Bringing Jazz To Toronto's Priority Neighbourhoods

The Inside Agenda Blog - Friday April 11, 2014

Steve Paikin recently penned a six-part blog series on Regent Park's redevelopment, looking at Toronto's efforts to revitalize one of the city's more impoverished neighbourhoods. The Agenda also produced a program examining the gentrification debate, and the pros and cons of bringing condos, fancy boutiques and cafes into poor communities. In that spirit, we asked jazz musician Howard Rees, founder of We Are One Jazz Project, to write about his organization's efforts to bring jazz music to kids in some of Toronto's "priority" neighbourhoods.

We Are One Jazz Project (WAOJP) is a grassroots organization dedicated to strengthening community bonds. This is achieved by making a difference in the lives of elementary school children through the study and singing of jazz. We strive to inspire young Canadians by harnessing the beauty and power of jazz as a force for social change. Our mission is to deliver this unique program to a different "priority" area of Toronto each year.

WAOJP offers a life-changing leadership development opportunity via a Children's Jazz Choir program. We work with 300 Grades 3 to 6 students annually.

Through mentoring and performing alongside musicians ranging from high school level to internationally acclaimed master musicians, the program teaches young students the benefits of working in a large ensemble, building bonds and self-discovery. Our goal is to kindle a lifelong appreciation for the arts, and motivation for creative thinking and excellence in the lives of each participant.

WAOJP celebrates the unique, rich and diverse cultural fabric of Canadian society. A high percentage of our students are new Canadians. Through their participation in WAOJP, newcomers gain access to our culture by learning about jazz - a unique North American art form - something they may not have even heard before.

WAOJP's comprehensive program including: Introductory Workshops; Weekly Rehearsals; Weekly Mentoring & Coaching Sessions; High Profile Public Concerts and an After-School Program is delivered free of charge to participants.

Achievements to Date

Each year WAOJP works with 300 Grade 3 to 6 students. To date some 1,500 elementary students from more than 35 schools in five "priority" areas of Toronto have taken part in our program.

Throughout our five-year history, we estimate that WAOJP has directly touched some 20,000 lives including students, extended family, friends, teachers and community members.

In 2013 WAOJP was the recipient of the Toronto District School Board's Outstanding Partnership Award.

The Apprenticeship Model and How It Works

WAOJP believes in the value of apprenticeship as a learning model.  We recognize the significance to a young person of having access to a mentor's lifetime of experience. It is equally important for the mentor to have the opportunity to share their wealth of knowledge.

There is a significant difference between information and knowledge that comes from a lifetime of experience and experiences. Through involving legendary musicians, WAOJP brings the jazz tradition to a new generation of Canadian children. Learning jazz and having the opportunity to sing alongside professional musicians develops creativity, concentration, teamwork and other social skills in the young participants.

Surrounded by master musicians in a supportive, learning and performance environment students build self-esteem, leadership skills and the necessary courage to fight back against negative influences such as peer pressure, drugs and violence.

WAOJP's 2014 roster of mentors includes: 12 high school string players; 4 college level interns; 11 professional big band musicians; an 18 piece adult choir; 4 conductors; 2 professional vocal coaches, and internationally acclaimed musicians including a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award recipient. Our mentors attend weekly rehearsals and perform at the Gala Concerts in support of the Children's Jazz Choir.

Measuring Success

Much is said of how music enhances math and spelling skills. The fact is that the study of music also develops creativity, self-esteem and courage.

  • One student stopped stuttering as a result of participating in our program.
  • Another, who had been mute since the beginning of the school term developed the confidence to sing a solo at a Gala Concert.
  • From the hundreds of cards and letters that students have sent to us following their participation in the WAOJP program, the words from a class of Grade 3 and 4 students stands out:

"We have learned, improved and our spirits have soared. We will ALWAYS remember this moment in our lives".

Who Benefits

The entire community benefits.

We believe that significant change comes to individuals who develop the confidence to take on creative leadership in their life.

Significant community change results from large numbers of confident people living thoughtful, creative lives thereby contributing to the positive leadership and well being of their families and community.

In the words of a participating TDSB teacher:

"Thank you for giving our students this beautiful opportunity and expanding their world. I know this project has inspired me to be a better mom and teacher."

Growth Plans

After five years of offering an intensive four-month program culminating in a Gala Concert, we are very pleased that beginning in the fall of 2014 WAOJP will operate year round. We will now work with children in the same community from September to June.

Our vision includes establishing similar projects in different parts of Canada.

Join us for our next Gala Concert at the Toronto Centre for the Arts on February 11, 2015.


Original article:



Project Partner
Hastings and Prince Edward District School Board
Lead Sponsors
Lead Sponsors Telus Mobility Black Artists' Networks Dialogue TD Canada Trust
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