Riffs & Raps — Jazz for All Ages

Riffs & Raps® is a family of community-based programs designed to connect audiences from toddlers to seniors with the music and the musicians who make it. The programs go right to the heart of JazzBoston’s educational mission and are our highest priority today.

With the strong support of partners and funders including the Boston Public Library Foundation, Music and Youth Initiative, the Boys and Girls Clubs of Boston, the Clipper Ship Foundation, and the Boston Cultural Council, JazzBoston launched Riffs & Raps I in April 2008, Riffs & Raps II in April 2009, and Riffs & Raps III in December 2009.

All three programs are delivered by Arni Cheatham and Bill Lowe, two master teachers/performers selected for their extensive experience developing jazz curricula and their inspirational skills. Working with a JazzBoston team, they developed the original programs and continue to refine them with each new round. They are joined by Kevin Harris, another dedicated musician/educator, for Riffs & Raps III.

If you would like information about supporting or sponsoring a Riffs & Raps program, please click here.

Riffs & Raps — Find Your Jazz

An innovative after-school program for teens in underserved communities, Riffs & Raps® — Find Your Jazz (Riffs & Raps I) uses jazz as a tool to introduce young people to the power of expression, build their confidence in themselves and their pride in their cultural heritage, and foster the development of the skills they need to succeed in work and life. Six weeks of hands-on workshops lead to a closing performance that puts the kids up front with their teachers and other professional musicians. By performing their stories for an audience of parents and friends, they share their experience, and their pride, with the community.

After the success of the pilot program in the Codman Square and Dudley branch libraries, Riffs & Raps® I moved to the Boys & Girls Clubs of Dorchester, where 20 young people from the Blue Hill and Dorchester Clubs completed the second round of workshops in the fall of 2010 with a rousing performance that combined music, poetry, photography, video, and dance. Supported by new funding from the Clipper Ship Foundation, the program returned to Dorchester in the fall of 2011. It was expanded from the original 5 weeks to 7 weeks, and recording sessions were added. The highlight of the closing performance, held on December 5 in the Music Clubhouse of the BGCs of Dorchester, was a series of very moving raps, both rehearsed and improvised on the spot, by several of the participants.

Even at 7 weeks, the program has a powerful impact. A teenager whose family broke up during the second week never missed a session. Our near-term plan is to make the program a regular part of the activities at the Dorchester Clubs and expand it to 10 weeks. Longer term, we will seek partners in other underserved communities.

Click here to read what the Dorchester Club’s Vice President of Operations says about Riffs & Raps I.

Riffs & Raps — Jazz for the Very Young



An interactive introduction to the sounds and fun of jazz for children age 4 to 8, Riffs & Raps® II has played to audiences of 50 to 100 children and their chaperones and parents at the Central Library in Copley Square. Last spring’s program brought pre-school and kindergarten children from the local Montessori School, South End Head Start Center, and neighborhood families.

Many of the children joined the musicians on the stage to meet Tyrone the Saxophone and the Reed Family: Tyrone’s mother, Alice the Alto; his sister, Sally the Soprano; and his father, Barry the Baritone. Cheatham and Lowe introduced each instrument separately so the children could hear the differences in their tone, pitch, and character. With the help of straws, they demonstrated how the vibrating reed works. The program concluded with a few popular children's tunes, starting with the easily recognized base melody, then continuing with improvised variations.

We are currently responding to inquiries about this program from schools and parents in other communities in and around the city.

Riffs & Raps — Jazzin' the Generations

JazzBoston developed Riffs & Raps® — Jazzin’ the Generations at the request of the Boston Public Library, which was seeking a program focused on seniors but also designed to bridge the generation gap. Riffs & Raps III invites people of all ages to travel together on a live musical tour through time as the trio of Cheatham, Lowe, and Harris take audiences from the roots of jazz in blues and spirituals through the Great American Songbook and right on to the sounds of jazz today — complete with a rap by Cheatham.

Interactive from start to finish, the program is designed to engage audiences as well as entertain them. Its three leaders combine careful planning with highly developed improvisatory skills to adjust for the different demographics they encounter at each location. Audiences of all ages participate by harmonizing, clapping or tapping the beat, and playing "the poor man's saxophone," straws bent to demonstrate the function of the reed. Informal conversations with the musicians follow each performance.

Riffs & Raps III debuted in December 2009, traveled to eight neighborhood branches of the Boston Public Library system in 2010, and completed its musical tour of all 26 branches in December of 2011. This March the intergenerational program will travel to the Cary Memorial Library in Lexington, where it will be part of a month of programming around the theme of creativity. Click here to read what the Boston Public Library says about Riffs & Raps III.

Click here for information about supporting or sponsoring a Riffs & Raps® program in your community.