This is part of a series called “Spotlight on a Local Musician,” but just this once, I want to step out of the formula and spotlight an organization.

You’ve probably heard of or seen performances by “CCJA,” and you may have wondered if this is some area high school or simply wondered what it is. In short, it’s a non-profit organization that offers kids from pre-school to high school musical experiences and opportunities they would be hard pressed to find within their academic instruction.

Most school band directors have limited experience with jazz at all. Only a small percentage of them actually play professionally. They do a pretty good job of developing a jazz big band for their students that introduces the kids to the sound of jazz, but those students simply read and play a part from sheet music.

Even the best of these students lack the opportunity to play in a small group, to learn jazz theory, to improvise, arrange, or compose. Most leave high school happy to have played in their jazz band but having grown no great love of music or desire to continue to play.

For almost 20 years, CCJA has been filling that void in the Front Range. And its influence has been just astounding. I credit CCJA with literally creating the richness and depth of our jazz community here. Let’s take a look at its offerings, then a deeper look into its impact on the front range jazz scene.

CCJA’s core program groups students from all over the metro area into small (7-9 piece) jazz ensembles, directed by professional musician mentors. These are the best working jazz musicians in Colorado. Students are grouped according to instrument, experience level, and geography. In addition to the small groups, CCJA offers a big band experience for junior high students and another for high school students. Again, the ensemble directors are outstanding professionals, assisted by near-peer mentors – mostly CCJA alumni – who have recently solidified their passion for the jazz art form. Jazz Boot Camp is for ages 9-14. This camp gives kids the opportunity to interact and learn from CCJA’s faculty by participating in small groups, improvisation workshops, instrument master classes, and inspiring faculty performances.

The Summer Institute programs offer one-week intensive ensembles and workshops for students and adults.

The Jazz in The Sangres Camp is an immersive, one-of-a-kind jazz camp located in Westcliffe, CO, at the foot of the Sangre De Cristo Mountains.   This year, over 40 intermediate/advanced high school jazz musicians will spend the week with the region’s most sought-after professional jazz artists (Paul Romaine, Brad Goode, Greg Gisbert, Mark Patterson, Eric Gunnison, Anisha Rush) playing in both small groups and a big band and participating in jam sessions, master classes, performances, activities, and more! Students have access to the world-class faculty nearly 15 hours a day, allowing for an incredible amount of personalized instruction and “hang time” with both faculty and fellow students.

All these groups cap their CCJA time with concerts at jazz venues.

CCJA was founded and is still run by drummer Paul Romaine and his musician wife, Chris. Their goals for this endeavor far surpass that of creating good musicians, as they are humanists at heart. These young people come with so many various personalities, egos, confidence or lack of confidence, that they are ready to be molded into better people. For instance, Paul talked about that kid that comes into a program with an attitude like “I’m better than the rest of these guys.” Paul will encourage that kid to be a peer-mentor sooner than later, enabling growth and maturity and developing that spirit of support and collaboration so needed in a jazz group.

Perhaps I went out on a limb in saying CCJA has helped shape the entire jazz community here on the Front Range. No, I don’t think I’m that far out there! The students who don’t continue to become professional jazz musicians become our listeners. I’ve been to many local jazz shows where half the audience is college age or younger.  With over 200 kids participating in more than 40 ensembles every year, CCJA feeds our area university music programs. What city the size of Denver has at least 5 colleges with rich jazz programs putting out scores of professional jazz musicians? Is jazz a relic for old people? Perhaps in other parts of the country, but here we’re growing the next generation by leaps and bounds.

Who’s teaching in these programs? Which of our young musicians are products of CCJA? Well, you saw some names of icons teaching in the Sangre de Christos. And of the 27 Local Musician Spotlights I’ve written over the past two years, 17 have been instructors, students or both. Of the program’s participants over the last 20 years of CCJA’s existence, there are hundreds of former students playing on the jazz scene – and not all locally. Some have gone on to New York and other bigger cities around the country.

If you need some names, here you go: Jeff Jenkins, Ken Walker, Alejandro Castano, Gabriel Mervine, Paul McKee, Annie Booth, Darryl Gott, Alex Heffron, Mark Diamond, Mark Patterson, John Gunther, Joe Anderies, Dawn Clement. Apologies to the innumerable others I just can’t fit into here!

So, jazz listener, if you have the opportunity to hear a CCJA group in concert, don’t assume it’s just another struggling high school band. It’s so far from that! And if you love jazz and the organization’s mission, do become a member and support them. Go to CCJA and donate!



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