Music education a top priority for Arizona musicians celebrating International Jazz Day

Apr 28, 2023, 4:25 AM

(Photo courtesy of William "Doc" Jones)...

(Photo courtesy of William "Doc" Jones)

(Photo courtesy of William "Doc" Jones)

PHOENIX — April marks Jazz Appreciation Month, but William “Doc” Jones has been leading jazz conservation and education for decades.

Jones is the executive director for IJD’s Arizona Foundation, established in 2015, years after he moved from Chicago to the Valley in the 1980s.

After several stints playing with big names like Aretha Franklin and The Staples Singers, he’s responsible for opening Doc’s Place, a jazz hub and restaurant in Phoenix that was renowned for its atmosphere and mix of old and new talent.

Music — and jazz — education is a big deal for Jones.

“Jazz Appreciation Month and International Jazz Day should be celebrated,” Jones said. “We’re bringing attention to this art form created in America and enjoyed all over the world.”

Doc’s Place closed in 2012, the same year International Jazz Day was made official by the United Nations and its ambassador, legendary jazz composer Herbie Hancock.

Jones said initial conversations with Herbie inspired him to help push what he calls a “declining art form.”

“[Me and Herbie] start talking about artists and teachers that we both know, he said ‘you have to utilize your platform to promote this International Jazz Day that’s gonna grow,’ and sure enough he was right,” Jones said.

Jones started a years-long crusade to recognize the art form in his new home state. It culminated in 2019 with the signing of HCR2017, which annually declared the April 30 as Jazz Day in Arizona.

Tempe mayor Corey Woods is one of Jones’ biggest supporters, who helped kick off the celebrations earlier this month at Tempe’s Center for the Arts. In a statement, Woods called jazz “a quintessential American art form,” and encouraged people to “celebrate jazz and support these incredible musicians and artists.”

Several pandemic-filled years later, more than 150 countries held events for this year’s Jazz Day, including several across Arizona.

Just as important as Jazz Day is Jones’ efforts with the Molina School of Jazz.

He specifies Molina isn’t officially a school, but a nonprofit with a staff of roughly a half-dozen volunteers meant to help local musicians who often aren’t given the resources to get to the next level.

The school’s website boasts a 97% graduation rate, with students ranging from K-12 students to collegiate musicians.

In crafting how the school would function, Jones looked to his experiences at some of Arizona’s earliest charter schools, as well as advice from Hodgie Jo, who had success with Alice Cooper’s music education programs.

Most importantly, he looked to his experiences with communal schools in Chicago, where his teaching helped to convince kids involved in local gangs to focus more on their education.

“The first thing I believe in is determining what instrument makes the student express themselves, whether you [are] playing rock, funk, or anything else,” Jones said.

“When the kid finds their passion in school programs, they tend to come to school earlier and they tend to stay focused longer.”

Many of Jones’ students come from backgrounds where instruments and opportunities are difficult to find.

A 2018 study from the Arizona Commission for the Arts found 35% of the state’s K-8 students didn’t have access to music and arts education, with the biggest disparity coming in public schools, where 80% of those “no arts” students are enrolled.

Jones says the pandemic years meant extending Molina’s goal to other aspects of their students’ lives.

“The mission is to take 50 kids and pay for their music education,” Jones said. “That means [getting] instruments, repairing the instruments, but also making sure they fed, making sure they have the same opportunity to go to afterschool programs as some of those elite schools have to offer.”

Jones hopes to set up a full building for the school in the next 10 years, where rehearsing and recording spaces would provide more stability and opportunities for students.

Several of this year’s Jazz Day events will donate funds to help those Molina programs, including Sunday’s Scottsdale Jazz Festival, where Doc’s former student, drummer Fred Boswell Jr., will be among the performers.

“The reason you go is because this music holds your attention,” Jones said. “A lot of principals know the value of music programs, but it’s important to get that across to administrators that it’s not just something to do.”

More information on Arizona Jazz Day events and stories can be found online.

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Music education a top priority for Arizona musicians celebrating International Jazz Day