CHARLOTTE, N.C. (QUEEN CITY NEWS) – At the Visual and Performing Arts Center in Uptown Charlotte, the rhythm is contagious.

Musical director Julio Jeri and instructor Johnny Conga are committed to helping keep a vibrant music genre alive and well: Latin jazz.

“We’re also trying to learn something culturally that is not around here,” says Jeri, who’s also the brass instructor.

“We’re passing on the legacy of the music; the history and the culture,” Johnny Conga said.

The nonprofit JazzArts Charlotte started the free music workshop for 7th through 12th graders to promote and preserve Latin jazz.

“The Latin genre is combined with jazz and put into a big band setting,” Jeri explained.

“Wow factor from the beginning okay,” he told students at a recent session.

The Nuestro Tiempo Latino Jazz Youth Ensemble’s purpose is to celebrate diversity through the lens of music. Doing so expands the horizons of promising young musicians.

“You really get a new angle,” said saxophonist Ricardo Forges. “Like say if you only play jazz all the time, you would never really think about certain rhythms and different aspects of like harmony.”

“I think it’s important because you really have to widen your variety in your music,” saxophonist Victoria Catu said.

“But it’s about feeling the beat,” Jeri says. “And how to communicate what they want to say; frustration, anger, anything… happiness… through their own instruments.”

By the end of the 12-week program, they’ll have a taste of the rich history of Latin jazz. The hope is that for some, it’s a launchpad.

It excites me because I see it living on through these kids,” said Conga. “Hopefully these kids will actually engage in creating their own Latin jazz music.”

“As someone who is Hispanic, a lot of these sounds are already in my ear. I am happy to see a lot of other kids be introduced into these sounds,” says saxophonist Gustavo Cruz.

“When you play all types of music you can be more versatile,” Forges told us.

Now, add one more tool to their musical toolbox.