Dr. Richard Ripani founded the Nashville Jazz Youth Ensemble to expand the opportunities available to students in Middle Tennessee. He says, “I wanted to offer a community-wide jazz band for students who do not have a program in their school or whose current program is not very challenging as well as to bring jazz performances to the community.” The 27-member jazz band is made up of select high school students from the Middle Tennessee area, rehearsing weekly at Trevecca University. The ensemble recently performed for FiftyForward’s swing dance event and the Greater Nashville Association of Realtors Awards Gala. Ripani has his sights set on having the group perform at the Jazz Education Network Conference, Jazz on the Cumberland, and with the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra.

A teacher at Hume-Fogg Academic High School in Nashville since 2005, Ripani has established himself as a top jazz educator and musician. During his tenure, the jazz band twice placed as one of the top twelve high school jazz bands in the country at the Savannah Music Festival High School Jazz Band Competition.

The Nashville Jazz Youth Ensemble is a 501(c)(3), and in its first year of operation, the program has partnered with local organizations including Music & Arts, the Band Wagon, and the Metro Arts Commission. Another partner in the music community, Mapex Drums has supported the program by donating a new drum set and providing clinicians and guest artists. When Ripani and first-chair percussionist Andrew Ledford stopped by Mapex headquarters to pick up their new drum set, Ledford described the impact that Nashville Jazz Youth Ensemble has had for him. “Getting to play with advanced players is a thrill for me,” says Ledford. “Playing with better people only makes you better.”

Ledford is a sophomore at Stewarts Creek High School and has been playing the drums for five years. He plays in the school’s marching band, wind ensemble, and jazz band. In the 8th Grade, Ledford participated in Rutherford’s All County Middle School Jazz Band, while Ripani conducted the band. Having experienced Ripani’s guidance at this event made it an easy decision for Ledford to audition for the Nashville Youth Jazz Ensemble. This summer, he will attend the Jamie Abersold Camp and hopes to enroll in college as a Music Performance major.

Mapex Drums and parent company KHS America are proud to be partnering with the Nashville Youth Jazz Ensemble, helping students like Andrew Ledford pursue their passion of jazz. KHS America Artist and Educator Relations Manager Rick Dejonge states, “I have heard the programs and concerts Richard has put together through the years, and they are amazing. Knowing he has assembled a group of skilled high school students, we’re excited to partner with this new organization.”

Ripani says the partnership of KHS America makes a big difference for the Nashville Jazz Youth Ensemble: “Having a quality drum set for my percussion players helps our organization tremendously.”