History: Our First Notes

Melissa Walker - Early Years
What started in 2002 as an idea of professional jazz vocalist and Jazz House Kids founder Melissa Walker, and later, her husband, world-renowned bassist Christian McBride–to help students embark on a journey of musical creativity and learn about jazz’s cultural and international legacy–has become a rich gathering place of musical talent and shared promise.

We’re still growing, but we’ve already come a long way!

1999: Newark jazz station WBGO asks professional vocalist Melissa Walker to create a program to introduce children to jazz. She tells the students to put on their make-believe tool belts, and together they build their first “jazz house,” with each instrument forming an important element. The kids love it, and Melissa is invited to bring her program into Newark public elementary schools. She develops a series of elementary school “Let’s Build a Jazz House” workshops and hires professional musicians to present them with her.

2002: Melissa incorporates Jazz House Kids as a nonprofit organization, and begins leading jazz workshops in public schools across Newark

2003: Jazz House Kids introduces its in-school Vocal Summit and Instrumental Jazz Residency programs, bringing professional teaching artists into the schools to work side-by-side with young, aspiring musicians.

2007: Jazz House Kids celebrates its fifth anniversary with an all-star gala featuring saxophonist Dave Sanborn at the Montclair Art Museum. We launch “Jazz Across the Curriculum”®, a professional development program that teaches New Jersey teachers of all disciplines ways to use jazz as an effective teaching tool in their K-to-8 classrooms.

2008: Jazz House Kids presents the first annual “Inside the Jazz Note”® day of learning and music. At a free master class, hundreds of New Jersey high school students receive music instruction and life lessons from jazz luminary Pat Metheny. (Following years will see Chris Botti, Chick Corea, Dianne Reeves, Esperanza Spalding and a “supergroup” of jazz elder statesmen.) Setting a precedent for the event, Jazz House Kids artistic chair, GRAMMY Award-winning bassist Christian McBride, hosts the master class as well as an intimate concert and conversation with Metheny for the public.

2009: The first Jazz House studio opens at Sharron Miller’s Academy of Performing Arts in Montclair. Jazz House Kids begins offering year-round after-school jazz education and performance programs in this 325-square foot space and down the street at the Montclair Salvation Army Citadel.

2010: Jazz House Kids establishes the Jazz House Summer Workshop – now recognized as one of the nation’s leading summer jazz programs – and the free, family-friendly Montclair Jazz Festival, which features a host of acclaimed artists plus more than 100 student musicians from the Workshop performing for thousands of friends and fans from Montclair and the surrounding area. We also launched our first Big Band, which quickly went on to win multiple awards at national competitions such as Essentially Ellington.

2011: Responding to the needs of Newark Public Schools, Jazz House Kids initiates the Jazz House Kids Music Club at three middle schools, providing students with free music instruction, performance opportunities and master classes, and preparing them to excel in high school music programs.

2012: Jazz House Kids enjoys a landmark, 10th anniversary year, producing a thrilling concert and gala at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center and launching the John J. Cali Scholarship Fund to provide underserved students with private lessons and ensemble class tuition assistance.

2013: Jazz House Kids relocates to a beautiful new 4,000 square foot facility in downtown Montclair that allows for the expansion of its jazz education and performance programs for children and adults of all ages and abilities. Jazz House Kids remains the only community arts organization in New Jersey exclusively dedicated to educating our children through jazz. In its first year of participating in the nationally-renowned Essentially Ellington high school Big Band competition, the Jazz House Big Band takes second place.


Mayor Jackson cuts the ribbon for the New Jazz House, 2013.