Spartan Youth Jazz

Spartan Youth Jazz (SYJ) provides high-quality jazz education for high school-age students. The program is for students who play saxophone, trumpet, trombone, piano, guitar, upright/electric bass and drum set, but other instruments are welcome. Jazz vocalists and youth who want to learn to sing jazz are also accepted.

SYJ begins mid-September and rehearses on Wednesday nights from 5:45-8:45 p.m., September through May. Summer classes are also available. The curriculum includes studio classes, combo playing, a big band, and diverse electives such as jazz improvisation, jazz composition, music theory, transcription, and more. 

SYJ is led by acclaimed jazz artist/educator Rodney Whitaker, Artistic Director, and a faculty of Detroit’s leading names in jazz:

  • Tim Blackmon, Trumpet
  • Chris Glassman, Trombone
  • Steve Wood, Woodwinds
  • William S. Gwinnell, Piano and Composition
  • Nathan Borton, Guitar
  • Marion Hayden, Bass
  • Athena Johnson, Voice
  • Michael Reed, Percussion

Additionally, students participate in masterclasses with the MSU College of Music Jazz Studies faculty and world-renowned visiting guest artists.

SYJ performs at local venues including Cliff Bell’s historic Detroit jazz club and other locations. Each spring, the SYJ Big Band travels to East Lansing to participate in all-day workshops as part of the MSU Jazz Spectacular and compete in the Essentially Ellington Regional High School Big Band Competition. 

SYJ provides an entry-point for high school musicians who are experienced on their instruments but are  learning to play jazz. It also develops advanced students who are preparing for a career as a collegiate or professional musician as well as teaching valuable life skills.

SYJ nurtures students through a real-world connection to Detroit’s legendary jazz tradition, while helping them build skills such as creativity, innovation, independence, leadership, self-confidence and more.

A placement audition is required for this program, to determine the appropriate ensemble and/or combo that best fits your skill level. Send an audition (phone) video or recording to, or call (313) 578-9716.