America's Best Leaders: Terence Blanchard & Herbie Hancock, Musicians

Their Thelonius Monk Institute of Jazz brings music education to public schools.


Herbie Hancock (left) and Terence Blanchard


Louisiana Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu, who supported the institute's move to New Orleans, says the initiative is producing results there. "The amount of work they've done in the first year has been tremendous," Landrieu says. "You can see the children really get excited about the possibilities." Au and other members of the college program teach jazz classes in the city's public schools. For pianist Vadim Neselovskyi, a native of Ukraine, the experience has been eye-opening. "It's a unique thing to see how musical the kids are," he says. "Even if they don't have an intellectual grasp of the music right now, I do believe it will truly have an impact when they grow up." The work is also challenging. Three years since Katrina shuttered the city's schools, many haven't yet recovered. They continue to lack staff and music equipment.

Back at the Kodak Theatre, Hancock and Blanchard are preparing for the institute's annual benefit concert. U2's Bono, B.B. King, and other top blues and jazz musicians will perform with them on stage. The festivities include performances by musicians under 30 who compete for a $20,000 scholarship. This year's winner, for the first time, also received a recording contract. Blanchard jokes with Hancock about the advice he gives his players. "I always tell them to listen to him," he says, pointing to Hancock. The two of them laugh, and then Hancock adds more seriously: "I always talked to young musicians about the importance of listening and developing a sound."

That's what the jazz combo at Washington Prep High School seems to be doing. After an uneven start, the students seem to be finding their way. "We are all responsible for telling a story," Harmon reminds them. "This is something Herbie is a master of. He creates melodies behind solos and tells a story."

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