By Justin Dreyfuss
Fernando Jones’ love of the Blues is contagious. As soon as you step into a room with him you are greeted with a large grin and a friendly handshake and you immediately know that you are in his world now. His world is unique though, because unlike most Blues building, Jones’ Columbia College office is part of the academic world. The blending between academia and Blues music is something Jones is very proud of and is working hard to promote. Instead of being mutually exclusive, Jones wants younger generations to know they can thrive in both.
[pullquote]From the age of four Jones has found solace in the Blues music that transformed his life and gave it meaning. [/pullquote]He’s now passing on what he’s learned along the way. Though he still gives concerts and delights audiences around the world, his main focus is spreading his love of Blues to younger generations. For over 20 years he’s been teaching the soulful melodies of Blues. Currently working as a professor for Columbia College Chicago, he works in the only collegiate level Blues program in the world.
This international distinction is the reason it draws lovers of Blues music from around the world.
Dan Peetz, 26, is just one of the many enthusiastic students in the Blues program, but the only one who came from Sao Paulo, Brazil to be here.
“I wanted to learn the Blues,” says Peetz on why he came to study under Jones, “I know Chicago is the city of the Blues. I’ve wanted to be a musician and I’ve wanted to learn from the best. I don’t want to go back[to Brazil].”
While Jones spends a lot of time at the office downtown helping students like Peetz achieve their dreams, his primary focus is on the younger generations who may be struggling with a less-accepted genre like the Blues or who may not be able to find like-minded musicians who can help their love for the music grow.
It was from this desire to provide kids with an outlet to showcase their talents and learn from those who have already paved the road that Jones founded the Blues Kids of America. Blues Kids of America is a multi-cultural inter-disciplinarian arts and education program run by Jones to help engage kids of all ages in the Blues. Through this program, Jones has done everything from creating artists-in-residence to going into Chicago public schools and beyond and teaching kids about the Blues.
This summer the Blues Kids of America program will feature its inaugural Blues Camp. The Blues camp will be a week-long event for kids between 6th and 12th grade to learn from the best and meet other talented budding Blues artists. The camp will aim to draw a diverse group of students from the Chicago area as well as students abroad looking to immerse themselves in a Blues community they may not be familiar with back home. Jones wants kids everywhere to know that playing the Blues is nothing to be ashamed of. Unlike jazz, classical or other types of music, Blues is not often associated with academia and for most kids, the only Blues education they will receive growing up is from themselves or by a family member.
“Most times when people hold a Blues programs, respectfully, it’s one time and only kids from that area come. But I wanted kids to be able to get together and play with other kids like them because a lot of the time kids that play the Blues are viewed as misfits because there are not many of them. There are jazz programs in school so there’s a feeder system there through college but there is no feeder system for the Blues kids. So hopefully this Blues Camp will help improve their literacy by putting them in a rigorous academic environment and also showing them that they are not strange and that they are ok by showing them that the Blues is American and the Blues is something that they can go back into their neighborhood with be proud.”
Jones, whose inspiration came from his brother when he was 4 years old, wants these kids who already have an interest in the Blues to see that they can easily take their musical dreams to the next level. [pullquote]By holding the camp at Columbia College, the kids will be able to make the connection between Blues and academic success.[/pullquote]
“The kids will have texts that they will read. They will be given homework every day. They will develop their social skills and they will write. They will have a journal and they will write in their journal and share what they learned from reading the night before.”
The camp will be held on the week of July 5th and will feature an Independence Day picnic for everyone involved. This will help kick off a week for kids vested in the Blues to bond with others and create lasting friendships and partnerships. The younger kids will get valuable help from Blues legends who will make several appearances throughout the week. The older kids will get to experience a collegiate setting and maybe an avenue they hadn’t fully explored. Jones will be there to promote the Blues program at Columbia College should the students choose to utilize Blues as a career path.
The camp has around 60 spots open, and overflow will be given access to a special masters program Jones will teach himself.
Auditions will be held each month between February and June, including April 10 when Legends will see kids from around the Chicagoland area take the same stage as dozens of legends have before them. It’s only fair to wonder if this camp, the first legitimate Blues instruction for many of the kids, will kick start the career of the next great Blues artist. If so, it’s only fitting their audtion be held at Legends, which will also be the site for a camp-closing concert on the July 9.
The camp is designed for musicians on a wide scale of ages and talent levels so that anyone with an interested in playing the Blues is highly encouraged. One young patron wasn’t a big fan of the minimum age requirement and wanted Jones to know it.
[pullquote]Seven year old Payton told his grandmother, “I know I’m too young but if Mr. Jones just hears me play I know I’ll be in.”[/pullquote]
That is just the type of youthful, enthusiastic interest Jones is looking for, and in Blues there’s always a spot for that.