How I Joined — and Eventually Became President Of — A Wonderful Organization called JEN
by Caleb Chapman

About seven years ago, after performing at the Puerto Vallarta Jazz Festival in Mexico, I found myself trapped on a whale watching boat for three hours with a woman named Mary Jo Papich. I tried to move to different parts of the boat but she seemed to follow me around. It became obvious she didn’t just want to hang out and talk about the weather; she was trying to convince me I should join an organization called the Jazz Education Network she had co-cofounded with Dr. Lou Fischer the year prior. She went on to tell me all the things the organization represented and how it was going to change jazz education globally.

I was blunt and told her I simply wasn’t interested.

I described to Mary Jo how I had been part of other jazz education organizations in the past. While the mission of thoseorganizations was a great one, as a young educator and musician, they didn’t do as much for me as I was hoping. I was also disappointed that I saw very few students participating in previous jazz education conferences.

In one of the predominant jazz ed organizations there really were very few member benefits that were useful to me being located in the Mountain West, other than the opportunity to attend the conferences (which many of my colleagues couldn’t afford to do). Additionally, the future I saw for jazz was definitely heading in a different direction from what I saw at those conferences. I really didn’t feel like I belonged.

To me, jazz music represented improvised music that embraced a wide variety of styles and cultures. While I loved the music of jazz legends, I also was very interested in upcoming artists who pushed the envelope of the music and redefined the genre – something that I feel must be present for any art to survive.

My guess was that this JEN organization that Mary Jo was pitching to me would be very much a continuation of that older jazz education mentalityThankfully, I couldn’t have been more wrong! JEN is truly its own organization that has successfully executed on the mission of building the jazz arts community by advancing education, promoting performance, and developing new audiences.

Now, seven years later, I find myself enthusiastically assuming the office of President for JEN, following the awesome work of my predecessors, Mary Jo Papich, Lou Fischer, Andrew Surmani, and Bob Sinicrope – 4 of my heroes. To say I have big shoes to fill is certainly an understatement. They each have contributed their individual talents which have brought JEN to the place it is today – a global leader in jazz education and advocacy!

I have spent many nights recently wondering what benefits I can bring to JEN in my tenure as President for the next 2 years. I don’t have as many years of education or leadership experience as the other past presidents I have looked up to for so long. I realized though, that I do have something significant to offer.  I KNOW EXACTLY WHY I DIDN’T WANT TO BECOME A MEMBER OF JEN 7 YEARS AGO. That knowledge allows me a clear vision of what JEN needs to be in order to grow the organization and fulfill the vision that the founders had for JEN:

  1. JEN needs to be a place where students are not just accommodated, but where they are the majority. Just like we would never expect to have a university or high school where the teachers outnumbered the students, in the same fashion, our master musicians and educators should be working with huge numbers of young musicians at our conferences and through ongoing mentoring programs. We are well on our way to this goal with the JENerations Jazz Festivalthe Young Composer Showcase, the JEN scholarship program, and the mentoring opportunities at our conference. Combined, these programs draw thousands of students to our annual conference. But we are getting ready to do even more!

 

  1. Membership in JEN should have significant value above being able to attend conferences – and significant value above the annual fee. We are currently assembling a massive list of meaningful benefits to augment the existing benefits, including: new sheet music, scholarships, discounts on software and at retailers, audio downloads, additional member JAZZ2U grants, access to exclusive events, free subscriptions to industry publications, and much more. We are also preparing to release a spectacular new website designed specifically to maximize the JEN member experience!

 

  1. JEN members need the opportunity to network more than just once a year and in more places than just the one city that hosts the annual conference. To that end, we are moving towards establishing units grouped by region or state with local leadership. We also will be creating chapters at the university and secondary school levels to meet the needs of our student members. Finally, we will be exploring regional events so that those who might not be able to afford long-distance travel can still have the opportunity to participate in JEN activities.

There’s no question, this is a lot to tackle. Accomplishing these goals would simply not be possible without an amazing team, so I’m happy to report that we have a world-class board with experts not just in music and education, but also business, law, marketing, fundraising, finance, and technology.

I’m also very grateful for the new members of the JEN Presidential Advisory Council representing some of the best minds in the industry who are volunteering their time and passion to move us forward: Wynton Marsalis, Grace Kelly, Jody Espina, Victor Wooten, Ruben Alvarez, Frank Alkyer, Jeff Coffin, John Hasse, Dee Daniels, John Wittmann, Andrew Surmani, and John Clayton.

In just eight short years, JEN has grown into a powerhouse with impressive achievements. It is truly an honor for me to serve you, our members, and I am looking forward to seeing how we can grow this organization together with a focus on students, increasing our value to members, and increasing networking opportunities.

So yes, seven years ago I did give in to Mary Jo’s plea to join JEN. Those of you that know her understand that it’s hard to say “no” to someone as passionate as she is about jazz education.  However, I now make it a point to avoid cruises with her. Who knows what I would get roped into on the next one . . .


In addition to his role as JEN President, Caleb Chapman is Founder and President of Caleb Chapman’s  Soundhouse, Director of the Crescent Super Band, and Artistic Director for Pioneer High School for the Performing Arts. He serves on several boards including the Utah Arts Council, and is an award-winning musician, producer, educator, author, and speaker.  To learn more about Caleb, please visit www.ccsoundhouse.com.

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