Atlantic City students are taking part in a jazz camp at Stockton College's Carnegie Library Center this summer.
ATLANTIC CITY — How long Henrietta Shelton has dreamt of a summer jazz program for Atlantic City's children, I don't know, but this year all the necessary forces came together to make it a reality.
"Any other summer, I would have been all tied up," said Joe Brown, the program's director, "but this year, I was free."
I was flabbergasted when I walked into the three, bright modern classrooms made available by Stockton College at its Carnegie Library Center location in the city.
There stood Joe Brown, as humble as always, pleasantly smiling as he wrote scales on a white board in front of 30 keyboards.
"I'm pumped! I'm on fire," he told me, "and so are the other instructors," most of whom are volunteers, like Skip Shaffer, a teacher at the resort's Sovereign Avenue School, who will be teaching percussion for the summer jazz camp.
Shaffer appeared excited also as he showed a film about jazz greats to introduce a small group of boys to jazz drumming. He said his youngest student so far is a 3rd grader, Emmanuel, who told me his big brother has been teaching him a little drumming, but he's at the camp to learn a lot more.
Previously, a professional drummer, Shaffer has been teaching in Atlantic City schools for about 15 years. He told the students, "No previous experience is necessary. All you need to bring is a commitment to do the work. The harder you work, the more fun you'll have."
Jamir, a 6th grader from New Jersey Avenue School, said, "Mr. Brown found me a scholarship to learn drumming, because he thought I'd be good. I'm looking forward to performing on the Boardwalk in August."
An ensemble from the summer camp is scheduled to perform on Aug. 4 as part of the Chicken Bone Beach Foundation's 12th annual Jazz Concert Series.
Omar, a 14-year-old who's been playing guitar and now wants to try percussion, said, "I hope to make music a career one day so I'm going to ChARTer Tech [High School for the Performing Arts in Somers Point] in the fall to study music."
Joe Brown's niece, Danielle Mendez, is also helping out with the CBB jazz summer camp. Danielle attends Fordham University in New York, has her own band, plays several instruments and plans to attend Juilliard in the fall as part of a joint program it has with Fordham.
"I'll be working with the advanced guitar and brass students, mainly private lessons, helping them make the switch to jazz," she said. "I'm really excited and glad to help. I have another job, but I'll be here to help with keyboard lessons also."
I sat in on one of the keyboard classes and unsuccessfully tried to keep up with the students. Mr. Brown had them listening to a CD and clapping along to practice whole, half, quarter and eighth notes. That's where I met Taria, 15, who said she was there to help and to learn more.
She's been playing the saxophone since she was eight years old and began studying piano about four years ago. Also a vocalist, Taria said she might be singing in the Boardwalk performance — at Kennedy Plaza — in August.
Most students attending PAS have come from New Jersey Avenue School, one of the oldest in the city, which needed far too many repairs and had become a dark and dismal place for children and teachers alike.
What feels good to me this year is all the music that’s happening for our children and community.
“Being a boxing fan, I appreciate the legacy and history of boxing in Atlantic City. Of course, during the casino era, in the 1980s, when Don King was promoting the Mike Tyson fights, this is where the action was. And the town came alive with every major fight. It was good for the economy. Everybody did well.”
“As a matter of fact, before I moved to New York, I saw Coltrane at his mother’s house one day and was talking to him about how I was thinking about going to New York and he wished me luck.”
Last Thursday, April 5, Henrietta Shelton and the Chicken Bone Beach Foundation opened their spring jazz series at Top of the Trop in the Tropicana Casino. With a room full of supporters, Mayor Lorenzo Langford was on deck to present Henrietta with a proclamation from the City of Atlantic City for service to the community by way of preserving family values, developing community engagement and promoting an appreciation of America’s classical music — jazz.
The Atlantic County Chapter of the American Conference on Diversity will honor Atlantic City’s Henrietta Shelton at its Annual Humanitarian Awards Dinner at the Atlantic City Country Club in Northfield on Thursday, Dec. 1.
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