Jazz Performance and Education Centre


Ontario Government Cuts Music Education Funding For At-Risk Kids

By Anya Wassenberg on August 25, 2018 (The Scoop)

Sistema Kids
The Ontario provincial government has announced a decision to pull a promised $500,000 in music funding aimed at Toronto at-risk youth run by Sistema Toronto. (Photo courtesy Sistema Toronto).

The Ontario Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport have reneged on a promise of $500,000 in funding for an after-school music program for at-risk children. The half million dollars in additional funding was promised to Sistema Toronto by the previous Liberal government in May, before the provincial election. The announcement reversing the funding was made late last week.

Hilary Johnson, Sistema Toronto's Managing Director, decried the move in a media interview. She emphasized Sistema's value in a statement to a reporter for the Toronto Star, "After-school programming is huge in helping kids stay out of trouble," she said. According to Johnson, most of the children in the program come from new immigrant families, and many are in foster care.

The $500,000 grant was part of a $21 million investment over three years announced by the former Ontario government. The money was slated specifically to promote access and exposure to arts education for Ontario students, including visual arts, dance, and drama, as well as music. Part of the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport's stated overall mandate is "championing participation in sport and recreation activities across Ontario."

Sistema Toronto certainly fits the bill under that broad umbrella. The nonprofit organization provides after-school music instruction to 275 kids between the ages of 6 and 12 in the Parkdale, Jane-Finch, and East Scarborough regions — neighbourhoods with high child poverty rates. At no cost, children receive instruction from professional musicians, along with the instruments to learn and play, and a nutritious snack to hold them off till dinner.

All three centres have long waiting lists, and the extra funding would have allowed Sistema to add more at-risk children to the program. Sistema Toronto says they will have to cap waiting lists, cut teachers and staff, and cancel plans to buy new instruments.

The benefits of music education at an early age are well documented. They include improved motor and math skills, memory, not to say confidence and a sense of community. In at-risk neighbourhoods, they give kids an alternative to the often unfriendly streets, and a sense of direction and community to combat the lure of gangs. According to the organization’s statement, the students who participate in Sistema's programming are 25 percent more likely to get higher scores on standardized tests.

Sistema, or El Sistema, more properly, is a global organization that operates in 55 countries worldwide. Founded by Maestro Jose Antonio Abreu in Venezuela in 1975, the organization firmly believes in the social and public health benefits of music education, and the power of music to create social change. The program’s success in enriching and developing the lives of children and their families spread across Venezuela and spawned the global network of organizations that now use the Sistema approach. Gustavo Dudamel, conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, is perhaps Sistema's most famous alumnus. Dudamel is also the conductor of the Orquesta Sinfónica Simón Bolívar (Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra,) the ensemble made up of young players who are learning through Sistema.

Mitzie Hunter, MPP for Scarborough-Guildwood, who made the original funding announcement back on May 8, 2018, joined with Parkdale-High Park MPP Bhutila Karpoche in issuing a statement calling for a reversal of the funding cut. "The Sistema program addresses the lack of quality educational programming available to these underserved communities and cancelling planned funding puts these children at risk of not reaching their full potential. I urge the Minister to reconsider this decision."

Karpoche joined in condemning the move — and pointed the finger directly at the Ontario government. "Instead of providing support to communities that are struggling with some of the highest child poverty rates in Toronto, Doug Ford’s government has decided to pull the rug out from under at-risk children," Karpoche's statement read.

A spokesperson for MPP Sylvia Jones, the minister of Tourism, Culture and Sport, issued a statement to the press late last week blaming the previous Liberal government.

"The day the election was called, the previous minister committed funding to this organization without going through the proper approval process. Unfortunately, Sistema does not meet the criteria for this grant and is not eligible for funding. It is unfortunate that the Liberals put Sistema in this position."

Johnson, however, told reporters that the funding came as a result of lengthy consultations. She says that the Ministry's statement is in "direct conflict" with the assurances the organization received both in writing and in one on one meetings.

The loss is significant, making up just over half of the organization’s $900,000 annual budget. Sistema Toronto has launched a crowdfunding campaign through CanadaHelps.org to help fill the breach. Several thousand dollars were donated on the first day.

Meet The NEA's 2019 Jazz Masters: Dorough, Ibrahim, Schneider And Crouch

Abdullah Ibrahim
South African composer and pianist Abdullah Ibrahim, one of the NEA's 2019 Jazz Master recipients, along with Maria Schneider, Bob Dorough and Stanley Crouch.
Marina Umari/Courtesy of the NEA
The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Jazz Masters award, bestowed every year since 1982, is often characterized as the United States' highest honor reserved for jazz. This morning the NEA announced four new recipients of the prize: pianist and composer Abdullah Ibrahim, composer-arranger-bandleader Maria Schneider, critic and novelist Stanley Crouch, and singer-songwriter and pianist Bob Dorough.

Each award, which comes with a $25,000 prize, begins with a nomination process that's open the public, with the intention of recognizing "a broad range of men and women who have been significant to the field of jazz through vocal and instrumental performance, creative leadership, and education."

By design, it's a lifetime achievement honor for living artists — but in the case of Dorough, whose nomination was approved before his death in April, a rare posthumous distinction will be made. Dorough, who was 94 when he died, would have been the oldest Jazz Master inductee by about a decade.
Abdullah Ibrahim
Abdullah Ibrahim: How Improvisation Saved My Life
Ibrahim — one of the most admired musicians ever to emerge from South Africa, originally under the name Dollar Brand — is 83. He remains active as a recording artist and touring concert attraction, typically either playing solo or with his longtime band, Ekaya. In recent years he has also revisited the music he made with The Jazz Epistles in the late 1950s, under apartheid. (NEA Jazz Masters are also required to be American citizens or permanent residents; since going into exile in the '60s, Ibrahim has lived for long stretches in the United States.)

Jazz Writer Crouch, 'Considering Genius' of Jazz

Crouch, who is 72, has long been one of the most prominent and provocative voices in jazz criticism. A longtime friend and mentor of Wynton Marsalis, he was among the earliest consultants to Jazz at Lincoln Center. Along with acclaimed collections of essays, Crouch has published a novel (Don't the Moon Look Lonesome?) and a biography (Kansas City Lightning: The Rise and Times of Charlie Parker). He'll receive the A.B. Spellman NEA Jazz Masters Fellowship for Jazz Advocacy, named after a colleague (and occasional sparring partner).
Maria Schneider
The Hills Are Alive: Maria Schneider Lets Memory Guide The Music
Schneider, at 57, is by far the youngest inductee in this NEA Jazz Masters class, but she brings more than her share of credentials. Widely hailed as the preeminent large-ensemble composer of her generation, she's a perennial fixture in industry surveys like the DownBeat International Critics Poll and has won an armload of Grammy awards in both jazz and classical categories. Schneider is also no stranger to recognition from the National Endowment for the Arts, having won a grant from the organization in 1985, shortly after moving to New York.
According to custom, the new class of NEA Jazz Masters will be inducted in a tribute concert and ceremony at the Kennedy Center on Monday, April 15, 2019. The concert will be free and open to the public, and streamed online.

From Gene DiNovi’s biography, The Canadian Music Centre

Gene DiNovi began his musical life as a jazz pianist on 52nd Street -- New York's legendary Swing Street -- in 1945. It was a remarkable and life-changing journey for the fifteen-year-old DiNovi from hanging around outside the clubs, listening raptly to the music of Art Tatum, Lester Young and, Billie Holiday, to his being invited to sit in with them. Among the first to recognize DiNovi’s musical potential as the great Dizzy Gillespie who gave the youthful pianist his Be-Bop baptism. "Come up here and Play," Gillespie said to him one night - and the rest, as they say, is history. To make it a genuine baptism of fire, Charlie Parker sauntered around the corner of the bandstand - already playing - and sat in as well! It wasn't long after his fantasy-like beginning to his jazz career, that DiNovi was playing and recording with Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw, Buddy Rich, Chubby Jackson, Boyd Raeburn, Peggy Lee, Tony Bennett and Lena Horne.

By 1970, DiNovi had put in a decade in Hollywood as pianist, composer, orchestrator, and songwriter. He wrote his first important song, "Have a Heart", with the great Johnny Mercer. Percy Faith, Nancy Wilson Doris Day, and Dinah Shore have all recorded his songs and Maurice Chevalier's last TV Special features a song DiNovi wrote with his lyricist Bill Comstock, "Tout Va Bien".

The 1970s brought DiNovi to Toronto. He immediately began performing innumerable concerts, club dates, and holding recording sessions. With the award winning classical clarinetist, James Campbell he created the popular "Jazz in a Classical Key". His easy-going style and engaging warmth made him a great favourite with audiences on CBC radio and television and on TV Ontario.

Two recent musical events are a tribute to the richness and variation of Gene DiNovi’s musical career. In the winter of 1997, The Smithsonian Institute conducted a life-history interview with Gene for two long days. As well, DiNovi recently completed the score (with Gary Michael Dault) for Alice in the Orchestra, a musical entertainment for actors and symphony orchestra currently in production with a number of major musical organizations through North America.

Jack Batten has been a very good writer for many years. The author of forty books, Batten has also reviewed jazz for the Globe and Mail, and, for twenty-five years, movies on CBC Radio. He currently writes the biweekly Whodunnit column in the Toronto Star. He lives in Toronto.