Youth Jazz Alumni come from cities and towns throughout the Kansas City metropolitan area. KC is a bi-state metropolitan area anchored by Kansas City, Missouri. Its 14 counties straddle the border between the U.S. states of Missouri (9 counties) and Kansas (5 counties). With 8,472 square miles (21,940 km) and a population of more than 2.2 million people, it is the second-largest metropolitan area centered in Missouri (after Greater St. Louis) and is the largest metropolitan area in Kansas, though Wichita is the largest metropolitan area centered in Kansas. Alongside Kansas City, Missouri, these are the suburbs with populations above 100,000: Overland Park, Kansas; Kansas City, Kansas; Olathe, Kansas; Independence, Missouri; and Lee’s Summit, Missouri. Youth Jazz is a unique program based in Creative Youth Development (CYD). CYD describes programs that blend excellence in artistic instruction with principles of positive youth development. Participants represent the diversity of demographic inherent to the Kansas City metropolitan area. Our organization includes members of all jazz generations, ethnicities, genders, and economic backgrounds.

  • Kansas City Area Youth Jazz Inc (aka Youth Jazz) is officially determined by the Internal Revenue Service as a tax-exempt nonprofit organization under IRC Section 501(c)(3) with further Public Charity status thus allowing donors to deduct contributions they make to Youth Jazz under IRC Section 170. Effective Date of Exemption: February 08, 2023.
  • The 2022 Season was our very first fundraising year for the program.
  • Our program budget is in place and our funding goal is set.
  • Our professional staff and esteemed jazz faculty are currently unpaid community volunteers.
  • Our collective motivation is to simply pass down our proven professional experiences and technical knowledge of the jazz musical art form to our youngest generations.
  • We do this through a four-month season of 16 rehearsals, concerts, and recording sessions that produces a professional album released commercially on a professional jazz record label.
  • Fellows perform masterworks, original compositions, and special arrangements that are written specifically for them, learn the process of preparing music for commercial release, and learn about booking live performances in the community, among other vital skills.
  • Among our program goals is to totally immerse participants in an artist-level program that also provides useful insights about the professional music industry both before AND also while attending college, university, or conservatory music programs.
  • The Kansas City Area Youth Jazz experience helps refine and inform such opportunities and experiences within a more realistic context.
  • We seek tax-deductible funding support for the program by selling the recordings we produce, ensemble sponsorships, booking concerts, donations, and grants.
  • We use this tax-deductible funding according to our program budget, for strategic investments in this project, and for arts integration purposes.
  • And, finally - IT'S FREE! There are no application fees, tuition fees, or participation fees.
  • Yes, we purposely designed Kansas City Area Youth Jazz Fellowships to be merit-based and of no cost to selectees in order to eliminate significant economic barriers to participation in this art industry scholarship opportunity. Thus, it's a tangible value worth thousands of dollars in savings when compared to most other remotely comparable applied jazz programs around the world.

— Christopher Burnett, Founder + Artistic Director


PHOTO: Mr. Burnett with jazz great and Kansas native, Bobby Watson after his performance with the Kansas City Jazz Orchestra at Unity on the Plaza.

Youth Jazz Fellowships are premier next generation jazz artist opportunities.

Our approach is to engage the next generation of jazz artists in an applied performance and goal oriented environment.

Our philosophy is to develop selected jazz repertoire for refined performance opportunities through a high-level of understanding and musicianship.

Our vision is to attract the "best of the best" among the KC area next generation jazz musicians.

What's unique about our process is the opportunity to allow the most accomplished jazz artists of our youngest generation a forum among peers each season.

Among the distinct and interesting facts about our model is that Youth Jazz Fellows are exposed to and learn about both - the music and the business of jazz.

This paradigm sets us apart from most jazz education programs.

Our Story

Mr. Burnett returned home to the Kansas City area in 2001 after serving 22 years with military jazz bands. He worked with Leon A. Brady's famous jazz education program for five years (until Mr. Brady retired) and then with other jazz education programs.

Mr. Burnett's professional career focus has been on Jazz music. His personal vision has been to perpetuate Jazz music by passing on the applied knowledge of the art form through the great work we are doing with some of our friends and allies.

Mr. Burnett has valued Mr. Brady making himself available as a mentor with proven experience and success in the private jazz education arena. He even discussed the idea of starting this new program with Mr. Brady in 2012, well prior to the official launch of Kansas City Area Youth Jazz in 2019.

PHOTO: Mr. Burnett with Mr. Brady presenting a Jazz Clinic for fellow Music Educators at the Kansas Bandmasters Association conference.


YOUTH JAZZ brings together a diverse range of individuals, organizations, and businesses to support our mission. We bring validated individual and collective professional experience to the jazz education and ensemble performance process as both artists and educators. It’s a great program and fills an inherent void that naturally exists between the institutional learning environment and the actual real-life experience of working in the music industry.


Burnetts (202211)-0754-2 copy

Associate Musical Director

Founder & Artistic Director

Christopher Burnett, Youth Jazz founder, is a prominent Kansas City based saxophonist, bandleader, instructor, and raconteur. He operates Artists Recording Collective, a record label that has released dozens of albums by jazz musicians from around the world. He is an educator, arts business leader, and award-winning composer who began his extensive professional career with military jazz bands going pro after high school.



Associate Musical Director

Recruiting & Outreach

Willie Thornton is a professional musician and educator based in Kansas City. He has taught music for over twenty years and is currently the Vocal Music Director at the Paseo Academy of Fine and Performing Arts where his students recently performed at Carnegie Hall in NYC. Rev. Thornton is an in-demand clinician and conducts gospel music workshops and clinics around the country. He is a music producer and recording studio owner. He has recently completed the mastering of his debut solo album.



Album Producer

Engineer & Recording

William T. Crain currently serves as owner and head engineer at BRC Audio Productions and Program Director of the Institute of Audio Engineering Arts at BRC. Some of Will’s recent engineering credits include Christopher Burnett’s “Standards: Vol. 1” for the prestigious ARC record label, the last three albums for the Grammy-nominated Benedictines of Mary Queen of Apostles, and the Kansas City Jazz Orchestra. He is the recording engineer and producer of all Youth Jazz discography.



Associate Musical Director

Recruiting & Outreach

Dr. Cunningham is a music educator and performing/ recording artist who serves as the director of bands and jazz studies at Paseo Academy of Fine and Performing Arts. He can be heard performing throughout the Midwest. A Kentucky native, he earned his bachelor’s degree in music education from Western Kentucky University, holds an artist certificate from the Kodaly Institute at New York University’s Steinhardt School of Music, and is completing the Master of Music Education Degree from the University of Missouri-Columbia.




  • Gregory A. Carroll, Counsel


  • Melissa Downs, EA, ABA


  • Kelsey Vetter, Grant Writer

Photo by Helen Traphagan


Among the primary purposes of the Kansas City Area Youth Jazz program is to teach participants through participation and application how to integrate art in ways that impact community.

  • INNOVATIVE PARTNERSHIPS - KC Area Youth Jazz products and services partner with other community entities to develop programs that address community needs such as tourism.
  • INTEGRATED ARTS EDUCATION - KC Area Youth Jazz increases student performance using recording engineering technologies during the course of our season by conducting professional recording sessions and creating a professionally produced commercial recording.
  • VISITING ARTISTS - KC Area Youth Jazz has partnered with the Artists Recording Collective (ARC) recording label to bring internationally known artists to the KC area for workshops, concerts and master classes. And KC Area Youth Jazz partnered with ARC and a local business to produce a monthly student jazz jam session in the northwest KC metro.

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