Songs of the Youth Jazz Orchestra


A sense of community can be felt the minute you step into the Artists Collective. From the greeting at the door, to the students calling Associate Director Cheryl Smith “Mama Cheryl,” to the bond among the musicians and teachers in the Youth Jazz Orchestra. During the summer of 2015, musical teens from around Greater Hartford joined the Greater Hartford Arts Council’s Neighborhood Studios program in order to participate in the Youth Jazz Orchestra. Two members of the orchestra sat down with us to share more about how their summer was going.

Jalisa Evans and Josh Fuentes were vocalists in the Youth Jazz Orchestra. Young musicians worked together to learn the songs and history behind Stevie Wonder’s iconic album “Songs in the Key of Life.” This experience allowed them to gain valuable skills associated with their craft. “This program has taught me how to use my voice in different ways. It made me a better singer and musician. I usually only listen to one genre of music, but I actually really like Joe Williams,” said Josh, “learning about other musicians has helped me become a better artist. I’m just so blessed that I was able to come back to Artists Collective for the sixth year; it has given me a place to be creative.” Jalisa credits the program with opening up to new music to learn on the piano and incorporate into her song writing. “The program has taught me more about the things I love.”

Songwriting and musical composition were an exciting part of the Youth Jazz Orchestra this year. In the true spirit of jazz, the musicians improvise and learn from one another. “I just wrote a song and went into the room and said, ‘Okay, give me a solo Mari’ and she was just like WHAM and gave me this really awesome solo. And then someone’s like, “Oh add this on, this will sound great.” And they give you great ideas; you just have to be open minded to it.” Jalisa and fellow apprentices composed original songs that were performed by the orchestra under the direction of Master Teaching Artist René McLean. McLean, the son of Artists Collective founder and musician Jackie McLean, has been working with apprentices to improve more than just their musical skills. In an interview with the Greater Hartford Arts Council, McLean stated that the study of music “enhances one’s being.” Rehearsals, songwriting sessions, and final showcases of the Youth Jazz Orchestra prove just that.

Listen to performances of the Youth Jazz Orchestra

“My Loss”  an original composition by Jalisa Evans (pictured). Vocals by Jalisa Evans and Josh Fuentes, accompanied by the Youth Jazz Orchestra under the direction of René McLean

Fontainebeau” a rehearsal of the Youth Jazz Orchestra under the direction of René McLean


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