EL PASO, Texas (KTSM)- A local non-profit organization, El Paso Jazz Girls, is back for its 6th annual free summer program where female musicians learn to write and perform their own original music.

The summer program returns from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. June 26 through June 29, with a slight schedule change on June 30 from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. It will be held at the Ysleta Independent School District’s Young Women’s Leadership Academy, 8040 Yermoland.

Participants range from ages 11 through 18. They will have the opportunity to play a variety of instruments, study theory and improvisation skills, compose original music in ensembles, create a support system and learn from an all-female teaching staff made up of El Paso professional musicians.

Professional musicians include: award-winning composer and multi-instrumentalist Amanda Ekery (founder and director); percussionist and music therapist Amy Smith; vocalist and performer Monica Gutierrez; producer and DJ Luisa Navarro; trumpeter and educator Flora Newberry; saxophonist Stephanie Munoz; percussionist Sarah Vasquez; members from The Golden Groove; and El Paso Jazz Girls alumnae and woodwind players Erika Madrid and Carmen Salas and more.

In addition, the summer program will conclude with a free concert, El Paso Jazz Girls LIVE, for family and friends at 6 p.m. June 30 at YISD Young Women’s Leadership Academy, where participants will showcase their original music.

KTSM spoke with the non-profit founder and director, Amanda Ekery, about this exciting journey of creating the program.

Originally from El Paso, Ekery is a professional musician currently living and teaching in New York City. She sings, plays the piano and the flute and mostly writes for theater, plays and her own albums.

Despite her successful career, Ekery comes back every summer to her hometown to support young local women musicians.

“In 2018 I was noticing … I did some research to figure out how many girls had made Texas All State Jazz Band, just kind of like how many girls were participating in jazz and there were only five in the last decade,” Ekery said.

Ekery says she remembers how lucky she was to be able to play with an all-girl rhythm section when she was growing up in high school, and how nice it would be to create a program that was for girls, so they can meet and connect with each other.

“I thought it would be nice to also include girls who play the violin, and flute and stuff that it’s not part of traditional education here for jazz bands. So, if you audition for a jazz band you are not really playing cello, or violin, or anything strings, or singing. So, it was a nice way of opening the net for who can learn jazz,” Ekery said.

That’s how the summer program started in 2018, with a single ensemble of nine girls. Since then, the program has grown so much, this year it will have four ensembles of roughly 12 to 15 girls in each.

“We have over 50 girls this year and counting. We are getting close to 60. All the teaching artists are from El Paso. Some of them are full-time teachers during the year, and some of them are freelance musicians. So, it’s really great to build a network of not only middle- and high-school girls, but all professional females in El Paso too,” Ekery said.

Ekery explains the reason why she wanted to make this program free is because she knows that money can be a barrier to participation.

“I write a lot of grant applications. We participated in El Paso Giving Day and some people donate to us on Facebook. We are non-profit so we work really hard to make sure that it’s cost-free for students,” Ekery said.

The Ysleta Independent School District’s Young Women’s Leadership Academy has been an amazing support system for the program, Ekery said. She says the academy provides the space, plus breakfast and lunch for the girls.

“Amy Smith, one of our teachers, is the music teacher there, so she’s great at organizing with their staff and everybody there. It’s just a really great campus,” Ekery said.

Ekery said that no previous experience is required in jazz, but she does ask that participants have some basic knowledge on their instrument. Instructors won’t have time in one week to teach girls how to play an instrument from scratch, she said.

“If you know how to play two, three notes, that’s OK, because we can write a song with that,” Ekery said.

The program focuses on writing your own music. Ekery uses the composition lab to teach, which allows for different ways and approaches in writing music, but it also allows students to use the skills they already have.

Theory and improvisation are also taught in the program, along with special topics.

If a girl wants to participate but doesn’t own an instrument, there is help available, Ekery said.

“If they don’t own their instrument, they can let us know. We actually got some instruments donated. We have some clarinets, and some flutes that girls have used and check out for the week. Also, the Olivas Music store is such a huge supporter of us. So, if any girl needs a rental for the week or something breaks, they help out. They also donate stuff we can use,” Ekery said.

Ekery concluded saying El Paso has been incredibly supportive of this program, which helps young girls with their self-expression, confidence, and collaboration through music education and performance.

Additionally, the program has a Spotify account with the members’ original song releases that you can enjoy by clicking here.

Registration for the program is still open and interested candidates can sign up here.

Donate to El Paso Jazz Girls: here.

For more about El Paso Jazz Girls: here.