Mike's Mission...Why Jazz Is Important!

As a performer, conductor, composer, producer, educator, and currently serving as a senior vice president, one may ask Michael Shirtz, how is he able to lead a career where all these connect? His answer, "It's because of the jazz!"

Following the Jazz Education Network conference in New Orleans last month, Michael shared with students that he navigates such diverse career because of the skills one develops as a jazz musician.

"Working in jazz, we are always in an environment of improvisation, striving for harmonies, listening, critically thinking, focusing in the moment, being a team player, sharing ideas, responding and reacting, comping - knowing when to play and when to not, and most of all, staying creative. So, to me, when we teach jazz to kids, it's not just about the music, it's about life!"

(Photo by J. Shafer: Shirtz waiting for sound check on tour 2019.)

Michael’s passion for bringing jazz into communities and schools goes beyond just wanting kids to love the music he does. It’s more than that. It’s that he views jazz as an avenue for young adults to learn how to be good citizens and strong community leaders. He believes that learning jazz helps embrace some of the soft skill gaps employers are desperate to have in young workers and nurtures the thought process and development much needed with creativity and innovation for the future.

“If you think about running a company and you’re sitting around the board room having discussion to further advance your mission, you have to interact the same way we do in the band. You must listen. You must contribute. It’s honing your critical thinking skills to be the best that you can be. The same way the musician crafts their skills to work in harmony with the other musicians for the best performance of the group and the experience for the listener,” explained Shirtz.

For nearly two decades Shirtz has gone into schools and presented jazz clinics and workshops on performance, writing songs, and creating jazz and Blues. The focus throughout his journey has been to get young people excited about jazz. However, that mission has grown to become even more focused on using jazz to build individual skills and develop stronger communities.

In 2019, Shirtz teamed up with business owner Giovanni Bignoli of Bignoli Enterprises to develop the next level of jazz education opportunities and cultural awareness along Central Ohio’s shoreline communities. In partnership with the Sandusky State Theatre, the two launched a new monthly opportunity for kids and families to come to the theatre to experience jazz and understand the ‘life skills’ the music presents in a fun and enjoyable interactive show. In addition, the “JAM@10” Series highlights master classes and workshops for the community with professional jazz artists. What started last year as a few opportunities in schools to expose students to jazz and improvisation, is now developing into the first phase of a regional jazz academy program. This program is bringing professional jazz artists to work with K-12 students in music classes, ensembles rehearsals, as well as lessons and sessions on using the music to enhance not just their musical skills, but their futures.

“Louis Armstrong said, “What we play is life.” Brubeck said, “Jazz is the voice of freedom.” Count Basie said, “The real innovators did their innovating just by being themselves.” And there are so many other great quotes and opportunities that highlight what jazz can bring to the soul, to the spirit, and to the mind. I am looking forward to making that happen for our young people’s future,” shared Shirtz.

Click here to learn more about the new JAM@10 Series and the evolving jazz education initiatives with Shirtz Music and Bignoli Enterprises.

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