Monthly music, poetry session in Wilkinsburg focuses on shared creativity

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Wilkinsburg may not have an active nightlife or music scene, but Jaki Young is trying to help build one of sorts.

On the last Saturday of each month, she sponsors a Jazz Jam and Poetry session at the Jazz Workshop's satellite office on Center Street.

But she doesn't hold the session simply for entertainment. Ms. Young, who has a doctorate in counseling with a focus on mentoring from the online Capella University, wants to bring young and old together to share mutual creativity and build a community atmosphere.

"It's clean, safe, smoke-free and alcohol-free," Ms. Young said.

The session traces back to about May 2011, said Ms. Young, who lives in Brighton, Beaver County, and is formerly of Wilkinsburg. "It was an inspiration I had, the idea of being able to merge hip-hop and jazz. I was watching a TV show [featuring saxophonist Gerald Albright], and he mentioned that the two are going to be interfacing."

Ms. Young has done this kind of thing before, running an open stage called the Tree of Art in 1983 at the old East Hills Shopping Center in Penn Hills. But that was before hip-hop really took hold in Pittsburgh. "This time we're trying to integrate the two concepts," she said.

The Center Street building at one time was owned by the Community College of Allegheny County, which offered a program called The Center for Racial Equity. The program folded, and Ms. Young's father, Harold, of Wilkinsburg, bought the building in 2006.

Mr. Young is the longtime executive director of the Jazz Workshop, which offers complimentary music lessons and has been based at Carnegie Library in Homewood since 1973 -- for 40 years. Because the Jazz Workshop is established, it gives her sessions credibility, she said.

About 25 people show up on those Saturdays, Ms. Young said, most of them poets with perhaps seven or eight musicians, some singers and, once, even a tap dancer. "Sometimes I pass the mike around, and they [sing] the blues. They were telling their stories -- they loved it. Not so many rappers -- we're trying to get more rappers out."

That's what Ms. Young sees as the key to the program -- getting youth involved by hearing their message and connecting with helpful adults. Although she is not really a hip-hop fan, Ms. Young said, "I like to hear it because I want to understand what they're saying." She said she's concerned about "getting to the roots of violence -- too many kids are going to jail. We need to do something."

In addition to the monthly sessions she holds now, she said she would like to dedicate another day to young people, perhaps an after-school program. She did her dissertation on music mentoring. It was called "The efficacy of music mentoring in an Eastern city."

The Jazz Workshop also holds a Musicians' Club from 1 to 3 p.m. every other Tuesday in Wilkinsburg.

"People talk about music, hold demonstrations or talk about the history of jazz as they know it," Ms. Young said. "My father said, 'You can go and tell lies.' "

Ms. Young noted that the American Psychological Association "is using a lot of expressive arts in counseling, [especially] drum circles." This program is "in its infancy stage -- and it's expanding," she said.

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Rick Nowlin: rnowlin@post-gazette.com or 412-263-3871.


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