What do jazz and democracy have in common?

NEW ORLEANS -- This is no ordinary class; part jazz, part American history.

The key lesson? That jazz and democracy are based on the same principles.

“Do we look the same? Do you think we think the same?” musician Barry Stephenson asked the students.

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A classroom in New Orleans listening to jazz

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Nine-year-old Sasha Etheredge attends Morris Jeff Community School in New Orleans.

“I think what is important is that they all have their own specialty in which can form something just brilliant and amazing,” she said.

Third-grader Alexander Landis Arnold is also in the class. Asked if he preferred one instrument over the rest, he said “all of them together. Definitely.”

“Because one instrument can be the beat, one instrument can be the effect. So it all comes together as good music,” he said.

Legendary musician Wynton Marsalis is behind the program with Jazz at Lincoln Center.

“There are three things that we teach. One, through the blues things happen in life,” he said.

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Wynton Marsalis

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“The second thing through swing is that we teach you to work together with people … and through improvisation we teach you that you have a unique identity.”

Marsalis says you can’t have music without integrity, same as politics.

“If you take integrity out of the form, you can’t play jazz. Because first, I’m going to solo all night. You’re not going to get a chance to play,” he said.

Sixty inner-city schools in the U.S. and abroad are benefitting from a $1 million Rockefeller Foundation grant.

“Everyone is different and everyone has a talent. And if we put all those talents together, it can make something that no one’s ever thought of before,” Sasha said.

Faces of optimism, just like jazz.