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Melinger keeps Austin Jazz Workshop in tune

The Austin Jazz Workshop just wrapped its 21st season of bringing the most American musical art form to children in four area school districts.

Not that that means founder and bandleader Michael Melinger gets to take the summer off. While the rest of the band gigs professionally until the workshop regroups in the fall, Melinger, 59, is occupied with administrative stuff that never stops, like grant work and — the administrative stuff that never stops.

We brought you the story of Melinger, the workshop and the outreach they’ve done in Austin schools since 1994 in 2007. As of right now, Melinger figures they’ve played about 1,500 shows for students. And the reaction is as exuberant as ever.

“They’ve always been enthusiastic,” Melinger said. “They may be a little more savvy because it’s been going on so long. It’s a renewal every year. Out in the world I don’t think they’re getting jazz, so we bring it to them.”

In its earliest years the workshop didn’t present a specific curriculum. That’s changed. Melinger is working on arrangements for the upcoming George Gershwin season, which will feature vocals.

“We’ve done Gershwin once before, in like 1999,” Melinger said. “So we’re safe to do a repeat. Hopefully the fifth-graders the first time around aren’t still in school.”

The goal isn’t just to get kids interested in appreciating music. It is to get them interested in playing. And Melinger says the workshop will go on without him whenever he steps aside.

“We’re very thankful to have served the community for as long as we have and want to keep it going for a long time,” he said. “People ask me when I’m going to retire and I say probably five years, but I don’t want the workshop to retire when I do. When I sit down with the board we’re talking about hearing a new musical director and keeping the thing going. The (Austin) symphony doesn’t stop when Peter Bay leaves. And this is all we have for jazz in the schools and we have every intention of making it an institution.”

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