While there's plenty of bad news plaguing the world, the Dallas Jazz Piano Society offers a glimmer of positivity to North Texas jazz lovers of all ages.
What started out more than a decade ago as a jazz concert in the living room of Jim Callaway’s home turned into a multifaceted nonprofit organization emphasizing education and performance. Since 2010, the organization has presented a nine-month running concert series (from September through May) after its founders, James Callaway, Dan Haerle, Robert Donachie and Mike Finkel, decided to share their love of piano jazz with the world.
“Our mission statement is to promote, preserve and perpetuate piano jazz music via education and performance,” Donachie says.
The organization’s performance concert series — which most recently, and pre-COVID, took place at the Kawai Piano Gallery in Plano — are festive affairs, and always free to the public. Audience members are encouraged to ask questions and participate in discourse and are treated to a fully interactive musical experience. Each concert occurs on the second Thursday of the month and includes world-renowned artists like Shaun Martin of the three-time Grammy winning jazz-fusion group Snarky Puppy.
The concerts might be free, but the musicians are paid for their performances and carefully selected by the board. Their Rising Star concert series features a high school or college student accompanied by a professional drummer and bassist. In true jazz form, the trio improvises at will, working up a set list and authentic vibe for concert goers.
Youth education is another passion of the Dallas Jazz Piano Society’s board. Keys for Kids is a special program the organization set up to provide both instruments and instruction to motivate youths with documented financial needs.
Scholarship recipients complete a written application and are reviewed by a subcommittee of the board of directors for consideration. Scholarships are competitive, as the private music lessons are taught by first-rate jazz players.
“We have sponsored from five to 12 individual scholars over the past 10 years. Some of our scholars have gone on to study at Berklee College of Music in Boston among other programs,” Donachie says.
Over the next 10 years, Dallas Jazz Piano Society hopes to expand its after-school lessons program by partnering with the Dallas Independent School District in some capacity. By doing so, they hope to have a positive influence and reach more youths with the power of music. So far, offering private lessons for a select few has been favorable, but the group is growing its mission organically, Donachie says.
“It would be cool to get the DISD to partner with us to put together an after-school program," he says. "We provide instruction, they provide a venue and whatever resources they can.”
Although the concert series has been put on hold since the end of March due to the CDC’s strict warnings against gathering in large crowds, Donachie is certain the series will bounce back strong and looks forward to another successful decade promoting jazz. They're also planning on streaming live concerts in the future.
“The goal is to get as many students as we can get funding for," he says. "We simply need more money to pay for more music teachers and performers in our concert series. I want to provide a resource here … opportunities for youth regardless of their financial situations.”
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