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Latin Jazz Youth Ensemble of San Francisco: About

LJYE - Our Story

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Photo by Arturo Riera

When Music Director John Calloway, Ph.D., talks about his young students in the Latin Jazz Youth Ensemble (LJYE), he doesn't use the word "kids." He prefers to call them "musicians."

"Even though part of the draw for the group is that they are youth, I don't see them differently from the professional musicians I work with," says Calloway, a Grammy-nominated multi-instrumentalist, composer, public school educator and San Francisco Arts Commisioner. "They are talented artists who just need to rack up more experience. I have no doubt they will some day be the 'names' you hear about on the Latin music scene," he says. 

The LJYE made it's debut on September 15, 2001, just days after the national tragedy of September 11th. Although it was the saddest of times, the decision was made to continue with their San Francisco show, "A Tribute to Cal Tjader," where they opened for Latin Jazz All-Star Poncho Sanchez and his band at the Masonic Auditorium.
 
"The youth's exuberant performance after the 9/11 tragedy showed hope for the future and reverence for the past -- two sentiments that gave comfort to all who saw them play. That night the LJYE was born and it has remained in the embrace of Bay Area Latin jazz enthusiasts ever since.
 
Despite their youth, several generations of ensemble musicians have already contributed to the legacy of Latin jazz history by recording three CDs which mainly feature original compositions by the students themselves. In 2005, the group recorded their first CD, "LJYE Live at Yoshi's," followed in 2009 by "Generaciones, and their latest recording, "Con Mis Manos" released in 2015. The CDs present the student musicians playing alongside notable special guests such as Armando Peraza, Jerry Gonzalez, John Santos, Jeff Cressman, and of course, LJYE music director and multi-instrumentalist John Calloway.

The LJYE has won several awards for their performances.  They were chosen as the top youth band in Northern California in the 2004 YouthQuake competition and won First Place (Youth Music) in Carnaval San Francisco in 2002, 2004, 2005 and 2006. The Ensemble is honored to be Youth Artists-in-Residence at San Francisco's Yerba Buena Gardens Festival since 2005.
 
The ensemble has played at San Francisco City Hall before dignitaries such as the Mayor, Assembly and Senate members, and former Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi.

Keeping the ensemble going is a joint effort between Calloway and Arturo Riera and Sylvia Ramirez, a husband and wife team who provide the business management, coordination and publicity for the group.  Along with Calloway, the couple co-founded the ensemble when their son, Daniel Riera, was the flutist in the original ensemble.

"We're working to create an accessible program that is open to all interested students, not just 'star' players.  We'll develop them and give them the confidence to take their solos. Culture is a contact sport that should be free for all. Calloway's teaching style is to set a very high bar, and we achieve it. We often hear that people can't believe that the sophisticated sounds streaming from festival stages, jazz venues and community events are created by teen-agers," Ramirez says.

Students accepted into the LJYE must be between the ages of ten and 18 years-old, be able to play an instrument and read music. At a time when arts programs are being cut in the public schools, the LJYE has never charged for its master classes and stellar performance opportunities.

Riera and Ramirez are devoted volunteers who keep the administrative aspects of the program going while Calloway works directly with the musicians.  In addition to getting paid gigs, the group also performs “pro bono” at various community benefits.

Riera is active on several arts organization boards in the Bay Area.  He says his work with the LJYE students is the most rewarding thing he does, calling it "human gardening."  "We plant the seeds, nurture the talent, and watch them grow," he says.

The group is financially self-sustaining and receives no outside funding. Riera, who serves as managing director, keeps the band busy with paid performances at festivals and community events.  The funds are used to compensate Calloway for teaching, rehearsing, composing and arranging tunes for the group. Riera says that what Calloway earns from the project "doesn't come close to what his time and expertise is worth."

Many of the LJYE alumni have displayed the passion, talent and dedication needed to make it in the performing world as professional musicians. Several students have won prestigious national awards including the Downbeat Student Award; ASCAP Young Composer Award; and National Foundation for the Advancement of the Arts Award while in high school. Some have gone on to the country's most prestigious music schools:  Juilliard, Berklee College of Music, Manhattan School of Music, and other esteemed music programs.

Creating the ensemble with Riera and Ramirez is a dream come true for Calloway, whose love of the music is outweighed only by his love of teaching. "Working with the group has allowed me to pass along the music, just as it was passed on to me. The music these students play is timeless. It's our contribution to keeping this art form alive in the years to come."
Meet the LJYE
When Music Director John Calloway, Ph.D. talks about his young students in the Latin Jazz Youth Ensemble (LJYE), he doesn't use the word "kids." He prefers to call them "musicians."
"Even though part of the draw for the group is that they are young people, I don't see them differently from the professional musicians I work with," says Calloway, a Grammy-nominated multi-instrumentalist, composer, public school music educator and San Francisco Arts Commisioner. "They are talented artists who just need to rack up more experience. I have no doubt they will some day be the 'names' you hear about on the Latin music scene," he says.
Calloway created the group with Arturo Riera and Sylvia Ramirez, a couple who started out as parents of a student in the original group.  "We were so passionate about the project that we became co-directors of the organization," Ramirez says.  
The husband and wife team, both media professionals,  provide the business management, coordination and publicity for the group.  Along with Calloway, the couple co-founded the ensemble when their son, Daniel Riera, played in the original group.
The LJYE made it's debut on September 15, 2001, just days after the national tragedy of September 11th. Although it was the saddest of times, the decision was made to continue with their San Francisco show, "A Tribute to Cal Tjader," where they opened for Latin Jazz All-Star Poncho Sanchez and his band at the Masonic Auditorium.  
"The youth's exuberant performance following such the tragedy showed hope for the future and reverence for the past -- two sentiments that provided comfort to all who saw them play. That night the LJYE was born and it has remained in the embrace of Bay Area Latin jazz enthusiasts.  The most common comment we hear is that  people can't believe that the sophisticated sounds streaming from festival stages, jazz venues and community events in the Bay Area are youth," Ramirez says.
The LJYE has made quite a name for itself on the live music scene in Northern California.  They were chosen as one of the top youth bands in Northern California in the 2004 YouthQuake competition and won First Place (Youth Music) in Carnaval San Francisco in 2002, 2004, 2005 and 2006. The Ensemble is honored to be Youth Artists-in-Residence at San Francisco's Yerba Buena Gardens Festival since 2005.  They've played at San Francisco City Hall before dignitaries such as the Mayor, Assembly and Senate members, and former Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi.
Students accepted into the LJYE must be between 10-18 years-of-age and be able to play an instrument and read music.  At a time when arts programs are being cut in the public schools, the LJYE has never charged for its master classes and world-class performance opportunities, Ramirez says. "We're working to create an accessible program that is open to all interested students, not just the star players.  We'll develop them and give them the confidence to take their solos.  Culture is a contact sport that should be free for all," she says.
The group is financially self-sustaining and receives no outside funding. Riera keeps the band busy with paid performances at festivals and community events.  The funds are used to compensate Calloway for his time teaching, rehearsing, composing and arranging for the group, although Riera says that what Calloway earns from the project "doesn't come close to what his time and expertise is worth." 
Riera and Ramirez are devoted volunteers and keep the administrative aspects of the program going while Calloway works directly with the musicians.  In addition to getting paid gigs, the group also performs “pro bono” at various community benefits. 
Managing Director Riera is active on several arts organization boards in the Bay Area.  He says his work with the LJYE students is the most rewarding work he does, calling it "human gardening.  We plant the seeds, nurture the talent, and watch them grow."
Many of the LJYE alumni have displayed the passion, talent and dedication needed to make it in the performing world as professional musicians. Several students have won prestigious national awards including the Downbeat Student Award; ASCAP Young Composer Award; and National Foundation for the Advancement of the Arts Award while in high school.  Some have gone on to the country's most prestigious music schools:  Juilliard, Berklee College of Music, Manhattan School of Music, and other esteemed music programs.
Creating the Ensemble with Riera and Ramirez is a dream come true for Calloway, whose love of the music is outweighed only by his love of teaching. "Working with the group has allowed me to pass along the music, just as it was passed on to me. The music these students play is timeless. It's our contribution to keeping this art form alive in the years to come."

John Calloway, Ph.D. - Music Director

A multi-instrumentalist, award-winning composer, arranger, educator and performer, John is a virtuoso flutist in demand for recording sessions and performances in the U.S. and internationally. He has worked with many of the leading Latin and jazz artists of our time, including Max Roach, Israel "Cachao" Lopez, and Pete Escovedo. He is a founding member of the Grammy nominated Machete Ensemble, led by John Santos, and has composed and arranged much of their material. John teaches music in the San Francisco Unified School District, at San Francisco State University and at professional workshops and clinics. With his band, Diaspora, he has released two CD's, Diaspora and The Code. John has a M.A. Degree in music education and a Ph.D. in multi-cultural and international education. He is a member of the San Francisco Arts Commission.  As co-founder and music director of the Latin Jazz Youth Ensemble, he selects the student members by audition, rehearses the group and creates compositions and arrangements for the ensemble. For more information on John's diverse musical accomplishments and his upcoming performance schedule, visit johncalloway.com. You can email John at music@ljye.com.

Sylvia Ramirez - Co-Director

Sylvia is a co-founder of the LJYE and manages all internal and external communication for the group. She is an Emmy Award-winning TV producer and has worked in Bay Area broadcasting since 1979. She was recognized as a "Woman of Achievement" by the Women's Fund and the San Jose Mercury News and won the National Community Service Award from Television Broadcast magazine for her public affairs productions. Sylvia has produced numerous specials for ABC-7 TV, KTVU Fox, and WB-20 TV, including the historic first broadcasts of the Carnaval and Pride parades. She was the Senior Producer for over 15 years for the KGO Radio Cure-A-Thon, a 24-hour broadcast annual event benefiting the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. Sylvia has served on the Board of Directors of San Francisco School Volunteers and Casa Raza in San Jose. In 2005-2007 she co-chaired the Instrumental Music Department at San Francisco School of the Arts. Sylvia and husband Arturo Riera are the parents of Daniel Riera, a LJYE flutist for five years and a 2008 graduate of Berklee College of Music, and daughter Lauren. You can email Sylvia at info@ljye.com.

Arturo Riera - Managing Director

Arturo is an active member of the Bay Area arts and cultural community. A member of the Board of Directors of San Jose Jazz since 2005, he served two years as Chair. In April 2007 Arturo was elected Chair of the Board of San Francisco's Yerba Buena Gardens Festival. In 2007 he received the Latino Business Leadership award from the San Francisco Latino Chamber of Commerce, the first award ever given for Arts and Culture. In 2007 he received commendations from the United States House of Representatives, California State Legislature, California State Senate and the City and County of San Francisco recognizing his contributions to Bay Area arts and culture.  A co-founder of The Latin Jazz Youth Ensemble of San Francisco, Arturo serves as the group's Managing Director. He is a co-founder of Latino Entertainment Partners, an event production company specializing in Latin jazz and Afro-Cuban music. He produced The Latin Jazz Youth Ensemble's two CD's, LJYE Live at Yoshi's and Generaciones. Arturo consults with manufacturer Latin Percussion and contributes articles to the company website, lpmusic.com. He is a prolific writer and photographer of the Bay Area Latin jazz scene. His articles, artist profiles, photographs and videos can be found on his cultural blog, MisterLatinJazz.com.  He has worked in Bay Area broadcasting since 1981 and in 2008 was named Director of Sales for the CBS Television Station Group in San Francisco, cbs5.com. In 2011 Arturo was named Vice President of Sales for Live 365 Connects.  As Managing Director of the LJYE he handles all the bookings for the group and can be reached at bookings@ljye.com.