KUVO JAZZ celebrates Jazz Appreciation Month (JAM), with a different musical “them—e” each year. The 2021 theme is “Mentors and Protégés.”

Mentor: Walter Bishop Jr. and Protégé: Benny Green
Hard bop pianist Benny Green was mentored by Walter Bishop Jr. and has appeared on more than 100 recordings, with artists such as Betty Carter, Milt Jackson and Diana Krall. In 1993, Oscar Peterson chose Green to receive the Glen Gould International Protégé Prize in Music. —NPR Music

Indeed, the art form of jazz (nay, the entire practice of music) depends on the ancient master-to-student conveyance of the disciplines, tips, tricks, theory, and attitude to truly learn the secret, coded language. (Many have been self-taught, but no artist gets very far without confronting the masters’ work in front of them.)

Throughout April, KUVO hosts are curating hourly pairs of mentors and protégés. All month! Dozens and dozens of masters and disciples! You’ll hear mild and strong influences, mimicry, and inspired invention. And some of the weekend specialty shows will share mentors and protégés from their genres, across generations and geographies.

The foremost of jazz mentors is arguably drummer Art Blakey, who co-founded the Jazz Messengers with pianist-composer Horace Silver. Downbeat Magazine’s article “The Mightiest Mentor” notes the Jazz Messengers list of alumni include names like Golson, Shorter, Morgan, Hubbard, Fuller, Watson, Nash, Marsalis, and scores more by our count. Denver-grown saxophonist Javon Jackson (’87-’90) is perhaps Colorado’s closest link to the “Blakey’s University.”

Shout out to Denver’s jazz families: The Fred Fuller Family (daughters Tia Fuller and Shamie Royston), the Lealis (saxophonist-educator Brad Leali, pianist Gayle Leali), and Colorado’s own “Jackie Robinson of Classical Music” bassist Charlie Burrell (whose family tree includes NEA Jazz Master Dianne Reeves, keyboardist George Duke, and Denver pianist-historian Purnell Steen).

Patriarch of the famous New Orleans jazz family Ellis Marsalis is known to have raised a few good players (with sons Wynton, Delfeayo, Jason, and Branford, inducted as a family as National Endowment for the Arts as Jazz Masters in 2011). The elder Marsalis was a true mentor to many musicians in New Orleans, including his students at the University of New Orleans and Xavier University.

Miles Davis’ strong-handed approach to band leading made him both a stern taskmaster and cultivator of amazing improvisation. Just look up Miles Davis associated acts for a who’s who of bop, hard bop, jazz-rock fusion, modern jazz, and funk.

And in addition to the great female bandleaders of the swing era, the 21st century has been blessed with the band-leading and mentorship of Jazz Masters Maria Schneider and Terri Lyne Carrington, and the Diva Jazz Orchestra’s Sherrie Maricle. Happening now: saxophonist Roxy Coss founded the Women in Jazz Organization of Women and Non-binary people, with a special emphasis on mentorship.

The Jazz Education Network founded in 2008) supports the jazz movement through networking, educator resources, scholarships, and grants.

Play Locally!

It’s not a secret that Denver area high schools have nationally known musicians as band directors. After school programs like the Colorado Conservatory for the Jazz Arts, Denver Jazz Club Youth All-Stars, Gift of Jazz, Longmont Jazz Club and others put professional musicians up close and personal with young talent and school audiences.

For those seeking the academic route, Colorado boasts many excellent jazz studies and performance curricula. Higher education programs from Greeley to Fort Collins to Boulder to Denver have famous alumni and professors as mentors, national awards, swinging recordings, and top-notch annual concert seasons.  Even the Colorado School of Mines adds “STEAM” to their Golden, Colo. campus by adding Arts to a world-famous Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math reputation. See links to the various programs below. Also, these programs play annually LIVE on KUVO Jazz from our performance studio.  Check out some of the KUVO High School – Collegiate Performance Series work on the KUVO JAZZ YouTube Channel.

The fact is one cannot separate jazz (or music) from the apprenticeship inherent in the craft. Thus, jazz must organically grow, morph, and evolve. Let’s keep the tree watered.

ABOUT JAZZ APPRECIATION MONTH – Jazz Appreciation Month (JAM) was initiated by the Smithsonian Institution in 2001 to “recognize and celebrate the extraordinary heritage and history of jazz. JAM is intended to stimulate and encourage people of all ages to participate in jazz – to study the music, attend concerts, listen to jazz on radio and recordings, read books about jazz, and more.”

Smithsonian Resources:

Smithsonian: Ways to Celebrate Jazz for Teachers, Students, Parents, Band Directors, Historians, Collectors, Philanthropists, Libraries, Museums, Foundations and more

Smithsonian: Directory of Jazz Societies


Colorado School of Mines – Music, Engineering and Recording Arts

Colorado State University School of Music – Jazz Studies

Metropolitan State University – Denver – Department of Music

University of Colorado – Boulder – Thompson Jazz Studies Program

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