Tenor saxophone player Dawud Rahman of Harlem showed no nerves performing in front of a packed crowd at a benefit gala for Music on the Inside Sunday evening.

Rahman said participating in that program, which is offered free to formerly incarcerated youth and adults who have served their time, has changed his life.

“I’ve grown,” said Rahman. “I’ve grown quite a bit as a result of being in this program.”

What You Need To Know

  • Music On The Inside was started in 2016 to help formerly incarcerated youth and adults connect with music education and to learn how to play instruments

  • Two formerly incarcerated students performed at a gala Sunday to raise money so the nonprofit can continue to offer the program at no cost

  • The organization’s launch was inspired by Louis Armstrong’s confinement to a reform school where he developed a greater love for jazz

He said after serving over 40 years in several correctional facilities in upstate New York and becoming a free man just over a year ago; he was paired with this program that offers music education as a form of healing and as a tool to reduce recidivism.

For Rahman, meeting weekly with his music teacher, who also serves as a mentor, has helped his confidence.

“It has boosted my, uh, I guess my, uh, self-esteem,” said Rahman.

Piano player Chon Smith of Riverdale said after being locked up for over 20 years, being paired with a professional piano player allowed him to fulfill a lifelong desire to play the keys.

He hopes to one day be in a position to earn a living teaching it.

“It has given me an opportunity to have a brighter future to be able to dig deep within myself and find I do have value,” Smith said. “I do have worth. I do have a gift. I do have talent!”

Officials with the nonprofit say when the music education program was launched in 2016, it took inspiration from the experience of the late jazz legend Louis Armstrong, who developed his skills for jazz when he was confined as a young person.

Jazz singer Catherine Russell is very proud that her legendary father Luis Russell once worked with Armstrong.

She was glad to sing Sunday to support a cause that helps those who have served their time improve their lives thanks to music.

“This program also today honors Louis Armstrong and where would he be?” said Russell. “He got his first horn in the Colored Waif’s Home, and that’s how he got started. That’s how he built his career, and he’s one of the geniuses of our century!”

Officials said there are under 20 people who are currently enrolled in Music On The Inside.