Lord, Please Protect Black Men by Eli Yamin

Lord, please protect black men


Who have carried our cross in America for too long


Who watch birds


Who design and build bridges


Who invent 


Who teach


Who raise children


Who write music


Who play the saxophone, trumpet, piano, drums, tuba, bass, and violin.


Lord, please protect black men. Like the brilliant and generous black men who have protected, taught, helped, and guided me. I’m thinking of, and celebrating and feeling immense gratitude for:


How Maxine Greene influenced my work these past 20 years…

Eli Yamin presenting at Maxine Greene Institute at The New School, NYC. Photo by Holly Fairbank


“I hope you think about the wonder of multiple perspectives in your own experience. I hope you think about what happens to you when it becomes possible to abandon one-dimensional viewing, to look from many vantage points and, in doing so, construct meanings scarcely suspected before… Our object…where young people are concerned, is to provide increasing numbers of opportunities for tapping into long unheard frequencies, for opening new perspectives on a world increasingly shared. It seems to me that we can only do so with regard for the situated lives of diverse children and respect for the differences in their experiences.” Maxine Greene, Variations on a Blue Guitar (pp. 187, 189)

It was an honor to present a lecture at the Maxine Greene Institute at The New School this past Sunday, December 15. The event was organized by my dear colleagues Holly Fairbank, Heidi Upton and Jean Taylor who serve on the board of The Greene Institute and remain actively involved in educating people around the world about Greene’s essential work.

The lecture gave me a precious opportunity to look back at the past 20 years of my teaching practice since I met Maxine Greene at Lincoln Center Institute for the Arts in Education in 1999. I was invigorated to see the fruits of seeds she planted with her words, concepts, and models expressed by my students. This is certainly true at Jazz Power Initiative, the organization I co-founded in 2003 and continue to lead. I was happy to share the breadth of our work in this video by Josh Robertson with supervision from Emmy Award Winner, Phil Bertelsen:

I also took some time to review the work I did at Jazz at Lincoln Center when I served as founding Director of the Middle School Jazz Academy and led the program from 2005-2016. Luckily, I came across two videos that boldly illustrate what we accomplished in my time there–the active marriage of skills-based and aesthetic-based arts education through jazz.

The first video from 2014 shows my 11-13-year-old students performing Perdido. This song was composed by Juan Tizol (from Puerto Rico) and made famous by the Duke Ellington Orchestra. The arrangement showcases the peak of what these students can play in an ensemble as well as multiple short solos in quick sequence giving multiple perspectives/experiences on the solo art of jazz. The students in this video had been playing a range of 6 months to 2 years when they recorded it. Their progress in that short amount of time is remarkable.

The following video shows many of these same students performing free improvisations in front of abstract works of art by extraordinary African American painters on display at the Michael Rosenfeld Gallery. The video is 10 minutes and if you hang in there until the end, you will hear amazingly rich comments from the students on their experience at the gallery. At the Maxine Greene Institute presentation, this was the highlight. It’s what we live for in Aesthetic Education–students from diverse backgrounds articulating their experience of complex works of art, taking their own perspective seriously and expressing their intelligence and sensitivity around peers and elders with poise and confidence. Wow, wow, wow…enjoy and please let me know what you think!

Happy Holidays and may 2020 bring new openings and imaginative breakthroughs!


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Jazz Power Initiative 15th Anniversary Celebration

Eli with Jazz Power Youth

It’s amazing to see this dream come this far–Jazz Power Initiative, the non profit I co-founded in 2003 with Clifford Carlson, is turning 15 years old. Jazz Power is one feisty teenager, let me tell you. Based in upper Manhattan, our uptown programs in Harlem and Washington Heights are thriving with 30 teens receiving scholarships to attend our 12-week training in piano keyboard, singing, dancing and acting. We also continue to host our monthly Intergenerational Jazz Jams at National Jazz Museum in Harlem on the second Sunday and we are gearing up for our 5th Annual Jazz Power Institute, a two-day training for artists and teachers on teaching jazz across the curriculum.

I’ve turned 50 this year and take great delight in seeing youngsters coming up through our programs, embracing jazz culture and sharing the responsibility to spread the brilliance of this music to the next generation as well as our elders. Together we are doing all we can to make a positive difference in the world by bringing joy and fellowship through music. I hope you can join us at our 15th Anniversary Celebration, or another one of our programs or by making a financial contribution to this work I hold so dear at Jazz Power Initiative.

Big announcement: BLUES BOOK RELEASED!

Rowman and Littlefield Publishers in collaboration with the National Association of Teachers of Singing (NATS) has released my book, So You Want to Sing the Blues.  This book is the gathering of many of my life experiences being inspired, guided and uplifted by the blues since I was a child. It is also the result of precious mentorship I received from blues masters Walter Perkins, Amiri and Amina Baraka and many others as well as serious study of the voice for the past ten years with Jeanie LoVetri and Darrell Lauer. The book has chapters on:

Origins of the Blues

Singing and Voice Science by Scott McCoy

Vocal Health by Wendy LeBorgne

The Magic and Mechanics of Singing the Blues by Darrell Lauer with Eli Yamin

Developing Authentic Style Characteristics: Early Blues Women

Developing Authentic Style Characteristics: Early Blues Men and Another Woman

Developing Authentic Style Characteristics: Chicago Blues and the Modern Blues Sound

Making a Soulful Sound and Writing Your Own Blues

Using Audio Enhancement Technology by Mathew Edwards

This book is designed to be a resource for people new to the blues to understand the African American cultural traditions that create and sustain the it AND for blues performers experiencing vocal challenges who could use more techniques for healing and strengthening the voice for more flexibility and stamina.

There are links throughout to MUSIC because the blues masters are, of course, the best resource for learning and going deeper in understanding the blues.

For me, it was a thrilling journey to read, watch and listen to everything I could on the blues and distill it to what I hope is a compelling resource for performers for years to come. Here’s an excerpt from the introduction:

“Sure, I play and sing other kinds of music–jazz in particular–but I always come back to the blues. The blues is the foundation. The blues is the source. The blues is strength. It connects you with a lineage that goes back hundreds, possibly thousands, of years. The blues is life force and creativity. The blues is personal and collective. The blues makes people move, and the blues is real. When you immerse yourself and share what you have in the blues, your body, mind and soul and those around you are uplifted.

Whereas the blues can do all this, it is not easy. So often, the blues gets defined in small ways. But the blues blues is not small. The blues is huge…”

To order, please follow one of the links below. I hope you like the book. Please do let me know and/or write a review on Amazon as it will boost sales and help more people get more blues. Thank you!



Rowman and Littlefield Publisher


Why We Play Jazz by Eli Yamin

Dear Contestants of Kamerton’s We are Playing Jazz Festival,

I am so happy to hear that you are playing jazz together!
And this is the most important thing, together. Because as much as jazz is about individual achievement and expression on your instrument through improvisation, it is really about playing together with other people. Learning to groove in synchronization with a band. This is different than playing by yourself. It requires active listening, adjusting, making room for others, supporting and celebrating each other.
It makes me think of a film of Duke Ellington Live at the Tivoli Gardens in 1971. The band is performing Ellington’s composition “Chinoiserie” and a young tenor saxophone player named Harold Ashby is being featured. Ellington stands next to him during his solo calling out encouragement, “Go man. Alright now. Yes!”  And Ashby soars, playing more and more great music in each chorus. This is how jazz is to be played, in community with encouragement flying out in real time from the leaders, band members, and audience members.
Jazz comes from African American culture, a culture of incredibly strong and resilient people, who created a music that succeeded by the strength of people helping each other wherever possible to overcome tremendous obstacles. So ask yourself, can you help somebody today? Can you give someone encouragement who needs it most? Can you celebrate someone else’s success and feel it like your own? This is the true magic of jazz and if you get it right, your life will be a bright light to everyone around you.
Keep playing and keep listening and I hope we meet again one day so I can see you shining!
Eli Yamin


The Birds Sing First by Eli Yamin


Have you ever noticed?

The birds sing first.

I mean, they have a lot to do, right? Gather food, fix up their nest. Even so, they make time to sing. That’s how they always START. Makes me think of this…

Once there was a town where everyone sang first. There was a song for everything. Waking up, going to sleep, eating, dressing, walking, driving, riding, studying, playing, visiting, arguing, figuring stuff out—a song for everything. That’s how it was. Sing first.

When young people reached 4th or 5th grade, they were offered an instrument to go with the songs. They played saxophones, trumpets, trombones, violins, basses, pianos, guitars and drums. They played all the time. For games, graduations, assemblies, parades, fairs, parties and ceremonies. And when the children were grown, some didn’t play as much but they listened—oh how they listened! Listened so hard their teeth hurt. And the ones who kept playing, played so well they played like no one ever played before—inventing, bending notes, scooping, soaring, swinging and playing the blues. Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Mary Lou Williams, Billie Holiday, Benny Goodman were some of their names.

Oh, and did I mention, the people danced? Like no one had danced before—jumping, leaping, catching, syncopating, letting go and holding on. The music brought people together. Black, White, Latino, Asian. It healed us…

This place was here in New York City, in the United States.

It is hard to understand when, how, or why we stopped singing—when, how or why we stopped giving instruments to our children. People will give many reasons and none of them make any sense.

Dewey Redman said, “Music makes us smarter, happy and healthier.” Why stop?

Louis Armstrong said, “What we play is life.” Why stop?

Willie Dixon said, “The blues is the roots. Everything else is the fruits.”

We’d have to be CRAZY not to play? Don’t you think?

So don’t be crazy—keep playing. Don’t be crazy—keep singing. Don’t be crazy—keep dancing.

And if anybody ever tells you to stop, you tell him what Dewey, Louie or Willie said. Or simply ask—have you ever noticed?

The birds sing first.

Jazz at Lincoln Center (4/30/16)

Euro Asian Premiere of Message From Saturn

I am so happy to share this video of the title song of Message From Saturn from the Euro Asian premiere in Yeketerinburg, Russia in November of ’16. The joy generated in this intergenerational and cross cultural collaboration melted the ice. Here’s to more blues in 2017!


Why we need the blues NOW by Eli Yamin


Eli Yamin performs with his quartet in Russia

When your baby left you, you need the blues. When you can’t get satisfied, you need the blues. When the one you love takes up with someone else, you need the blues. And when you feel you’ve been mistreated, you have got to have the blues.

The blues is bad. Playing the blues is good. It relieves suffering and pain. Maybe for just a while, but then again, that’s life, right? Each moment gives away to the next maintaining an ongoing state of impermanence. And yet, plugging into the blues by playing it and listening to it with friends, connects you with something eternal and real.

The blues is a real as real can be. Created in the rural Southern United States by formerly enslaved African Americans enduring ongoing acts of arbitrary and calculated violence, emotional abuse and material deprivation by a system of preference based on white supremacy; the blues addresses fear. The blues is true. No sugar coating.

If you are lonely you sing “yes I’m lonely—“ owning it—admitting weakness and vulnerability and through this process revealing your own truth. The blues fosters a way of being that accepts reality—the bitter and the sweet—but is not overly attached to it. As long as there is a way to play the blues, there is hope and a pathway to fellowship, community and ultimately—love.

Today, the feeling of the blues is all around us. Conflicts around power, money and the way we treat each other shake our societies to their core. And there in the background is blues music, humbly forming the foundation for popular music all over the globe. The blues made jazz, rock and roll, R & B, and hip-hop. The blues combines east and west, rich and poor, black and white to make a musical form that offers an intoxicating mix of freely expressive singing, steady polyrhythm spiced with syncopation and personal story telling. The blues invites you to holler, cry, scream and moan as needed. The blues invites the audience to respond and co-sign its themes in real time thereby creating a call and response circle of repair.

The blues is older than all of us and will still be here when we are gone. We can find the recordings of its great pioneers with the touch of a button, the click of a mouse. Have you heard B.B. King’s “Three O’ Clock in the Morning,” lately? How about Bessie Smith’s “Backwater Blues,” or Robert Johnson’s “Come On In My Kitchen”? Each are masterpieces of human expression.

For musicians, these recordings contain the keys to language of the soul. Getting to know the work of Memphis Minnie, Leroy Carr, Muddy Waters, Lightning Hopkins, Dinah Washington and Joe Williams opens doors. It has taken me literally around the world. Listen to “Midnight Moan” from Howlin’ Wolf. Your molecules will be rearranged.

Musicians–Let’s play more blues to repair, to heal, to transform.

Listeners-let’s be honest and be together with the blues. More blues for a more better world.

Message From Saturn is HERE

I really believe the blues can save us, but we all have to take part.
This CD is the culmination of a journey that began when I was in high school basking in the glow of artistic fire, resilience and beauty that was in the Crossroads Theatre in New Brunswick, New Jersey, near where I grew up.  A journey that took me Amiri and Amina Baraka’s Blues People in Newark to perform and receive their guidance and later to 29 cities as musical director for Duke Ellington’s Sophisticated Ladies. After this, I landed as composer in residence at Louis Armstrong Middle School in Queens and with Clifford Carlson, created this work, Message From Saturn, just months before the terrorist attacks of 9/11.
I have performed A Healing Song from this show on State Department Tours in multiple languages around the world with my blues band and quartet as well as over 100 schools in New York. This CD presents the song to you in 2 new versions and makes available for the first time, the entire score performed by an amazing cast of jazz quintet, strings and Zah! Jazz Youth singers.
I know it’s old fashioned but, please BUY THIS CD and tell your friends about it.
With The Jazz Drama Program, who has produced this CD, we are making more intergenerational jazz communities filled with creativity, compassion and joy.
Please join us and let’s step it up and spread the word…
“It’s not just a song for me, take a breath…and you will see, why the blues has the power to be A HEALING SONG, A HEALING SONG.”

Guatemala Jazz Tour 2016


Thanks to the United States Department of State and The Jazz Drama Program, this was our third tour to Guatemala. What a privilege it was to visit this beautiful country and play for the amazing Guatemalan People!

Joined by longtime friends and associates, LaFrae Sci, drums/compositions, Lakecia Benjamin, alto saxophone and Elias Bailey, bass, the band came ready to SWING, play the BLUES, and be CREATIVE through PERFORMING and TEACHING.

In seven days, we gave seven workshops and five concerts. Our programs were organized by U.S. Embassy staff Dawn Suni, Public Diplomacy Officer and Basilia Lopez, Outreach Coordinator. Rolando Lopez, Technical Director. What a fantastic team!

Our first day we reunited with our friends pianist/teacher, Victor Arriaza and saxophonist/vocalist/teacher Rosse Aguilar Barrascout. Rosse founded and runs a music school in Guatemala City called Innato School of Music and we were happy to give three workshops to their students in jazz improvisation, highlighting lessons from jazz and blues masters Mary Lou Williams and Bessie Smith. It was an excellent way to celebrate Women’s History Month!


Arriving early the next day at the National Conservatory and Municipal Music School of Guatemala to give a workshop, we found that some of the students had awoken at 2 or 3 in the morning to travel there. As early as it was, Lakecia suggested we start with a burner from our book that features her, Alto Power.  We gave it all we had!

Notice the paintings around the auditorium and the diverse ages of the students!

In the evening, we returned to Instituto Guatemala Americano(IGA) in Guatemala City to perform at the Guatemala Jazz Festival. Rosse Aguilar joined us to sing and play the blues and we premiered my new song “Climate Change” and LaFrae’s composition, “Colibri,” based on a Guatemalan folk tradition.  We also featured a Mary Lou Williams piece “Ode to Saint Cecile,” the patroness of musicians.

The next day we traveled by van to Huehuetenango and arrived at Escual Tipo Federacion in the mid afternoon to give a professional development workshop to primary school teachers. The following day we did a similar workshop for student teachers. The workshops modeled an experiential learning approach to promote student engagement and success. By facilitating creative opportunities for students, teachers spark intrinsic motivation, ownership and agency. In the workshop, each teacher and student teacher received a kazoo and had the opportunity to collaborate in a small group to create an improvisation based on a Guatemalan folk tune. LaFrae also led a line dance on “Do the Hucklebuck.” An excellent discussion followed on how lessons absorbed experientially often endure much longer then more teacher directed approaches.


The climax of our Huehuetanango visit was our concert at the Municipal Theatre. The local orchestra opened the concert with two songs. LaFrae and Lakecia joining on the second. Dawn then explained how our concert was to support women’s empowerment in honor of Women’s History Month. Then I started a call and response bluesy improvisation with the audience of over 500 teenagers dividing the audience into two distinct musical parts. Then, ALL THE LIGHTS AND POWER WENT OUT. That meant no microphones, no keyboard or bass amp. Immediately LaFrae took one of her drums into the audience and began a two-part women’s empowerment chant, “Mujeres…mujeres. Mujeres….mujeres.” Lakecia soon followed enlisting the support of the horn section from the local orchestra. Meanwhile, Dawn conferenced with our local producers and found that all the power in the town was out and not likely to come back any time soon.  They tried to rig up something but to no avail. LaFrae and Lakecia led the rest of the concert, about 45-minutes more, with improvised chants and call and responses.  The young people left elated, still in the dark, other then lights from people mobile phones. It was a truly extraordinary display of women’s empowerment. Amazing!


With the sun setting we got to get some air and visit a local historical site of Mayan ruins. What a tremendous International Women’s Day!

The next day we gave a workshop at Conservatorio Regional, a modest building with beautiful light, a visionary director and eager students.  Elias was moved by the opportunity to show some of the cellists how to hold the bow. I was surrounded by a heap of piano players and some of them are playing jazz. It was a wonderful exchange.


Then, it was on to Quetzaltenango and a beautiful city called Xela.  In the morning we gave a performance workshop for the students at Instituto Guatemala Americano in honor of Woman’s Day.  We talked about The Jazz Drama Program musical, Nora’s Ark, as a story of women’s empowerment and there is interest in doing The Jazz Drama Program musical next year!




The following day we gave a concert at the Municipal Theatre as part of the Guatemala Jazz Festival.  It was a beautiful old hall and the people loved swinging music. After Lakecia tore things up on “Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting” by Charles Mingus, we gave them an encore of “On the Sunnyside of the Street.” This town loves jazz that SWINGS.




The final day we returned to Guatemala City to play for a gathering at the U.S. Ambassador’s Residence. Ambassador Todd Robinson is the epitome of class, warm heart, deep into the arts, and someone who truly brings people together with his intelligence and innate sense of what makes people tick. It was an honor to perform for the second year in a row at his house. We had a thrill bringing Rosse Aguilar back up to play with us and Victor Arriaza sat in as well.  A fantastic climax of a wonderful week on the road for cultural diplomacy through JAZZ on behalf of The U.S. Department of State and The Jazz Drama Program.

Eli Yamin Quartet with US Ambassador Todd Robinson

Eli Yamin Quartet-LaFrae Sci, Eli Yamin, Lakecia Benjamin and Elias Bailey with U.S. Ambassador Todd Robinson and Rosse Aguilar