Jazz House Kids

Melissa Walker

President and Founder

“passionate, musical, enthusiastic”


An acclaimed jazz vocalist and recording artist, Melissa has performed internationally for close to 20 years. In addition to recording five solo albums and appearing as a guest artist on numerous CDs, she is the featured vocalist on bass virtuoso and band leader Christian McBride’s 2012 GRAMMY-winning album The Good Feeling.


In 2002, Melissa’s passion for performing and working with young people led her to found Jazz House Kids, and she has proved to be a visionary leader whose work has been recognized nationally. Melissa was recently chosen as a 2014 Best 50 Women in Business Honoree in New Jersey and in 2013, the Jazz Journalists Association presented her with a Jazz Hero Award, given each year to “activists, advocates, altruists, aiders and abettors of jazz who have had significant impact in their local communities.” The previous year, she and McBride received the African American Classical Music Award from the New Jersey Chapter of the Spelman College National Alumnae Association. In 2011, Melissa was honored with a Red Cross Award from the Montclair, Glen Ridge and Nutley, New Jersey Chapter for “significant impact on the quality of life through volunteer and humanitarian efforts, ” and she received the Community Service Award from BlueWaveNJ.


Walker is a graduate of Brown University and in 2013 completed The Prudential Foundation Nonprofit Executive Fellows Program at the Institute For Ethical Leadership at Rutgers Business School. Originally from Alberta, Canada, Melissa lives in Montclair with her husband Christian McBride and their two dogs, Ella and Jesse.

Allison Russo

Senior Manager of Education and School Programs


Allison joined Jazz House Kids in July 2014, beginning her foray into arts administration. After graduating from Ithaca College in 2011 with a B.M. in music education and a minor in writing, Allison taught elementary school band in Ithaca, New York, for three years. While there, she taught over 130 students each year, oversaw student teachers from Ithaca College, and created three school-wide dinosaur-themed art projects titled “Jurassic Arts.” She also enjoyed three summers working with the NYSSSA School of Orchestral Studies as the Head Counselor, theory teacher, and woodwind quartet coach. Allison completed her Master’s in Music Education through Boston University in 2015. Along with two of her friends, she bakes professionally with Trio Dolce Desserts (triodolcedesserts.com). She lives in West Orange with her husband and college sweetheart, Ben.


Overview of Jazz House Kids: Jazz House Kids has gained a reputation as one of the nation’s preeminent arts education and performance organizations. Our mission is to transform young lives and open doors to the future by offering pre-professional, year-round musical training along with community engagement and education programs for K-12 students from diverse backgrounds. Internationally renowned jazz performers teach alongside our professional staff, offering students a wide range of creative programming that develops musical potential, enhances leadership and life skills, and strengthens academic performance. Through music, mentoring, education and apprenticeship, Jazz House Kids cultivates tomorrow’s global citizens so they may build vibrant communities.


What makes Jazz House Kids unique and necessary? “At Jazz House Kids, we believe that learning to love, understand, and create jazz—this great American art form–reaps life-long benefits that every child deserves to enjoy. We know that music creates bonds and builds communities. That’s why everything we do is suffused with jazz. Step into our rehearsal rooms, an in-school program, one of our events, or just our office, and you’ll always find something in the air: great music! In schools, at our Jazz House studio, and within the larger communities where we work, we’ve built circles of enthusiastic students, dedicated staff, first-rate professional teaching artists, supporters, and friends. We also believe in jazz as a tremendous teaching tool. Through jazz education and performance programs, we teach children ages 8 to18 to become lifelong learners, communicators and innovators. As students practice on their instruments, rehearse with their ensembles, and interact with instructors trained to teach and mentor them, they develop important skills.”


Services provided by Jazz House Kids: School programs of all sizes: assemblies, masterclasses, residencies, and full-year programs; Classes at the Jazz House in Montclair on nights and weekends. All programs are jazz-focused and can serve students with any amount of jazz experience, or no jazz experience.

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Arts Ed Newark is made possible by the generous support of: Turrell Fund, The Prudential Foundation, The Horizon Foundation of New Jersey, 

The Victoria Foundation, The Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation,

and The National Endowment for the Arts

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