Friday, August 27, 2010

Jazzin' Up Community Education

© Andrea Canter

With schools starting fall terms, the big school known as “community education” will soon get underway as well, bring a wide range of learning opportunities to teens and adults. In Minneapolis, St. Paul and beyond, you can take a class in Indian cooking, salsa dancing, genealogy, home financing, digital photography, iPhone apps, or sign up for weekly volleyball or grown-up field trips. And thanks to KBEM radio, this fall you can expand your jazz horizons with your favorite Jazz 88 hosts through two month-long series of classes on America’s indigenous music. This is a new venture for KBEM, and a welcome one for those of us who have been hoping for a revival of the jazz appreciation classes at MacPhail.

The October series, held 7-9 pm at Washburn High School in southwest Minneapolis (201 W. 49th Street), includes “REEL Jazz: Jazz in Film and On Stage” presented by Morning Show host Ed Jones (10/6); “The Big Band Scene” with (who else?) Minnesota’s big band guru Jerry Swanberg (10/13); “Hillbilly Jazz” with Phil Nussbaum (Bluegrass Saturday Morning) and Kevin Barnes (String Theory), an exploration of bluegrass (10/20), and “Women in Jazz” with Maryann Sullivan, host of Corner Jazz, and local songbird (and jazz scholar!) Maud Hixson.

The November series, also 7-9 pm, will be held at Northeast Middle School in the heart of northeast Minneapolis (2955 Hayes NE): “Jazzin’ the Blues” with Blue Friday host Calvin Worthen looks at the birth of the blues (11/3); “Bing, Frank and How the Microphone Changed Singing Forever” with renowned vocalist, radio host and jazz historian Arne Fogel (The Bing Shift) provides insight into the transformation of vocal jazz once amplification came along (11/10); and Michele Jansen (KBEM Station Manager) and Steve Blons bring their weekly “Jazz and the Spirit” to life (11/17).

One of the cool things about the KBEM series is that you can register for each session separately, $15 each ($10 for KBEM members). Registration opens August 30th, online at

KBEM is more than a jazz radio station, but also a jazz and broadcasting education program that will celebrate 40 years of service to the community later this fall. In addition to a long list of invaluable original programs like Corner Jazz, The Bing Shift, String Theory and Jazz & the Spirit, KBEM broadcasts such syndicated programs as Marian McPartland’s Piano Jazz; sponsors the REEL Jazz film series, scholarship programs, “Jazz After Work,” “Gallery Grooves,” “Restaurant Tour” gatherings, and a long list of music events; and provides high school students with training and live practice opportunities as radio broadcasters. And along the way, those students learn a lot about jazz.

Staffer Kevin Barnes has been the driving force behind the Community Ed series. “We've been working on more partnership potentials with MPS Community Ed over the past year,” he told me in a recent email. “They're a perfect partner fit to KBEM's Educational Mission. In the process of brainstorming with Brenda Eccleston [MPS Community Ed], I threw out the concept of a Jazz88 Community Ed Series taught by the show hosts. Brenda loved the concept and pulled together the logistics, venues, scheduling, etc. It's wonderful awareness outreach for Jazz88 as well.”

And it seems like a perfect way for KBEM to bring its 40th anniversary celebration to the larger community. Educating the public about jazz in an informal, low-cost context such as the new community ed series can only expand the base of support for the music by enhancing the perspective of those who are already on board and intriguing those who have been wondering what it’s all about. And merely offering classes in jazz within the large catalog of options adds a mainstream legitimacy, which every art form needs these days.

If you are not already listening to KBEM regularly, check it out at 88.5 FM and visit the website at

Photos/images (top to bottom): The Jazz 88 logo banner; Maryann Sullivan; Michele Jansen; Maud Hixson; Arne Fogel (photos by Andrea Canter)