The American Songbook Association partnered with Cabaret Scenes magazine in January of 2017 with the following mission statement in place:
The American Songbook Association, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit incorporated in New York State seeks to preserve, promote and advance the legacy of American popular music, the Great American Songbook (classic and new), and the unique art form of cabaret. The ASA publishes the long-established Cabaret Scenes magazine, conducts educational programs in New York City public schools, and creates performances serving its audience of seniors, students and others. We strive to inspire, transform, empower and create torchbearers for future generations so they may understand, appreciate and embrace the historical and cultural importance of America’s rich musical heritage.
In June of 2017, under the direction of Carolyn Montgomery, the ASA launched its first music program to a middle school in lower Manhattan. Since that time (precluding COVID), the ASA offered 1-3 programs every month to schools in all 5 boroughs of New York City- from the Far Rockaways to Staten Island to Flatbush and the South Bronx, targeting the least funded schools with little or no music curriculum.
Each program lasts one hour and includes an overview/explanation of Jazz, Musical Theatre and the American Songbook, with one or two professional singers and one pianist demonstrating a variety of forms, from jazz improvisation and arranging to examples of classic standards. Montgomery serves as a narrator and moderator, fielding and encouraging questions There is always a bit of corresponding American history in the mix, to tie the events of the era to the music. The programs begin with student participation (in the form of answering questions about music and improv suggestions) and ends with an opportunity for the students to mingle with the performers and ask questions. There is a loose script designed simply to employ age appropriate language and material choices- so the students will engage easily and feel comfortable in learning something new.
The programs are extraordinarily successful, soliciting excited responses from students, faculty and administration. The ASA has transitioned from a period of beseeching schools to give our program a try (when nobody knew who we were so they were highly suspicious of hidden costs) to having a long waiting list and unanimous pleas to return to schools we’ve visited. It’s clear that there is an overwhelming need for these programs- students citywide are eager for music education.
In addition to our individual programs, the ASA chooses underserved schools to participate in a longer period of auditions, rehearsals and performances, based on the music of an American composer. For example, the ASA spent 10 weeks at PS 96 in East Harlem, selecting middle school students for a show called the Johnny Mercer Jamboree. Music Director Eric Yves Garcia and Montgomery instructed 9 seventh grade students for 12 weeks in American Songbook repertoire. Master teachers Natalie Douglas and Craig Pomranz each joined us for one afternoon to coach the kids. Incidentally, six of these students were living in shelters, and none of them had heard a Johnny Mercer song before. The ASA took the participants to the Burlington Coat Factory and sponsored a performance outfit and shoes for each child. On January 30, 2020, they performed for The National Council of Jewish Women- an audience of 80- and brought down the house with their whole hearted approach to the music.