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Open Tone Music Teaches Kids, Presents Akron Jazz Fest This Weekend

[Open Tone Music]

A little more than a decade ago, trombonist and educator Chris Anderson was teaching music in both the Cleveland Public Schools and in the suburbs.

“As the programming in the suburbs was being sustained and those kids were able to advance more quickly for different reasons, I began noticing a decline in the programs in the inner-city,” Anderson said.

In 2010, in order to make sure those students whose programs were disappearing would have music in their lives, Anderson decided to form Open Tone Music. The organization is dedicated to teaching those kids as well as presenting music for the whole community to enjoy, in particular those who might not be able to afford an admission fee.

[Open Tone Music Executive Director Chris Anderson/Open Tone Music]


Open Tone Music began working with the Cleveland Public Schools and, later, in a volunteer capacity with the Boys and Girls Clubs of Northeast Ohio, including Akron.

[Open Tone Music]

Anderson observed something about the kids who participated in the program.

“Students like to see that you are going to be consistent. If we just went in there for a couple of months, we wouldn’t have had the same amount of success that we have been able to achieve. The kids noticed that we were passionate about them, improve themselves and learn this new skill,” Anderson said.

The students weren’t the only ones who noticed the work of the Open Tone instructors. The staff and management of the Boys and Girls Clubs saw the success Open Tone was having and offered to make them a non-profit subsidiary of the organization. 

Open Tone uses music to teach the students larger life-lessons.

“It boils down to trying to teach them to be better humans. The foundation of Open Tone is to use music to teach work ethic, discipline and instilling self-respect in the students,” Anderson said.                   

Anderson said that over the years it has been interesting to see how the students react to learning music.

“Everyone comes at it with these pre-conceived notions, either it is impossible or super easy. It’s the extremes, ‘oh this easy, I can do this.’ Then they realize this is going take some work. Or, ‘this is super difficult,’ then they actually realize ‘you can do this.’”

[Open Tone Music]

Pianist Theron Brown, who has worked with Open Tone Music in the past, was asked to be part of group of people involved in the arts in Akron and to participate in a special project.

“Four years ago the Knight Foundation came to town with a Knight Arts Challenge grant, where they match dollar for dollar of the money you raise. As a focus group, we took a couple of trips to Knight Foundation cities to see what kind of programming they were doing to uplift the city through the arts. One of things that I took away was that there were jazz festivals that had educational programs that went along with it. I started talking to Chris Anderson about it. It seemed like something that was in our scope, so we filled out for that grant and we won it,” Brown said.

[Theron Brown, Rubber City Jazz and Blues Festival Director/Theron Brown] 

With that money, Open Tone Music teamed with other organizations to start the Rubber City Jazz and Blues Festival, which is now in its fourth year. The three day festival is a mix of free and ticketed events.  

Brown, who serves as the festival’s artistic director, feels the event puts the spotlight on Akron.

“I think the aesthetic of the festival is based around what the city is. We aren’t trying to copy any of the other bigger festivals in the world. We are catering it toward our local talent and mixing it in with national artists. If you come, you’ll see there is a lot of great local talent in Northeast Ohio,” Brown said.

The Rubber City Jazz and Blues Festival takes place August 23-25.

In the related features section-listen to performances/conversations with some of the artists performing at the festival