Jazz Kelley: The 1st Female Percussionist to Earn a BA in Music at Albany State

Percussionist Jazz Kelley poses holding her drumsticks at Albany State University.

From a young age, Jazz Kelley dreamed of becoming a professional musician. Her passion for music led her to Albany State University, where she became the first female percussionist to earn a music degree at her school. After years of intensive training, Kelley is committed to teaching the next generation of music students.

Growing Up In Carrollton

Kelley grew up in Carrollton, a small town on the border of Georgia and Alabama. Her family and friends were committed to their faith, and Kelley attended church on a regular basis. When her godparents hosted an evening service, Kelley was given the opportunity to play drums for the first time.

“That night he didn’t have a drummer. Of course, little me, I was just like, man I got to get up there… somehow the organ player looked at me and pointed at me to come up there.”

Without any formal lessons, Kelley jumped on stage and played her first drum solo. The audience was amazed by her natural talent, and Kelley realized that she had a unique gift.

“They didn’t know that it was me, so at the end they were just like, “Man, that music was good.” I stood up so that they could see me, and everybody was just like, “That’s Jazz”…I’ve been playing ever since.”

When Kelley was a teenager, she joined her high school’s marching band. As a talented musician, Kelley made a name for herself as a female bass drummer and one of the only black women on their drumline.

Attending Albany State

When Kelley was in high school, she learned about Albany State University from a family friend. After taking a campus tour in 2010, Kelley knew that she wanted to go to ASU.

“I went there, and I remember going into the city. When we pulled up to the school, I saw the palm trees. Then I was like, that’s it, I’m sold, I’m coming. There’s no other school that I want to go to.”

Percussionist Jazz Kelley poses with her degree during her graduation ceremony at Albany State University.After high school, Kelley moved to Albany where she enrolled in college as a music major.
Kelley was a bass drummer in the ASU Marching Band, and when the band played at the 2016 Tournament of Roses Kelley got her first taste of life as a professional musician.

“That scenery when you’re marching down that street is so beautiful. We got to a point where you could see the mountains in the background, and the sun was just starting to come up, because it was really cold. It was clear skies, the sun was out, all these people are on each side. I mean thousands of people, and they’re just cheering you on.”

When Kelley wasn’t playing the bass drum, she was studying music theory and learning different instruments. After years of intensive study, Kelley became the first female percussionist to graduate from ASU with a bachelor’s degree in music.

Pursuing A Career In Music

As a distinguished college graduate, Kelley teaches children about drums, percussion, and the opportunities that are available to them.

“I think to see when they’re working at something, two things, one thing, if they’re working at something that they are learning and they finally get it. When they get it, you know that they get it, because they let you know, and the excitement. [It] brings so much joy to me.”

When she’s not teaching, Kelley dreams of performing with artists like Beyoncé and Erykah Badu. With her strong faith and her passion for music, Kelley is looking forward to making those dreams come true.

“I’ve come so far with my journey and where I started at to where I finished, and new beginnings and chapters of my life. Just to see how far God has brought me, it still amazes me, because I couldn’t have done anything without him. When I tell my story, I always have to give Jesus the glory, because it was never about me, it was always about him. Without him I’m nothing, and he gave me this gift, so this has always been a blessing. It still doesn’t feel real.”

Connect with Jazz Kelley

Twitter: https://twitter.com/jazz_bean
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/jazz_bean/

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