Three years ago I became a Louisville musician. Technically I had been playing music for decades before this, and had even performed around Louisville for about a year. However it wasn't until we launched AMPED - The Academy of Music Production Education and Development - with a crew full of the most passionate and talented musicians I have ever met, that I finally felt a part of the Louisville music community.
The idea for AMPED was quite simple. At the time there was a lot of trouble in Louisville with youth violence, especially with the incident that happened in Waterfront Park by the Big Four Bridge March 22nd, 2014. Two years before this happened I was working on a social entrepreneurship ethnography with Restorative Justice Louisville for my doctoral program at the University of Louisville, and had an opportunity to go on a police ride-along in the West End of Louisville. That night, after observing dozens of youth arrested for crimes that seemed to be motivated by boredom, I was moved to write a business plan for an idea to provide alternative opportunities to these kids through music education. That document sat in a drawer for two years as I settled into the new city (I had just moved to Kentucky from California) until folks in the community reached out to me after the mob violence at waterfront park to create a social enterprise that would reach out to troubled youth. I didn't have all the answers, but I started the conversation by talking about music as the channel to our solution for this problem.
That spring I found beautiful partnerships with incredible people in the Louisville community, including Allison Cross, Jecorey Arthur, Gisela Nelson and Dave Christopher, my co-founder and currently executive director of the 501(c)3 non profit. Today AMPED is a year-long, after-school program with it's own building and a recent donation of $100k by a local philanthropist, along with many other forms of support from our Compassionate City. And while I am no longer involved with the operations of this program, I will never forget the beauty of that first summer when artists, educators, therapists, entrepreneurs, civic leaders, local businesses and many other stakeholders all joined forces to respond to a problem in our community through positive collaborations focused on making a difference in the lives of these young individuals.
There was no plan and definitely no budget. We just shared what we could and created the foundation for a wonderful program for young people to thrive through the power of music. We kicked off the program by hosting a concert for youth at the opening ceremony of the Festival of Faiths. At this event, Jenna Dean performed "Yesterday" by the Beatles with the West Louisville Performing arts academy while kids in the audience shared their own ideas for the building this program on a giant chalkboard art piece donated to us by The Festival of Faiths founder, Christy Brown.
With all the energy from this event, Dave and I decided that we needed to launch the program as soon as possible, and while we still didn't have a dime of funding, we realized we had everything we needed. Friends.
Over 20 different organizations participated that summer in some sort of in-kind sponsorship to support our new program. There was even a full meal provided each day of the program to every kid thanks to a donation from Marcus Childs and we had a safe place to meet thanks to New Legacy, where Gisela and Paul Nelson were actively involved with the entire program. And somehow we even managed to kick off the entire program with a surprise visit from the legendary Preservation Hall Jazz Band, thanks to JK McKnight, founder of the Forecastle Festival
AMPED was designed to bring inner-city youth together in a friendly community, through partnerships with foster homes, programs like Right Turn, and other good people in the community trying to give young people access to free music education. We started each day of the camp with a simple drum circle led by music therapist Allison Cross, and eased into lessons related to songwriting, performance and eventually recording. Thanks to Dave Christopher and Jon Poww (bassist for Jenna Dean), the kids had an opportunity to record original music that they wrote during the camp sessions and our village of mentors helped them find their courage to perform with confidence throughout the program. Jecorey Arthur stepped into the role of Program Manager through his strong leadership and classical training as a music educator at University of Louisville and filmmaker William Huston documented the process, that eventually would help us raise thousands of dollars through crowdfunding from his videos. Dozens of other local musicians stopped by to work with the kids and it was truly a community effort.
Jenna Dean was also there every step of the way that summer. Joel Goodwin helped bring their ideas into musical form through his talents on the keyboard. Anthony Raspberry taught a session on rapping and later came back to pass on his photography skills to our students. Former bandmates Zach and Ben helped with teaching the kids how to set up the PA and other equipment for the eventual concert we held in Central Park in Old Louisville, where 300 people turned up to see the kids perform their music live while selling their CD's they recorded. Jenna Dean musicians, including vocalist Anna Lee Roeder who volunteered as a mentor the entire summer, accompanied these performances with live instruments and Joel, JP and I pulled a few all nighters making sure the music recorded could be mixed and mastered in time for radio stations like WFPK to play the music on the air. Gill Holland and sonaBLAST! Records stepped up and offered to donate their services to help license and distribute the kid's music. All of this came together in just one month of the camp, and nothing was planned!
Jenna Dean also really came together as a band during this experience, recording our first track - Blown - in that same studio that we worked with the kids. Months later we would produce our music video for our version of the Beatles "Yesterday" with many kids from that camp shown at the beginning of this post.
A few days after filming the music video I would have to leave for Los Angeles, where I currently reside as a professor in entrepreneurship at Loyola Marymount University. However, I made an effort to return to Louisville every two months since August 2014 for both AMPED and Jenna Dean projects.
As I look back at that summer, I realize that this experience of launching AMPED with such altruistic humans during the end my short tenure in Louisville, a city where I didn't know a soul upon arriving four year earlier, would actually turn into the beginning of my adoption of it as my hometown. Strangely, in the act of leaving the city, I turned into one of its local musician, despite living 3000 miles away.
Through the service of others, my passion for making music was reignited, and our project, Jenna Dean, took a new course. During the two years that followed my move to California, The band and I began an incredible cross-country songwriting collaboration that resulted in the album we recorded last summer at La La Land and the music we are thankful to be releasing this year.
Finally, I must admit that the locations in our music video for "Prayer" are no coincidence The Big Four Bridge (where the troubling youth violence incident occurred March of 2014), Garage Bar (where Allison, Regina and I first discussed creating this program and where I first learned about Dave Christopher's recording studio Level Seven), and The Cathedral of the Assumption (where we launched AMPED at the Festival of Faiths) were all critical locations for creation of this youth music program that would forever change lives in Louisville, and I am forever changed because of it.
-Jason Francis D'Mello