Students surprised with new instruments ... and a Jamie Foxx sighting


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Give Jamie Foxx a mike, and he can get an audience on its feet. Hot off his Grammy performance a couple of weeks ago, Foxx got the crowd rowdy at ... Walt Disney Concert Hall?

About 400 Los Angeles-area high school students, each sporting black a T-shirt, filled the hall and marveled at the actor-musician as he helped kick off the national Fidelity FutureStage Music Program for 2010, an initiative to strengthen public school arts programs.


The event, led by ‘Lost’ alum Dominic Monaghan, included an unveiling of $100,000 worth of new instruments to local students. Members of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, a collaborator in the project, and the music group Airborne Toxic Event also were on hand to help pass out instruments.

‘We understand the importance of arts education in the overall development of students,’ said Robert Heisler, Fidelity’s regional vice president. ‘We’re excited to be a part of it.’

In a simulcast with similar events in Boston, Chicago and Houston, the students heard about a musical competition that will give them the chance to perform alongside their city’s orchestra in concert, as well as a chance to receive instruction from professional musicians in their schools. A total of $500,000 in instruments will be donated to schools nationwide.

Sure, the teens cheered for all that ... but once Foxx walked onstage and urged them to chant “Music! Music! Music!” the noise level inside the elegant space rose significantly. And an impromptu (and slightly altered) performance of his Grammy Award-winning song, ‘Blame It,’ only got the kids more amped:

‘Blame it on the ah-ah-ah-ah-apple juice,’ Foxx sang as the students cheered.

The celebration at Disney Hall, which included a 100-member performance ensemble from Renaissance Arts Academy, connected more than 1,500 high school students via satellite from Boston’s Symphony Hall, the Houston Symphony’s Jones Hall and Chicago’s Kenwood Academy. The other cities’ speakers included actress Joan Cusack in Chicago, Boston Pops conductor Keith Lockhart and Houston Symphony Principal Pops conductor Michael Krajewski.

‘I’m a big fan of youngsters,’ Monaghan said backstage. ‘I like the innocence. The inspirational kind of attitude they take .. they’re not jaded. They’re not wounded by the world enough yet. And I’m also an artist. I grew up feeling incredibly artistic at the age of 7, 8, 9 years old, trying to find places to belong, and it wasn’t hugely easy for me ... I like that we can show these people that we accept them and they have a place where they can be.’

The festivities included musical performances with orchestra members and last year’s competition winners.

‘People don’t understand, the music that they’re playing is complicated,’ Foxx said after the event. ‘I remember when I was 15, I was goofy, goofy, goofy! I was goofy. These kids are serious musicians. And it’s great that they’ve been given this opportunity to perfect that craft.’

The four high schools selected to participate in 2010 Fidelity FutureStage program are Garfield High School, Renaissance Arts Academy, Foshay Learning Center and Roosevelt High School. One ensemble from the pool of schools will be selected to perform at the Hollywood Bowl Opening Night Gala in June.

‘We’re passionate about music education,’ said L.A. Philharmonic president Deborah Borda. ‘Gustavo Dudamel has begun as our new music director, and we’re focusing even more on what we can do to make a real difference in bringing music to all. This is a special passion for our institution; music is an important component for the development of youth.’

Foxx echoed that. Before he was crooning R&B songs and working with top-notch music producers, Foxx was just a kid with a piano. His talent on the keys would eventually land him a scholarship to United States International University, where he studied classical music and composition

‘Music is one of the most incredible things that you can give a kid,’ said Foxx, who recalled sporting the same curled coif as Lionel Richie — ‘short in the front, long in the back; from the side, it looked like a Z28 Camaro’ — and performing ‘Hello’ in his room after his first heartbreak: ‘Nothing like music to get you through.’

-- Yvonne Villarreal