As part of the annual Jazz House Kids Music Club and Vocal Summit Student Showcase, students from eight Newark Public Schools participated in a special workshop and concert with celebrated former Yankee All-Star and Latin GRAMMY nominee jazz guitarist Bernie Williams on Wednesday, April 23 at Science Park High School. Participating schools included: John F. Kennedy, Oliver Street, Science Park High, Abington Avenue, Maple Avenue, Rafael Hernandez and Arts High School.
As audience to an on-stage interview conducted by Melissa Walker, president and founder of Jazz House Kids, students had a chance to hear about Williams’ work and how he balanced his musical passions with his sports career. He credits his passion for music as a key to opening up his personal potential in both pursuits. A native of Puerto Rico, Williams discovered baseball and music at roughly the same time, when at the age of eight he fell in love with the sounds of a flamenco guitar, and also felt exhilaration when he first picked up a baseball bat. The young student-athlete quickly excelled in both pursuits, going on to attend the special performance arts school Escuela Libre de Musica at age 13 and becoming one of the most noted young athletes on the island, both as a track and field standout and one of Puerto Rico’s most sought after young baseball prospects. When Williams signed a contract with the New York Yankees at age 17, he brought his love of music with him – first to Albany for his development in double-A ball and then on to the Bronx and the most famous field in sports when called up to join the Yankees in 1991.
Williams’ story clearly resonated with NPS students, who had the opportunity to ask him questions after Walker finished her chat. After photos and a meet and greet, the ball player/musician joined students and teachers on the stage for a moving and memorable performance.
“We are thrilled that Bernie Williams, a man whose accomplishments bridge the world of sports and music, donated his time to speak with and connect to young music students in our Newark Public Schools music programs” Walker said. “Mr. Williams is an inspiration to young people, and his support of Jazz House Kids’ mission is so encouraging – his personal dedication to obtaining a college education tells two key stories: no award or sum of money can take the place of one’s education and we are never too old to learn. We at Jazz House Kids salute that message and work toward that end each and everyday through the medium of jazz – it is incredibly exciting that Mr. Williams stood on stage with over 100 music students from Newark Public Schools.”
For more than 13 years, Jazz House Kids has provided programming in the Newark Public School District, working with more than 12,000 young people K-12 and hundreds of teachers and administrators to offer music, mentorship and apprenticeship. The 2013-2014 Jazz House Music Club and Vocal Summit Jazz Residency programs currently serve more than 300 students in nine Newark Schools with year-long instrumental and vocal programming. These programs are provided free of charge to all of the participating students and are funded by the Iverson Family Foundation, Don Katz and Leslie Larson, The Prudential Foundation, Rivendell Foundation, The Silver Family Foundation, Turrell Fund, Victoria Foundation and support from our partnering schools.