Wesley Watkins, J&D Founder
The Jazz & Democracy Project® manifests a hypothesis that Wesley J. Watkins, IV, Ph.D. has been investigating since he was an undergraduate: a music-centered curriculum with genuine links to the other subject areas can increase student identification with school, impact academic engagement, and have a subsequent positive effect on overall academic success among students who have an affinity for music. “Dr. Wes,” as his students now call him, first proposed such a curriculum as part of the Stanford University School of Education Undergraduate Honors Program. The key ingredient, Dr. Wes hypothesized, is genuine connections to the other subject areas. That is, having students create a rap to memorize their history lesson is one way to integrate music, but integration can occur at much deeper levels when the arts content in some way mirrors or demonstrates core concepts from social studies, literature, science, or mathematics. Such is the depth of integration found in The Jazz & Democracy Project®: to learn about the jazz process is to learn about the democratic process.
Dr. Wes conducted research for his undergraduate honors thesis at Oxford University where he engaged and learned from music educators at both local elementary schools and world renowned secondary institutions like The Bedales School, Eaton College, and The Yehudi Menuhin School. After earning his Ph.D. from the International Centre for Research in Music Education at the University of Reading, England, Dr. Wes immediately applied his knowledge as an independent arts education consultant in the Bay Area, working at the district, school, and classroom levels. He supported district leaders in Emeryville and San Lorenzo as part of the Alameda County Office of Education’s Alliance for Arts Learning Leadership, and led twelve Oakland school leadership teams to build teacher capacity in the arts as an Arts Learning Anchor School Facilitator. At the classroom level, Dr. Wes spearheaded the organization and delivery of the first jazz and democracy collaboration at Thornhill Elementary in Oakland, California, during the 2007-2008 school year.
Dr. Wes is an avid music lover—especially Jazz and Latin Jazz—who enjoys interviewing and writing about his favorite artists. Beginning in 2003, Dr. Wes operated “The List”—first an e-mail notification and then a blog—that educated the public about great live music in the Bay Area. In 2009, Dr. Wes began posting his interviews with top musicians, including international and local stars Poncho Sanchez, Rebeca Mauleón and Marcus Shelby, as well as world renowned masters Horacio “El Negro” Hernández and Ahmad Jamal. In April, 2009, he began hosting the We’re Talkin’ Jazz series of pre-concert talks at The Jazz Heritage Center. In partnership with the San Francisco Yoshi’s this series opened with a sold-out interview with Terence Blanchard, followed by interviews with Rachelle Ferrell, Pat Martino, Tony Lindsay, Jacky Terrasson, and Mike Stern with Randy Brecker.
Dr. Wes loves little more than witnessing artists stand emotionally naked, transmitting their emotions to the audience, and modeling the best of what improvised music has to offer: a lesson in unity. His interviews illuminate the magic in music, and his approach lends a unique perspective to The Jazz & Democracy Project® curriculum.