by Martin Lesch

I used to lament the fact that the next potential Miles Davis might never have access to a musical instrument or music education.  I wondered what the world would be like if Louis Armstrong was never handed a horn.  Years ago, my friend Bob Masteller told me about his plans to start a non-profit organization called The Junior Jazz Foundation (JJF).  He believed, as I do, that it is important for us as musicians and fans of music to look out for the next generation of talent and to be cultivating their abilities as well as cultivating the advancement of our art form in addition to educating listeners.  We were both concerned that schools were underfunded in every way but particularly that the arts were struggling or being eliminated all-together.

So, starting small and organizing with the local schools to give refurbished instruments to programs in need, the JJF was born.  As we’ve grown through the years, I’ve witnessed the profound effects the program has had on young lives.  Growing up, I was fortunate enough to have a piano and access to music education, but so many young children never get that opportunity; either because of cuts to school music programs or lack of access for a variety of reasons to an instrument or good teacher.  It’s something that drives me and all the members of the JJF to do what we do.

I know without the discovery of music in my life I would not have made it.  Music saved me so many times and really kept me focused.  Whenever I teetered on the brink of real trouble in life, music reminded me that “Hey, you have your music. You have something you love to do and were born with a gift to be able to do it”.  So, I do get sad over the thought of other young kids struggling and not having access to music or being given the opportunity to discover their gift.


But it’s not all bad news.  Although the arts in the vast majority of schools are terribly underfunded, with the help of our community and some hard work put into creative fundraising ideas, the JJF has been able to really make an impact on our schools in Beaufort and Jasper counties as well as with children from all over the country that come to our island to study Jazz music at Hilton Head Jazz Camp every summer.  Every year we are expanding what we provide to the community; here is just some of what we do:

  • Collection of approximately 50 used instruments each year, refurbishment and distribution to students in Beaufort and Jasper Counties who cannot afford to buy or rent an instrument
  • Distribution of $15,000 – 20,000 per year in financial grants to school music programs in Beaufort and Jasper counties
  • Major financial support for the Hilton Head Jazz Camp, attended by 100+ students each year
  • Distribution of $5,000 – 10,000 per year in college scholarships to students who attend the Hilton Head Jazz Camp and are accepted into a college music program

With that in mind, I’d like to announce our newest project, and one we are immensely excited about. With the help of our supporters, we’ve been able to supply a 17-Keyboard Piano Lab to St. Helena Elementary School.  This is a great set up that allows for the best methods of education for the students.  I don’t know if we will find the next Miles Davis or Herbie Hancock or Alicia Keys for that matter, but it is an amazing stepping stone to give children access to the wonderful world of music. Hopefully it provides some of these students with a sense of purpose and joy in life and instills a sense of commitment and a realization that through hard work you improve.

You see, in music what seems impossible one day becomes part of your repertoire the next through practice and dedication. It can help teach us much larger lessons about life. That hard work and dedication lead to positive results.