By Daniel Brown
From the ground floor you walk up an open-aired, red-carpeted staircase situated between ornately trimmed walls. At the top you enter a ballroom, with a red and white band shell stage with Greek columns, a wooden dance floor, and a sixty-foot long, wooden bar with matching windows looking onto the street.
It is here, in The Grand Ball Room on 6351 S. Cottage Grove Rd., where great musicians – such as Louis Armstrong, Charlie Parker and Earl Hines – used to perform. Directly below it, in the building formerly known as the Loeffler building, is a small studio that for almost two years has operated as the Coltrane Conservatory, a nonprofit music school.
Coltrane Conservatory offers all kinds of one-on-one music lessons for pretty much all instruments, except violin, said Executive Director Joe Pace III. He teaches piano, drums and brass instruments, and other volunteers teach the rest of the instruments.
The school also offers private tutoring and a free drumming program. Although the private music and tutoring sessions are not free, they do cost substantially less than most other schools and tutoring programs.
One of the goals of Coltrane Conservatory is to “give young black kids an opportunity to have a…musical outlet and to get them out of the dangers of the street by putting them into positive activity,” said Pace III. He does have students from middle class families, but are many whom come from impoverished homes. These latter students are the most difficult to keep coming back, he said, because their parents are oftentimes more concerned with providing the bare necessities.
Another goal of Coltrane Conservatory is to pick up the slack of the Chicago Public Schools. “The Chicago Public School system has just about taken music out of the system, and closed down so many schools in the South Side of Chicago,” says Pace III.
As for Pace III’s teaching style, he says, it’s very simple: repetition. “That’s my philosophy on it. It works every time, especially when I have subjects who are willing to focus and listen,” he said. Before his work began with Coltrane Conservatory, he was a math teacher and social worker.
Despite their location in such a historically fitting building, Pace III said he hopes to eventually purchase a larger space. The school will celebrate their second anniversary on July 12th of this year.
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