For the first time in over 20 years, jazz will return to East Knox Local School District. Kenyon’s Beta Theta Phi (Beta) and Delta Phi (D-Phi) fraternities and members of Kenyon’s Jazz Ensemble have collaborated to not only prop up the school district’s existing band program, but also create a new after-school jazz program.
The venture started a year ago after the Betas raised money for and donated 20 instruments to East Knox Local School District. Wyatt Ernst ’18, then the vice president of Beta, had the idea to bring jazz to Knox County schools after he volunteered at New Orleans’ Preservation Hall, an organization that teaches jazz in schools without music departments. After that first donation, Ernst wanted someone to teach jazz in the classroom, but he was not able to teach it himself. When Max Lazarus ’20, a member of the Jazz Ensemble, heard of the opportunity, he immediately emailed Ernst.
“I got an email right back that was like, ‘Can we meet tonight?’” Lazarus said. “It just kinda kicked off right away.”
Over two years, Ernst’s fraternity has raised more than $8,000 through a combination of benefit concerts at the Village Inn and solicited donations from connections Ernst made at Preservation Hall. Besides the 20 instruments, that money went toward repairing and paying off the rentals on the school district’s existing instruments. The D-Phis contributed $400 this year as well and plan to collaborate with the Betas more in the future.
The Betas hope to continue supporting East Knox’s music departments and eventually branch out into other schools around Knox County. Ernst is excited about the lasting impact their venture could have. He stressed the importance of working with the local community.
“I think that the money that you raise and the service that you do will be much more beneficial to this county and this area than just giving it to a charity,” he said. “It’s all about building bridges.”
Lazarus has been teaching a group of about a dozen seventh, eighth and ninth graders after school every Tuesday as part of East Knox’s new jazz program. He focuses on the fun of playing music, teaching his students how to improvise and express themselves through their instruments.
“I try to focus on things that I personally didn’t receive out of a public education and things that I felt are super essential to just being a musician,” he said. “Music is fun and I want to show that that’s what music is, because I feel like school and education takes it away.”
East Knox Local School District will have a concert on May 9 at East Knox High School. Lazarus is excited about the jazz program’s first performance. “It’s gonna be our first gig ever, as a band, and I think the kids are very excited to show what we’ve been working on,” he said. “We got two songs that we’re gonna be performing, and I don’t want to give too much away, but one of them is gonna be an Art Blakey tune.”