It's free, exciting and better than Saturday morning cartoons, say parents whose children are learning to play in a Latin Jazz orchestra under the tutelage of Grammy Award winner Arturo O'Farrill, who just launched the program in Harlem.

"Not everyone is good in sports and it makes me happy to see my sons come here excited to play their trumpets," said Lisa Maskah, 44, of the Bronx, whose sons Damali Rutherford, 11, and Semaj, 10, are part of the musical program.

"I can see both of them opening up. They realize that music is really important," Maskah said. "I'm so happy that we are not at home watching television and hearing my sons say how bored they are."

Seventeen students -- all with no musical experience -- are enrolled in the eight-week program. The middle schoolers and high schoolers meet four hours a week to learn to read music and play percussion and brass instruments. Two hours are reserved for music theory, using math to read music, and science to explain how instruments work.

O'Farrill, who was born in Mexico and grew up in New York City, is the son of jazz legend Chico O'Farrill.

O'Farrill is an internationally renowned pianist and composer who received a Grammy for his album "Song for Chico" in 2009. He also is an educator who has founded half a dozen public school musical programs through the Afro Latin Jazz Alliance.

"We started in Canarsie raising funds to buy instruments which kids get to take home. We give them the opportunity to play in an ensemble and that is an extraordinary challenge," he said.

advertisement | advertise on newsday

"We should always teach our kids the basics, but we also want to put a trumpet in a kid's hand and maybe turn it into a love affair," O'Farrill said, laughing.

O'Farrill handpicks four professional musicians to be instructors. They prepare students for their ensemble debut that highlights a repertoire in the tradition of O'Farrill's famed youth orchestra "The Fat Afro Latin Jazz Cats" -- which has performed at the Greenwich Village Jazz Club, the Brooklyn Museum and Manhattan's Birdland Jazz Club.

Elsie McCabe Thompson, president of the New York City Mission Society, enlisted O'Farrill to provide the program at its Minisink Community Center. Several years ago, she saw O'Farrill's Fat Cat band perform.

"I thought it was great music and when he introduced the band and I saw they were all kids, I wanted to create our own orchestra," she said.

Natalie Rivera, 12, of Harlem, said learning to play trumpet has given her new confidence. "Now, if I want to be in the school talent show I can show off my skills," she said.