Rising senior AJ Reyes, who plays saxophone, outside the historic Preservation Hall music venue in New Orleans.
CSUN student AJ Reyes, who plays saxophone, outside historic Preservation Hall in New Orleans.

New Orleans, as usual, was alive with joyful music, and a group of CSUN jazz studies students were experiencing it for the first time. 

Then-sophomore Elder Gindroz and friends sat on the corner of Frenchmen and Chartres streets, soaking up the brass band that kept circling the block. Every once in a while, a car would try to get through, but it was tough with so many people dancing in the street. 

Eventually, Gindroz and his friends walked further down the street, past a club where still more jazz music was playing. From outside, Gindroz could see the stage — and two of his classmates, a drummer and guitarist, were there, sitting in as a trio. 

Three CSUN jazz studies students sit in on drums, bass and guitar at a club on Frenchman Street in New Orleans
Three CSUN jazz studies students sit in at a club on Frenchman Street in New Orleans: Gavin Harris on drums, Nigel Fregozo on bass, and Fahem Erfan on guitar. Photo: Elder Gindroz.

“It was a really, really great experience,” said Gindroz, a rising senior who plays piano. “I really enjoyed it thoroughly and tried to make the most of that experience, knowing that it was going to go by so quickly. It was such a cool thing that we got to do.”

The 2023 trip to New Orleans immersed students in the sights and sounds (and foods) of the culture in the city that is the birthplace of jazz. CSUN’s Jazz “A” Band and one combo performed at the Loyola University Jazz Festival at University of Loyola New Orleans. The trip was one of many experiences and opportunities provided to CSUN jazz studies students that help prepare them in their life’s pursuit of music.

It wouldn’t have happened without support from the Herb Alpert Foundation and its philanthropic backing of arts and arts education. The foundation, created by trumpeter and A&M Records co-founder Herb Alpert and his wife, Grammy Award-winning singer Lani Hall, has long supported the CSUN Jazz Studies Program in the Mike Curb College of Arts, Media, and Communication, with more than $1 million in gifts over the last nearly 20 years for scholarships and other educational experiences. In addition, a $240,000 three-year pledge in 2022 realized a matching from the CSUN Foundation, amplifying the Herb Alpert Foundation’s impact. 

The Foundation has uplifted jazz students with funds for professional mentors who provide weekly rehearsals with students in combos, travel experiences that introduce students to other musicians and cultures, and support for scholarships. 

“I don’t know if I would’ve been able to afford going to school without that scholarship,” said Sophia Augustine ’24, who plays bass and graduated in May. “It’s allowed me to pursue something that I love to do.”

Over the years, the Herb Alpert Foundation has enabled many incredible travel experiences, including the Jazz “A” Band’s trip to New York in January 2020 for a Jazz at Lincoln Center championship competition. The trip to New Orleans was entirely funded by the Herb Alpert Foundation. 

While there, they worked with Don Vappie, a banjo hall of famer whose lineage of family musicians dates to the birth of jazz. They attended concerts featuring New Orleans trumpet legends Wendell BruniousLeroy Jones and Jamil Shariff. They toured the New Orleans Jazz Museum. They sat in on performances at world-famous venues.

There was an especially meaningful visit to Congo Square in Louis Armstrong Park, where enslaved and free people of color gathered throughout the 19th Century. Here, African dance and drumming celebrations influenced the development of jazz.

“It was kind of a spiritual experience,” said AJ Reyes, a rising senior who plays saxophone. “It reinforces just how important the history of this music is.  

“I’m super thankful for that.”

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