“No one does what we do – and they don’t do it for free,” says Arturo Riera. He’s referring to the Latin Jazz Youth Ensemble of San Francisco (LJYE), of which he is Co-Founder and Managing Director. LJYE is a much-loved and highly-regarded group that provides musical instruction and performance opportunities to talented musicians of ages 10-17, absolutely free of charge.
14 years ago, Riera, his wife, Sylvia Ramirez, and educator/musician/composer Dr. John Calloway founded LJYE with a simple mission: To teach Latin jazz to young musicians so they can be role models for other musicians. The organization almost didn’t make it to even a debut performance. On September 15, 2001 the LJYE was scheduled as the opening act for “A Tribute to Cal Tjader,” with Poncho Sanchez at the Masonic Auditorium. This was just 4 days after 9/11! The whole country was in shock and deeply troubled. The young though talented band had only rehearsed for 6 weeks in the Riera/Ramirez home. LJYE took to the stage, and despite the high tensions from 9/11, made both the audience and professional musicians leap to their feet with the emotion and healing created by their music. At that moment Riera, Ramirez and Calloway decided to keep the group going.
Fast forward 14 years. The Latin Jazz Youth Ensemble of San Francisco has moved out of the Riera/Ramirez living room and is now “In-Residence” at the Yerba Buena Gardens Festival. Through the residency program LJYE has access to regular rehearsal and storage space, and an annual performance opportunity in the YBG Festival. Over the last 14 years, more than 100 musicians have played and grown with the LJYE. Almost every one of its members have gone on to college and several have become professional and internationally touring musicians: Max Loren, Monica Fimbres, Daniel Riera, and Natalie Cressman, to name a few. Google these names and be amazed!
LJYE is still free to its members because musical director Dr. Calloway, Riera, and Ramirez decided it was of utmost importance there be no financial barriers to the program. LJYE was not and still is not affiliated with a school, non-profit or after-school program. The group continues to sustain itself by maintaining a busy schedule of paid performances and sales of its CDs of original compositions. A new CD – their third! – is coming out this September 2014 – although nothing beats hearing, seeing and dancing to their music at a live performance. See LJYE live at Yerba Buena Gardens Festival tomorrow, Thursday, July 31, 2014 at 12:30pm.