Music: Giving Back

Building a jazz community through mentoring

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Mario Guarneri, center, gives young people opportunities to play with professional musicians through his nonprofit Jazz in the Neighborhood.

When Mario Guarneri was just 13 years old, he played trumpet onstage in a concert with jazz legend Louis Armstrong. The life-changing experience, which he credits to his first teacher, led him to establish Jazz in the Neighborhood (JitN) in 2013, a Marin-based nonprofit that mentors young, aspiring jazz players.

JitN offers an Emerging Artists program that gives these young musicians opportunities to perform live at concerts, alongside professionals. Players are selected mainly through teacher recommendations from local schools, and perform at venues throughout the Bay Area.

“The reality is that in the tradition of the art form, mentoring has always been a really vital and essential part of the process,” Guarneri, 74, says. “You can learn more in 10 minutes on the bandstand than a whole semester in a classroom.”

Most local jazz players are paid very little, Guarneri says, and he believes that relying on tip jars is demeaning. So he created JitN’s Guaranteed Fair Wage Program (GFWF) to give performers “the dignity that they deserve.”

Most of JitN’s concerts are free, because Guarneri believes that giving back to the community is the best way to become part of it. Guarneri, who lives in Fairfax, teaches trumpet at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music and performs with two of his own jazz groups, has enjoyed a successful career in the music business, including 15 years with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, 10 years playing on TV and movie soundtracks and recording four CDs.

“For me, it’s a way of giving back for the great life that I’ve had in the music business,” he says of JitN. “There’s nothing better than being able to provide some really decently paid work for really great musicians.”

Jazz in the Neighborhood presents Jazz Caliente on Friday, Oct. 27 at Copperfield’s Books, 850 Fourth St., San Rafael; 415/524-2800; jazzintheneighborhood.org.

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