This music is a highly powerful art form.
Saturday Night Bath’s concerts at schools and youth detention facilities are fun, but our goals and results go far beyond mere enjoyment and a break in the day’s routine. Our educational, interactive approach reflects a profound concern for young people facing massive challenges in their lives. Our first objective is simply to introduce and promote a better understanding of the living history and evolution of popular Jazz and Blues art forms. The second, but even more important objective is to motivate these at-risk students, by participating in an up-close concert experience, to pursue further study of traditional or modern music, to play instruments, to sing and write lyrics. We intrigue them with accessible musical styles and songs, raise interest in other scholastic and art endeavors, and expand their musical knowledge by talking directly to practicing musicians. We provide an inspiration to pursue music and a reason not to drop out of school.
Each year, Saturday Night Bath visits an average of twenty continuation high schools and correctional facilities. Over the years, we have also given preference to sites for pregnant teens. Our vision is to encourage students to express themselves in a positive manner, becoming apprentice–perhaps ultimately professional—musicians themselves. Our music is understandable, using simple three-chord progressions that are the basis for most song construction in Western music. This music is a highly powerful art form, which both permeates daily life and is easily relatable to classroom subjects such as Language Arts, Math, History, and Social Studies. We point out the mix of music, rhyming and poetry in songs. We repeatedly mention the interconnection of counting and math in popular music, and the history and literature behind the song lyrics.
There are an average of 75-90 students and staff at the continuation high schools, and approximately 3-6 teachers. The demographics are observed to be 40% Latino, 35% African-American, 20% Caucasian, and 5% Asian. These students come from very high-density inner city areas, and from low-income, at-risk social situations. In the San Fernando and Antelope Valleys, however, the at-risk population shifts to become 55% Caucasian, 20% Latino, 20% African-American, and 5% Asian. When a school specifically serves pregnant teenage girls, the demographics change again, appearing to be 55% Latino, 40% African-American and 5% Caucasian and Asian. These demographics have remained fairly consistent over the years.
Saturday Night Bath performs original Blues, Jazz, Rock n’ Roll and Hip-Hop, in addition to traditional “old-school” compositions. Whenever possible at a specific site, a brief pre-concert slide show adds a creative visual element that corresponds to the music. Between songs, band members describe the origins, mechanics, inventors and most famous players of their instruments. Such talks naturally touch on the tremendous contributions that of African-Americans and Latinos have historically made, alongside whites, in creating America’s distinctive musical culture. This inspires pride in the demographic groups we target. For the brave, we provide an opportunity to join the performance, by playing an instrument, singing or rapping. Finally, all students receive a crash course in the new CA/LAUSD Standards for Music Study, including many of the performance, history and theory basics. The tenets are written on cue cards and held up to the audience while we recite them for emphasis. Since these are applicable to graduation requirements, we reinforce them again, in print, in our donated 38-page Handbook. At the end of the concert program, students who remember ten of the musical concepts or historical/literary facts that we discuss win a harmonica.
In addition to the interactive concerts, we also conduct pre- and post-concert hands-on clinics and discussions with interested students. This personal contact is especially meaningful, and encourages acceptance and understanding of Jazz and the Blues. As musicians, we love our jobs—and we are gratified to pass on our own art heritage in this way, by direct contact with the next generation.
In fact, we believe our concerts can function as a kind of group music therapy. We have written questionnaires attesting to students’ positive responses since 1991. Principals, teachers, and probation officers describe the lasting effects of our program, saying that though it is difficult to quantify the impact, they observe cumulative benefits to the students in both scholastic and artistic areas. After the concerts, they notice improved school attendance, focus, imagination, and social interaction. Student-teacher relationships become closer, translating into improved classroom dynamics. And those students who have the courage to interact with us often become instant celebrities, restructuring their peer social system in a very positive way.
Much of our program’s impact can be attributed to consistent follow-up. We send each school our Creative Student Survey, which follows up on student performers, as well as an extensive list of opportunities for further study and scholarship contacts. We have developed a 38-page Handbook with more information, which we donate to the schools. At times we assist with forming vocal groups and instrument acquisition. We phone to ask about specific students’ progress. Both schools and students appreciate and use our referrals, and many students go on to pursue music studies, poetry or other music- related endeavors like dance.
Classroom as well as neighborhood art alliances and friendships arise, as the benefits of arts exposure go home with them. We have had reports of instrumental, singing, poetry and poetry appreciation, and amateur performing groups. Recently, at Odyssey in South Gate, Enrique and Hugo played drums and rapped respectively, both together and with the Saturday Night Bath ensemble, for the second time. They have been studying at the Los Angeles Music and Art School; Susan, the school newspaper’s reporter wrote an eloquent article about our concert