Meet the Teaching Artist: Jess O’Brien


Earlier this year, the Count Basie Center Academy brought on its first full-time teaching artist, Jess O’Brien. An accomplished choreographer, director and performer, Jess handles the Academy’s junior productions, teaches dance classes as part of the Basie’s outreach program at Red Bank Primary School, and helps facilitate the Basie Center’s mindALIGNED program, which incorporates creativity in classrooms throughout Monmouth and Ocean counties. 

What makes you a unique teacher?

I’ve worked with students from age three to ninety-five – and each has come to me carrying different abilities, skill sets and background knowledge. I’ve found that creativity and inspiration provides a good challenge and promotes motivation, which creates a safe space to explore and take risks.

What will students take away from your classes at the Basie Academy?

Beyond musical theatre skills like acting, singing and dancing, my students will learn lifelong skills like communication, teamwork, creativity, problem solving, critical thinking and collaboration.

What is your philosophy on the importance of arts education?

This also connects with learning lifelong skills. Yes – it’s important to expand upon skill sets necessary to be a performer. But more importantly, the arts allow students to explore their individuality and creativity, and have a sense of ownership in their growth and evolution. The arts allow students to connect with others, learn the value of a support system, and increase motivation toward an individual or common goal.

What are your strengths as a teacher?

I have a crazy amount of patience. I am always looking for more efficient ways to communicate and teach. I still consider myself a student, and still take classes to better myself an educator and teaching artist.

How have the arts impacted your life?

I don’t know who I would be; the arts are who I am. I don’t know if I could differentiate between being an individual and an artist.

Why did you choose your specific genre of performing arts?

I didn’t really “choose” it — it kind of chose me. I was always into sports. I went to one audition with a friend when I was a child, and I was hooked. My path has evolved from being a full-time performer to a director/choreographer/educator, because I found more joy and fulfillment watching others thrive and grow. It’s an honor to be a part of that magic.

What artist has inspired you the most and why?

All artists inspire me. What we do is raw, emotional, visceral, scary, real, demanding, tiring, soul consuming. Observing the passion, drive and resilience of other artists inspires me daily.

Why do you like teaching at the Basie Center Academy?

Great leadership starts at the top. When you feel valued, it boosts your motivation. When you are motivated, you stay engaged. When you are engaged, you can blossom. The CB Center for the Arts allows me to blossom.