lead alto with the MHS Stage Band.
Louis Danowsky, (Center), on lead alto with the MHS Stage Band.

What was the 2014 All-National Jazz Ensemble experience like for Louis Danowsky?

He is now a senior at Millburn High School, and he performs with virtually every band and on all saxophones. He is a versatile soloist and ensemble player in both classical and jazz, and has been accepted to honors ensembles from county to national, as well as the Manhattan School of Music Pre-College Division.

He will attend Northwestern University in the fall to continue his musical studies. His interest in All-National Ensembles actually began at the middle school level with his acceptance into the Region I Junior Band. Louis  continues to represent himself and the Millburn school district in regional, state, All-Eastern, and All-National ensembles. He enjoys performing with students of similar level and interest and was honored to perform in All-National Jazz Ensemble.

How did your love of jazz music evolve?

My love of jazz began at an early age, as my father was a Latin percussionist and vibraphonist. There was always music playing at home. My father introduced me to the music of Tito Puente, Eddie Palmieri, Buddy Rich, Stan Kenton, Miles Davis, to name a few. It is important for me to continue to promote all areas of jazz with my students, while learning from them at the same time.


Visit our Jazz Appreciation Month page for more resources.

Roz Fehr, NAfME Communications Content Developer, April 9, 2015. © National Association for Music Education (