Jerome Jennings and Tri-C will once again cross paths at JazzFest
June 12, 2017
Every time Jerome Jennings gets a chance to play in Cleveland, he feels like his career has come full-circle.
The internationally recognized jazz drummer has a master’s degree from The Juilliard School. He has performed in more than 30 countries, serves as youth instructor and ensemble leader at New York’s Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, and released his debut solo album, The Beast, on Iola Records this past November.
But it all started in his native Cleveland, where Cuyahoga Community College provided Jennings with one of his first gigs as a student at Cleveland Heights High School.
“I was already performing as part of a jazz band in high school, and I was offered the chance to become a part of a high-school all-star band at Tri-C,” Jennings said. “I was in that band for my last two years of high school.
“I’m grateful for that opportunity at Tri-C, because it was really the first time I had a chance to play consistently, and it taught me quickly how you have to become disciplined and responsible. You have to show up on time and be ready to pull your weight.”
Jennings went on to Ohio State after graduating from high school, eventually transferring to Rutgers, where he received a bachelor’s degree in music before matriculating at Juilliard. He now calls the New York City area home, but seldom passes up a chance to perform in Cleveland, where he’ll return next week.
For this performance, Jennings is returning not just to Cleveland, but also to Tri-C. On June 24, Jennings will sit in as the drummer for Catherine Russell’s Tri-C JazzFest performance at the Connor Palace. Russell’s 8 p.m. performance is the opener for Boz Scaggs.
“It’s a very special performance for me, on a number of levels,” Jennings said. “Catherine Russell is a fantastic person and an extraordinary singer. And to have it in Cleveland, this is a very special place for me. It’s always a gas to come back. I get to see my mom and the places where I grew up, and I get to perform in the place where it all started for me.”
For Jennings, performing in Cleveland is just the beginning. He also wants to bring music into the lives of Cleveland’s youth.
Jennings was exposed to music at an early age, and his interest continued to be developed throughout his formative years by his family, Tri-C and other schools. He is aware of the role music education can play in the lives of young people – and he’s also aware that many inner-city children and teens don’t have access to adequate music education.
“Lower-income schools often don’t have much music or art,” he said. “Programs like that are always back-burnered due to budget cuts, and it puts those students at a disadvantage.”
That’s why Jennings is active in programs that seek to give future musicians the same support he received. He participates in and advocates for programs that provide educational opportunities in music and the arts.
Thus far, his efforts have been focused in the New York City area. At Lincoln Center, he is involved with the Jazz for Young People program and serves as an ensemble leader and instructor for the Jazz at Lincoln Center Youth Orchestra. He is also a mentor and instructor for the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark.
Jennings would like to expand his music education efforts to Cleveland with many of the same types of programs. He’s had discussions with community leaders and is hopeful that the discussions will progress to planning in the near future.
“Even if we can’t develop a formal program yet, I still like to come back and speak with kids in the area,” Jennings said. “I want them to understand what it means to be a performer, to make music, to make art in all forms. It’s great to come back to Cleveland and perform, but I also want to pass that love of music, art and performing to a new generation.”