Experience Jazz

About Experience Jazz

“While rooted in jazz, this program embraces the power and artistry of hiphop, rhythm & blues and other genres students and instructors want to explore together. We strive to bring together students of a multitude of cultural and musical backgrounds in an innovative music-making environment.”

– Justin Christy, Board Chair
Minnesota Jazz Education 

Experience Jazz is a genre-bridging music ensemble program for instrumentalists, vocalists, rappers, DJs and other aspiring musical artists. The goal of this program is to foster creativity and collaboration by bringing together aspiring artists from diverse backgrounds with a common desire to make new music rooted in jazz, blues, pop and hip-hop. Learn more about this year’s program, below!

Launched in 2017, this innovative weekly combo program takes place every spring semester, as an incubator for middle and high school musicians to learn, play and compose new music together. Presented in partnership with High School for Recording Arts (HSRA), students rehearse together in HSRA’s state-of-the-art Studio 4. There is no other program like it in Minnesota! 
Students work in combos, each focused on a different musical style, based on student interest. Combos are led by professional local musicians, with additional workshops presented by industry professionals, focused on teaching students new skills, and providing the hands-on experience of integrating musical styles.
Musicians of all skill levels, grades 7-12 are encouraged to participate! No prior jazz experience required. Read on for information about this year’s program, and past years’ programming.

Contributions from community members like you ensures the future of innovative programming like Experience Jazz. Make a gift today!  


How to Apply

Interested students can apply for Experience Jazz in the months leading up to the start of each year’s program. To apply, students and families will complete an application form and submit an audition, either in-person or online (varies each year). Accepted students are placed into one of 3 ensembles based on interest, instrumentation and skill level. Each year features a new teaching artists roster, and timing and application requirements may change, so if you hope to participate in the future, check back for information about next year’s program. In 2021, interested students were asked to:

(1) Complete the application form; and

(2) Submit an audition (audio and/or video) that will give us an idea of your musical style. Recording should show you performing (and improvising, if possible!) on 2 separate songs, 1-2 minutes each, of contrasting styles or feels (e.g. one ballad and one upbeat tune; one blues and one R&B). We want to get an idea of your playing ability and style. Songs can be performed a cappella (preferably with a click or metronome), with live accompaniment and/or pre-recorded backing tracks. Info on how to submit your audition can be found in the application form.



The program fee varies by year. Financial assistance available upon request to anyone who needs it–no questions asked. 


Experience Jazz Program DirectorKatia Cardenas – katia [at] mnjazzed.org.

Experience Jazz 2021

The 2021 program will run online for 12 weeks, meeting Saturdays 10:30am-12:30pm on Zoom, March 20-June 12. Students are placed in one of 3 combos led by one of the following teams (read their bios, below):

  • Jeff Bailey with Cody LeDuc
  • Kavyesh Kaviraj with DeCarlo Jackson
  • DJ Mickey Breeze with Phil Espinoza

NOTE: Due to COVID-19, this year’s program will take place online, with a possibility of in-person, outdoor, socially distant rehearsals in the latter half of program, to be determined as the program progresses.

This activity is funded, in part, by an appropriation from the Minnesota State Legislature with money from the State’s general fund.




2021 Teaching Artists

Jeff Bailey

Jeff Bailey has performed in a wide variety of musical settings as a musician, composer, producer, and educator. He has performed with world renowned artists: Craig Taborn, The Steeles, James Carter, Joey McIntyre (NKOTB), Eric Gravatt, Charles Lazarus, Rodney Jones, Doc Severinsen, Minnesota Orchestra, SPCO, Wessel Anderson, Jonatha Brooke, Geoff Keezer, Andres Prado, Chastity Brown, “Doc” Martin, Fareed Haque, Justin Robinson, Charley Drayton, and James Moody. 

Jeff has composed original music and sound design for: The Royale (Yellow Tree), Rule of Thumb (Park Square), Target’s Lifescape series, Crowns (New Dawn Theater), B.A.M’s Next Wave Festival, White Savior (Sparkhouse), and Punic Wars (Keith Antar Mason and The Hittite Empire). 

Jeff served as Bass Department Head at McNally Smith College of Music for six years, developing and implementing a curriculum that integrated modern music technology with traditional conservatory culture. He has also often lectured around the US and abroad on the merits of “Organizing Your Creativity” as a tool for beginning improvisers. Jeff is currently Director of the Certificate in Music Production program at Hamline University, which encourages traditional and non-traditional music makers to gain fluency with modern music technology. 

He is thrilled to be part of the Hamline University education community, and excited to serve as Director of the Certificate in Music Production program. 

Jeff is fiercely committed to how the power of music in the world unites and heals. He continues to compose, perform throughout the US and internationally, and run his Minnesota based LoweTone Studios. Jeff is certain each day is another opportunity for gratitude and joy.

Mickey Breeze

Mickey Breeze is a DJ, Artist and teacher. With over 10 years of musical experience that started as early as the age of 5 years old, the word “prodigy” would be an understatement. He started playing instruments at age 5 and now plays trumpet, drums, piano, violin and cello. At age 8, he began producing music electronically, and by age 10, DJing seemed like the logical next step that combined production with the knack for live performance he picked up as a musician. 


Unlike some DJs who just press play, Breeze uses a drum pad controller to add percussion and transitions over the top of the tracks he plays, as well as create entire beats, adding a unique live performance layer to his DJ sets. His sets include everything from hip hop to EDM, from R&B to lo-fi beats, and as a musician himself he likes to work in his own edits, remixes and original productions. 


Breeze has had some very high-profile gigs as a DJ, including playing at the SXSW music festival, three times at the “Twin Cities Pride Festival”, the “Tostitos Cantina Bowl” during the Super Bowl LII festivities, Twin Cities Dilla Days, the St. Paul Winter Carnival, the 50 Years of Ebony Fashion Fair and opening for the afropunk band, “AstralBlak”. He was also the former house DJ for the Minneapolis-based Music Television show “Candy Fresh”. In 2019, he participated in the Deeper Learning Conference in San Diego, and was also a featured DJ at the “Last of the Record Buyers” tent for the SOUNDSET FESTIVAL, the Midwest’s largest One-Day Outdoor music festival. 


As a producer, Breeze has scored a short film for the artist Shuree Rivera, produced a track for the Twin Cities-based Hip-Hop Artist, Niles, won a 2017 beat battle at the electronic music school “Slam Academy”. He is the current, 7 time Beat battle Champion of the Twin Cities. He is also a former teacher for the “Twin Cities Mobile Jazz Project”. In addition to his musical pursuits, Breeze has a bit of entrepreneurial streak: he created and sold a line of merchandise all his own designs. Breeze is also a hip-hop artist and lyricist. In 2019, he released his debut project, “T.Y.F.E”, a project based on an explanation of Mickey Breeze’s introverted tendencies, anxieties, and an address of the problems that he deals with in his life. 


Breeze’s accomplishments would be impressive if they had been achieved by someone ten years his senior, but the fact that he has done so while not even of legal age to enter several of the clubs he has played at makes what he has done that much more remarkable. With the experience of a veteran DJ, musician, and producer under his belt before he’s even received a high school diploma, Breeze’s future is looking incredibly bright.

Kavyesh Kaviraj

Kavyesh Kaviraj is a pianist, composer and arranger from India. Although primarily a jazz pianist, he is known for his versatility as a musician; thanks to his experience in different musical climates he is closely involved with settings of many different genres and styles. 


Kavyesh was introduced to music at a very young age; born into a musical family, he started playing the piano at the age of 2, and has since been garnering experience towards an expansive international career. Thanks to his family’s rich musical ancestry, Kavyesh has been fortunate to be educated in both Western classical and contemporary music, but also in Indian Classical music, including both Carnatic and Hindustani styles. He often attributes this wide span of musical taste and experience to his education and cultural involvement within his childhood. Born to Indian parents in Oman, he began his fledgling musical career in the small town of Sohar, from where he moved to India to further his musical development and education, and subsequently pursued a professional music education in the United States. He has garnered attention and acclaim from the various musical environments he has been a part of, including Indian, Middle-Eastern and American shores. 


Kavyesh graduated from Columbia College Chicago in 2018, with a Bachelor of Music degree in Jazz Studies and Contemporary Music. In 2019, Kavyesh received a full tuition grant to pursue a Masters’ degree at Berklee College’s Global Jazz Institute, where he was under the eminent tutelage of several jazz masters including Danilo Perez, Kenny Werner, JoAnne Brackeen among many others.


Kavyesh is a member of the jazz quintet Mississippi, set to release their second album in 2021. He has performed with national and international artists from many different genres, including Roosevelt Collier, Jay Young and the Lyric Factory, Yolande Bruce, Debbie Duncan, Bruce Henry, Nooky Jones, Kevin Washington Quintet, Jamecia Bennett, Maryam Yusafzadeh, Desdamona, Toki Wright and several others. Recently Kavyesh’s project KAYE Music, where he is the leader and composer, has gathered attention in the Twin Cities. KAYE Music will release a 4-track EP in 2021. 


Kavyesh is also a passionate music educator, with experience as a private instructor and experience as an educator in music academies and public schools alike, and enjoys leading jazz workshops and teaching music classes for children and youth. His compositions and arrangements for various ensembles and configurations have been featured on radio, TV and collaborative exhibitions.

Teaching Assistants

DeCarlo Jackson

DeCarlo Jackson (pronouns: he/him) is an eclectic musician born and raised in the Twin Cities of Minnesota. Primarily known for his trumpet and auxiliary instrumentation in the internationally recognized indie-rock band Hippo Campus, DeCarlo is also known in the local music community as a bandleader, teacher, producer, stage manager, promoter, and more. 


DeCarlo began his musical journey in the 4th grade, playing trumpet in his school band. Outside of school, he would take lessons at Walker West, where he had joined a jazz ensemble. Shortly after, DeCarlo would start his own jazz combo named Public Newsense, and at 13 he would play his first professional performance at the 2008 Jazz Festival in St. Paul. 


Throughout his teenage years DeCarlo had many formative musical experiences such as playing in an Orchestra, starting the post-rock band Northern (with a few Hippo Campus members), as well as creating a live band for rapper Allan Kingdom. All the while still playing jazz festivals and concerts with groups like The Byzantine Sextet, Paper Airplane Society of America, The Capri Bigband, Cedric Fuller and Global Sound – as well as more educational outlets such as The Dakota Combo, Pipjazz, and various Walker West ensembles.


After graduating high school in 2013, DeCarlo went on to study Jazz Trumpet at the University of Winnipeg in Manitoba, Canada. After a few years he would make the decision to return to Minnesota to perform with friends locally. It was then that he transferred to McNally Smith School of Music and began collaborating with artists like Rajitheone, Ayvah, Doks Robotiks, Trio Miliey, FPA, the Mobile Jazz project and more. It was also then that he performed on the Conan O’Brian show with Hippo Campus, which eventually led him to officially join as a member of the band. 


Though not able to tour for the foreseeable future due to COVID-19 restrictions, Hippo Campus is currently working on their 3rd major studio release, as well as an array of singles, LPs and side projects. DeCarlo also currently leads the jazz quintet Arlo, writes music for Dolls of the Wind, and is working on a new project called DMN alongside local songwriters Moise and Nael. 


Though primarily focused on performance and songwriting, education has always been a pivotal part of DeCarlo’s music journey. Through his experience and passion, he’s able to connect with learning musicians and help them grow.

Cody LeDuc

Cody LeDuc is a Twin Cities-based musician, composer/arranger, producer, & educator. Born and raised in Minneapolis, MN, Cody was first exposed to music performance through his church’s gospel choir at the age of 6. Shortly after, they picked up the trombone at 10. Cody studied music theory and trombone performance at Normandale Community College in Bloomington, MN, as well as trombone performance and production at McNally Smith College of Music in St. Paul, Minnesota. Their style is influenced by the likes of Fred Wesley, Christian Scott, Kamasi Washington, & many more. Cody has been mentored by the likes of Mike Nelson, Bob McChesney, and Corey Wilcox. They currently play locally with McNasty Brass Band, Black Market Brass, and iLLism. They have also collaborated with a host of bands including K-Libre 21, Sister Species, The iLLharmonic Orchestra, Nooky Jones, The Kirk Johnson Orchestra, LGCY (Muse), The 451st Army Bands, and the JazzMN Orchestra. 

Phil Espinoza – HSRA Liaison

Experience Jazz 2020

In this historic year, Experience Jazz 2020 ran over 16 weeks, February 8 to May 23, 2020 (February-March in person, April-May online due to COVID-19). In-person sessions took place Saturdays 1:30-4:30pm at High School for Recording Arts (HSRA), a secure facility with ample free parking, centrally located in St. Paul, off University Avenue and Lexington Parkway.

Teaching artists included Arthur “L.A.” Buckner, Omar Adbulkarim and Scott Herold, with studio interns DJ Mickey Breeze and TL Reigns.

COVID-19 Response

When faced with the COVID-19 pandemic, we made the brave decision to move the program online. This enabled students the unique opportunity to continue learning together remotely, and learn how to record from home songs they composed and arranged in program, pre-COVID. 

Full-Length Album

The students released “Experience Jazz 2020: The Sounds of Distance,” a full-length album featuring 13 tracks, all recorded from home in the early days of the pandemic. The songs included original compositions, interpretations of pieces by Roy Hargrove, Slum Village, War and Nneka, and as well as 5 remixes. Mixed and mastered by studio interns TL Reigns and DJ Mickey Breeze. Released through HSRA’s student-run record label “Another Level Records.” Read the full press release, here.

“Experience Jazz 2020: The Sounds of Distance,” is available worldwide on all digital platforms! Download, stream and add to your playlists now. Find us on SpotifyiTunesYouTube Music, and Bandcamp. Proceeds go to supporting Minnesota Jazz Education.

This activity is supported, in part, by the City of Saint Paul Cultural Sales Tax Revitalization Program, by the voters of Minnesota through a grant from the Metropolitan Regional Arts Council, thanks to a legislative appropriation from the arts and cultural heritage fund.

Experience Jazz 2019

Led by local jazz musicians Tasha Baron, Kavyesh Kaviraj, and HSRA staff members Scott Herold and Gabe Moore, Experience Jazz 2019 served 15 students from across the metro area. Students played songs by Sam Cooke, Nina Simone, Billie Holiday, Roy Hargrove, The Jazz Messangers and more! Throughout the spring, students collaborated to compose new songs, and some brought in original compositions to play with their combos–some students even learned to play new instruments!

Experience Jazz students recorded their songs in High School for Recording Arts’ state-of-the-art recording studio, “Studio 4” and released their tracks online through HSRA’s “Another Level Records!” Check out their “Experience Jazz EP” available on Spotify and iTunes. Also check out the student-made promotional videos for their public performances (below), for a behind-the-scenes look at the recording process!

Public Performances

Experience Jazz 2019 students performed at Saturday Night Jazz At the Black Dog, opening for the Twin Cities Latin Jazz Orchestra, at Jazz Central Studios, opening for Hoaxer, and a final performance at the Twin Cities Jazz Festival, joined by special guest vocalist Sheridan Zuther

Student-Created Videos 

This activity is supported, in part, by the voters of Minnesota through a grant from the Metropolitan Regional Arts Council, thanks to a legislative appropriation from the arts and cultural heritage fund.

Experience Jazz 2018 - The Pilot

Experience Jazz launched in Fall 2017 with teaching artists Aaron Hedenstrom, Steven Hobert, Kenny Watson, and Lucia Sarmiento, led by Tasha Baron. In it’s inaugural year, the program took place every two weeks over the 2017-2018 school year, with 3 combos that embraced the innovative take on jazz education. Students created original music, and 

Early Moves

This program kicked of in partnership with McNally-Smith College of Music, but by December, the college’s leadership shocked the local music community with its sudden closure, devastating hundreds of local music students and teachers, and leaving Experience Jazz with nowhere to go.  The program found a new home at HSRA/Studio 4, which have proven to be committed partners, thanks in large part to Executive Director Tony Simmons, and Business of Music teacher Scotty Herold.

“On behalf of our founder David TC Ellis and our entire HSRA/Studio 4 family, we are proud to partner with MN Jazz Education on such an incredible project! This is what true community collaboration is all about and happens when young people are at the center of our collective work,” said Tony Simmons.

Twin Cities: Meets the Youth of Experience Jazz

The participants of Experience Jazz 2018 made their live performance debut at the Winter Jazz Festival at Crooners Lounge and Supper Club in January. Students from Experience Jazz and High School Performing Arts also performed at our Spring Gala at The Black Dog in May, and at Youth Stage at the Twin Cities Jazz Festival in June.