Written By Josie Gulliksen
November 9, 2023 at 11:56 AM

Miami-Dade County Public High School music students witness a live sound check with jazz artist Cecile McLorin Salvant as part of the Arsht Center’s Jazz Roots SoundCheck program. (Photo by Taylor Brown)

Each year, the Arsht Center’s Education Department endeavors to increase the number of Miami-Dade County public school students they welcome there to experience the arts. Their varied and ever-expanding educational programming is how they achieve that goal. The program Jazz Roots: SoundCheck, is one of the instrumental ways they’re surpassing that milestone each year.

“We invite all Miami Dade high school students, particularly those focusing on jazz students, to come and participate in the live sound check during our Jazz Roots series,” says Lakeisha Frith, director of Education for the Arsht Center.

The program, which was established in 2008, has hosted 15,000 students to a pre-concert sound check, Q&A session with featured artists, a workshop with a local jazz expert highlighting the music, artistic process and practical skills needed for a career in the arts; and free entry to the evening’s performance, with transportation and dinner provided – all free of charge.

Miami-Dade County Public Schools student Alejandro Cruz plays a note for saxophonist Candy Dulfer during a past Jazz Roots Q&A session. (Photo by Justin Namon)

This year’s program features a tribute to Henry Mancini’s 100th birthday featuring his daughter, vocalist Monica Mancini, with a Q&A session led by Shelly Berg, dean of the University of Miami’s Frost School of Music and one of the founders of the series. In December it’s saxophonist Dave Koz and the Dave Koz and Friends Christmas Tour, followed by the return of legendary Cuban pianist and composer Chucho Valdes commemorating the 50th anniversary of his Afro-Cuban jazz band Irakere and ending with an evening of soul with singer/songwriter Gregory Porter, both in February.

For the past two seasons, in place of a lecture, Frith has been hiring local musicians and incorporated a jazz session into the event.

“Students have jammed with jazz greats like Melton Mustafa, Jr. and legends like Chucho Valdes and many others who have come to jam with the students. When I tell you we must pull them from that session, I’m not exaggerating,” says Frith.

Miami-Dade County Public high school music students get feedback from Latin jazz legend Chucho Valdes as part of the Arsht Center’s Jazz Roots SoundCheck program. (Photo by Daniel Azoulay)

Frith is herself a product of the program in a way and it’s what led her to her current job at the Arsht, where she’s worked since 2016, rising to her current post as director.

“SoundCheck was my first exposure to the Arsht Center’s Education Program. I won tickets to the SoundCheck on Spike Lee films and there I noticed all these students sitting in the back of the house,” Frith says. “I studied classical violin and music and worked for the Greater Miami Youth Symphony prior to the Arsht so being here working on this jazz program with these Miami students, it is a full circle moment.”

One of those students who will be attending again this year is Joseph Wasilewski, a sophomore at Arthur and Polly Mays Conservatory for the Arts in South Dade. He began there in middle school and plays trombone in concert and jazz. He first attended SoundCheck in eighth grade and saw the Brubeck Brothers.

Joseph Wasilewski, a sophomore at Arthur and Polly Mays Conservatory for the Arts in South Dade who has been attending the program since middle school is excited for this year’s lineup of artists. (Photo courtesy of Joseph Wasilewski)

“That performance sparked something in me and helped me really fuel my passion. Hearing about their life and career really inspired me to pursue my music even more,” says Wasilewski.

The following year, he attended the master class with jazz great Branford Marsalis, who Wasilewski says, “talked about being 16 or 17 when he started which was kind of late in life for him and then seeing him perform, it was truly one of the most amazing performances I’ve ever seen.”

L-R: Jazz singer Nnenna Freelon, saxophonist and songwriter Kirk Whalum, music producer Carl Griffin, singer/songwriter Clint Holmes and Dean of the University of Miami Frost School of Music Shelly Berg on stage at the Arsht Center during a Jazz Roots Q&A session. (Photo by Justin Namon)

Hearing about the artists’ experiences, their struggles, and how they ultimately succeeded is invaluable to them as students he says because “it shows us it’s possible to pursue this career and be successful. It’s also an exciting and fun experience to jam with people we don’t know. Attending SoundCheck is something I look forward to every year.” Wasilewski has a clear idea for his musical career path, hoping both to perform and compose music or perhaps work in music theory. “Something in that realm” he says, “I’d love to write music for movies or video games.”

There are those students that attend however, that have never been to a performance at the Arsht Center and for them Frith says, “it is just as important to chat with these artists and experience from them what it is like being an artist and also teaching, performing and giving back to the community.”

She is proud to host world-class performers on the Arsht Center stage and watch them make the connection with these students and inspire and motivate them in their artistic pursuit.

Students are all smiles after a session with Grammy winning jazz vocalist Cecile McLorin Salvant (center) during the Jazz Roots SoundCheck program. (Photo by Taylor Brown)

Learn more about the Jazz Roots: SoundCheck Program and about their community partnerships at is a nonprofit media source for the arts featuring fresh and original stories by writers dedicated to theater, dance, visual arts, film, music and more. Don’t miss a story at

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