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The Valley Jazz Cooperative is an educational initiative of MSW Ministries. Founded by artist-teacher Russell Schmidt, the VJC offers encouraging, respectful, values-based instruction to committed, passionate, creative young people. VJC instruction often focuses on developing two elements of longstanding importance to Music Serving the Word: educational outreach and improvised arts.

About the Valley Jazz Cooperative…The VJC has been active throughout metropolitan Phoenix since 2016, when the initial Valley Jazz Cooperative began as a partnership with Mesa Community College. In 2017, the MCC program was rebranded as the East Valley Jazz Cooperative when we launched a second program (the West VJC) , hosted by Glendale Community College​. Both programs were populated by wonderfully talented high school and junior high school musicians, individuals committed to developing their technical skills while also exploring their innate creativity. Through ensemble rehearsals and VJC Hangs, program participants also received valuable instruction on various, related topics, including theory, improvisation, and jazz history. We remain immensely grateful to MCC (Paul Brewer) & GCC (Dave Schmidt) for their partnerships during the first five years of the VJC's development.


Both the EVJC and WVJC went on hiatus in March 2020, due to the global pandemic. For the next 20 months, the Valley Jazz Cooperative pivoted toward a robust line-up of VJC Online offerings for its students, including various virtual ensembles (Contrafaction, Sacred Jazz Cooperative, and The Senior Project), two classes (Jazz History and Improvisation), and Guest Artist clinics (featuring leading artist-teachers from all over the country joining VJC students through Zoom).


In late 2021, the VJC resumed in-person instruction, with program activities unified (for two years) in a single venue: Scottsdale's Ravenscroft. And in late 2023, the VJC is resuming educational activities on the Mesa Community College campus, with the VJC Sapphire Ensemble, led once more by Paul Brewer. While the VJC has had various homes in its first seven years, the overarching goal for our students has always remained the same: We hope they will develop their artistic talents with us in ways that are tangible and meaningful, then go back into their own communities (churches, schools, arts festivals, etc.) to share their creative gifts with others.


To help us achieve that goal, these are our current VJC programs:

• VJC Ensembles (Grades 8-12) – As mentioned above, Ravenscroft and MCC are now both homes to VJC instruction. Our current roster of ensemble opportunities includes:

• VJC @ Ravenscroft (Indigo) on Tuesday evenings, directed by Russell Schmidt

• VJC @ Ravenscroft (Cerulean) on Thursday evenings, directed by Russell Schmidt

• VJC @ MCC (Sapphire) on Saturday mornings, directed by Paul Brewer

VJC program and ensembles are offered free of charge to dedicated, committed, area music students in grades 8-12 (following a successful placement audition). These programs run from early December through mid-May each school year, with auditions held in November (as marching band season is winding down for music students). Audition dates/times are usually announced in mid-October. [Please note the online application form is at the bottom of the VJC Ensembles (Grades 8-12) page, linked above.]

• Lessons & Workshops – Valley Jazz Cooperative faculty and clinicians can provide lessons to individuals, as well as group instruction to school band programs, church music groups, and other interested parties. After visiting the Lessons & Workshops page to learn more, please contact the Director of the Valley Jazz Cooperative, Russell Schmidt, to explore possible workshop and clinic opportunities.

• VJC Scholarship Program – The VJC Scholarship Program is awarded annually to a trio of outstanding high school seniors, in support of their post-secondary education. Scholarship recipients are talented young musicians, with emphasis given to individuals who have made meaningful contributions to their communities through service to others. The program is open only to VJC program alums.

• Service – The Valley Jazz Cooperative is always interested in exploring and developing collaborative projects with others as a means of enriching the lives of those in our own communities and elsewhere, whether it be through a benefit concert, educational event, coordinated school service project, or other venture. For example, in May 2023, we partnered with MSW Outreach Director Vicki McDermitt to offer two VJC performances that benefitted Abounding Service, an organization that supports refugees to the United States (teaching them English, helping them achieve U.S. citizenship, and so forth).

• VJC Alumni Band – Launched in 2022, the VJC Alumni Band comes together annually in the early part of the summer, rehearsing in late May and throughout June. (There will usually be only five or six weeks of rehearsals before a late June performance.) The time frame has been chosen in the hopes that recent HS graduates who are going to college out-of-state can have an opportunity to be back with us then, should they be returning home to AZ for the summer. If you are interested in participating in the VJC Alumni Band, please contact VJC Director Russell Schmidt directly via email. Many thanks!

ADDITIONAL NOTE REGARDING VALLEY JAZZ COOPERATIVE ACTIVITIES: High School "Assassins"-type games may not be played on Ravenscroft and MCC properties (including parking lots) before/during/after VJC rehearsals. VJC students will be walking in and out of these facilities carrying musical instruments that are worth hundreds or even thousands of dollars. And in many cases, not their own instruments, but property of their school or the Valley Jazz Cooperative.. They won't be carrying water guns and we won't have them dropping instruments to defend themselves in parking lots.

And, of course, Ravenscroft is a Ministry building, part of Music Serving the Word Ministries. We won't be having "Assassins" here. Thank you for your cooperation in this matter. And VJC students: PLEASE SITE THIS PAGE—AND DON'T DROP YOUR INSTRUMENT(S)—IF YOU ARE INAPPROPRIATELY FIRED UPON. To HS Assassins' admin./officers, this page was most recently updated on 02/13/2024.

---Russell Schmidt, Director of the Valley Jazz Cooperative and MSW-Education.

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