A Longtime Player in Philanthropic Causes, Janice Polizzotto Finds Her Rhythm Boosting Music Education

Where there’s a will.

  • Category
    Arts, People
  • Written & photographed by
    Kat Monk

Hermosa Beach resident Janice Polizzotto sits at the front of the Van Nuys High School stage, waving her hand to the beat. Tom Morello, guitar player for Rage Against the Machine, strums his acoustic guitar and sings to a jam-packed auditorium filled with music students. For Janice, this is just another day on the job.

Janice is the interim CEO of Music Will, a nonprofit organization transforming how music education is taught in public schools. Music Will donates musical equipment and teaches music teachers how to incorporate multiple musical genres into their curriculum—not just classical. They achieve this with the help of high-profile artists like Dolly Parton, Idina Menzel and Babyface.

A South Bay native, Janice attended North High School in Torrance and spent her summers hanging with friends at 24th Street in Hermosa Beach. “I was not your best student in high school,” she admits. “I didn’t even really want to go to college. My mom once suggested that I should find a college that offered a degree in socializing.” 

Janice earned her associate’s degree at El Camino College and her bachelor’s degree in business at California State University, Long Beach. She began her professional career in corporate philanthropy with the American Honda Foundation after being hired as an administrative assistant. 

“This is when I learned that you can be paid for giving money away,” she says. It wasn’t a planned career move, but it was pivotal for Janice when she discovered that philanthropy could be her future. The Mattel Children’s Foundation was next, where she redesigned the foundation’s philanthropy and expanded its overseas activities. 

Janice’s career is proof that an integral part of her success has been combining not just her education but her life experiences and her ability to socialize. Now she has more than 25 years of experience working in both the private and public sectors with an emphasis on social impact, nonprofit management, fundraising, event planning and strategic partnerships. 

Her work at Music Will, formerly known as Little Kids Rock, fulfills on a different level: leading a national movement to bring innovative and inclusive music education to students. 

“As a result, students see themselves reflected in their classes, which strengthens their connection to their school, their peers and their community,” Janice says. “We can start a new program in a school for as little as $6,500, and that includes training and instruments. Teachers are realizing our program is very complementary to what music programs already have in place.” 

Annually, the program hosts an event where the teachers have an opportunity to showcase and perform. “I’ve worked with some incredible mission-focused organizations, but there is something really special about what we do at Music Will,” she adds. “The impact that we have on students and teachers is powerfully life-changing and is what fuels me and gives me purpose to get up and face the day.” 

“Janice brings to the table an unwavering focus on Music Will’s mission as well as the ability to connect with the full range of our stakeholders, from students to major donors,” says Jay Vyas, chair of Music Will’s national board of directors. “Her can-do attitude is infectious, and it’s been great to work with her.”

Noting how music lifts the heart and soothes the soul, Janice shares that she might not have planned for this detour in her career, but she loves every moment. Wherever she can leverage social wisdom into social good, she’s game.