Groundbreaking Music School Opens at Jazz Hall

According to the well-known veteran educator and innovator Deborah Brown, the Ghanian word sankofa means respecting tradition – looking back while moving forward. And it’s clear why she’s connected the word sankofa to the name of the new school.

“I really believe in that,” she says. “We should remember the past as we teach for the future.”

And then there’s the present, which finds her Sankofa school in several freshly painted and decorated rooms on the first floor of the building that houses the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame at 111 E. First Street in Tulsa.

“We’ve worked together with Mrs. Brown on various music education programs for five years now,” comments Jason McIntosh, Jazz Hall CEO. “She’s amazing. She’s taught for 38 years, and she’s an incredible leader who always focuses on the education basics that others tend to overlook – like parental involvement and the value of arts education. Schools are cutting music programs all across the state, which is just the opposite of what they should be doing.  We’re moving in the right direction by increasing our music-education involvement in the community.  We know that arts programs, including music, have real value for students that will last all their lives.”

That commitment is shared by both the Jazz Hall of Fame and Deborah Brown, who has made music and dance an important part of the Sankofa curriculum.

“I love music. I love dance,” she says. “As a child, I played piano, and later on I played clarinet and was in marching bands in junior high, high school, and college. When I was at an education conference in New Orleans a couple of years ago, the entertainment was provided by a jazz orchestra made up of students from the third through the seventh grades, and it was wonderful. They were playing songs by jazz greats such as Herbie Hancock. That’s when I realized I could do the same thing in Tulsa.

“Jason and I have already started scheduling some local and national musicians to come in and work with our educational programming through the Jazz Hall of Fame.”

For example, the world-renowned jazz percussionist Candido will be working with the school’s students. This National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master will also visit Tulsa to headline the Jazz Hall’s Jazzfest, set for Sept. 14-16.

Sankofa, which includes the fourth, fifth, and sixth grades, has an enrollment of nearly 75 students.  “This group of kids is the beginning of something great,” says Brown. “Sankofa and the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame’s culture of music and learning is setting new standards for our students, which will set the pace for future students.”

This joint partnership has hit the ground running. The Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame is enriching the curriculum and instruction with their museum’s vast archives and library. For example, “My First Book of Jazz,” by Harlem Renaissance poet Langston Hughes, is being adapted for use in the classroom. Additionally, local and national musicians are being enlisted to share their talent and knowledge with students through one-on-one instruction, as well as in master classes.

The Jazz Hall CEO thinks it’s the beginning of a great partnership, and Deborah Brown agrees.

“I just think it’s going to be great for downtown Tulsa, especially with the revitalization of the arts that’s been going on,” she says. “The Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame is a major part of the forces that are shaping downtown Tulsa at this time, and we’re very glad to be a part of it all.”

The Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame is a 501(c) (3), non-profit, cultural and educational organization. It exists to provide a system in and for the State of Oklahoma to preserve, promote and illuminate the true art forms of jazz, blues and gospel music; also identify, document and honor the artists who have made a significant contribution locally, regionally, nationally and internationally to its development. Additionally, the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame promotes educational learning, training, classes, performances and cultural events with and on behalf of disadvantaged youth of all races, creeds, religions and ethnic heritage and provides scholarships to  students. We celebrate the music of America.

Visit okjazz.org for more information.