Setting Up Camp

April 9, 2015

Believe it or not, we’re already at that time of year when serious young jazzers start thinking about, and planning for, the summer and how best to spend that time. Many serious jazz scholars – of any age – make the choice to not let their studies drop off during these months, but rather opt to pursue alternate formats of learning via jazz camps or workshops.

JAZZed reached out to representatives from a few key summer programs to get the skinny on what they feel are the upsides to such activities. Read on to learn more about why, once the academic year is over, it doesn’t mean that structured musical learning needs to cease.

What are the primary benefits to student musicians participating in jazz camps or workshops?

Stacey Hoffman: Jazz Camp West provides extremely high quality education and exposure to jazz and its cultural underpinnings including Afro-Cuban, Brazilian, gospel, blues, et cetera, for people of all skill levels and ages, from 15-through seniors. It also provides access to mentors, colleagues, teachers, and like-minded creative friends. Finally, the camp experience instills confidence, inspiration, and motivation for continued study.

Jamey Aebersold: The students gain knowledge of theory and harmony, how and what to practice, who and how to listen to recordings and live concerts, inspiration in their musical self-worth, meet new friends who have similar interests, and help them plan their musical future.

Oisin McAuley: The primary benefits to student musicians participating in jazz camps or workshops really depend on what the student is seeking. Students who choose the Berklee Five-Week Summer Performance Program experience rigor, comprehensive theory, and ear training education, as well as the opportunity of participating in a community of some of the highest-level musicians in any genre in the world. The benefits to student musicians in accessing such a high level of collaborative performance and education is to push the serious student to better him- or herself in their understanding of the music and improve their instrumental skills.

Bill Sears: Students enrolled in summer jazz programs have the opportunity to be immersed in all aspects of jazz performance and education. Many students do not receive training in improvisation during the school year and camps provide this for all levels. Students also do not have other responsibilities-concert band, orchestra and academics to take up their time. They can focus solely on jazz.

Sarah Saltz: [Attending a camp or workshop] encourages creativity since campers do not have the pressure of grades, tests, or auditions for competitions or other activities that are part of their school experience. Ideally they should feel free to be more adventurous in their improvisations, to get a chance to learn or improve on their compositional skills, to have the opportunity to learn about jazz arranging, and to play music in a group that may not have the traditional instrumentation! 

Attending camp gives students the opportunity to be coached by different teachers.  The faculty in our camp is made up of professional musicians and faculty from the University of Miami Frost School of Music. For instance, Ira Sullivan is on our faculty – he mesmerizes students with his stories of playing jazz with Charlie Parker and other great musicians in the Chicago jazz scene of the 1950s. He coaches his students by playing along with them – trying to transfer his musical sense of jazz to them through sound, not words. On the other hand, the classes taught by our college faculty, give our campers a taste of what they need to master before applying to college.

We give our students the opportunity to attend a master class given by a member of the Frost School of Music faculty or a guest artist.  

Do you believe a smaller or larger format (number of students, total) is more effective, and why?

JA: With my jazz camps, I hire enough faculty so that we are never understaffed. Often, we are overstaffed, which ends up being a plus for students.

SH: Our program is about 250 students and 48 faculty – seems like an extremely effective number given the magnitude of what we offer.

SS: I think a combination is best. It depends on the type of class. For instance, our advanced jazz theory and improvisation class is very small, so that the college professor who teaches it can give individual attention to the campers – especially since everyone is at different levels of improvisation skill. On the other hand, it is exciting to play in a large ensemble, too! This summer, our advanced classical string players will be combined with our advanced jazz players to form a Studio Orchestra. We plan to try out some of the scores from the Henry Mancini Library, which is now housed at the Frost School of Music. This will definitely be a new experience for all of our campers.

OM: Students who have attended the Five-Week Summer Performance Program usually refer to it as a “life-changing experience.” Although much of the infrastructure at Berklee contributes to the improvement we see in young musicians, there is no doubt that the ‘critical mass’ factor of having over 1,100 of the most talented music students in the world in close proximity to each other is a critical factor in the success our students experience. Each of these students still receive private instruction and time in ensembles that rarely number more than eight students and so the size of the student body certainly does not dilute the student experience, it merely enriches it.

BS: A smaller format allows for more personal instruction and the students can get their questions answered. Smaller also allows the faculty to really get to know all of the students in the program and vice versa. 

In what ways do a student’s “regular” teachers – either at school or private lessons (or both) – benefit from that student attending a camp?

SS: If we do our job right, as camp directors, then students come back in the fall more motivated, inspired, and more skillful.

JA: Our camps help reinforce the basics of music, jazz, and life in general. We always encourage taking private lessons and playing in various musical groups. The Jazz Handbook that we give every student is like a graduate course in jazz and we encourage attendees to take copies back to school for their director and music friends. Band directors send students to our camps every year because they know when the student returns, their new knowledge will be spread amongst others in their band program.

OM: Most music educators worth their salt will refer to the “a-ha moment” in a student’s progression where they finally acknowledge what a teacher’s concept is all about or achieve tacit understanding of a given concept and its importance in the development of young musicians. Programs like Berklee’s Five-Week serve to offer angles on concepts that are digestible to the 15-18 year old student and drive them towards this goal. In addition, we believe the level of immersion and rigor involved push the student to a higher level of performance – intellectually, as well as musically.

BS: When the students return to their “regular” teachers they have the advantage of returning with approaches to teaching and playing culled from several instructors, not just their primary teacher. If the teachers are honest and open, they too can learn from the students returning by asking what they learned, what were the approaches taken, looking at the handouts, et cetera. The students can do a great deal to help their program grow if the teacher allows outside opinions delivered through the student. 

How much importance do you put on the “non-music” aspects of jazz camps – the social, athletic, recreational sides?

OM: With the age group involved it is very important to offer and schedule recreational activities for a variety of reasons. These activities help the student understand group dynamics and improve social development skills that any musician is going to need in their future. Many of the students who come to Berklee have spent much of their young lives “shedding,” and the many activities that we have developed over 30 years of doing these programs to help them bond as a body can be essential for this very reason.

SH: The social aspect and personal growth aspect of Jazz Camp West is extremely important. Folks gain access to a living jazz community of like-minded friends they run into throughout the year at concerts and creative experiences. The natural redwood setting adds to the inspiration and creative atmosphere. The redwood setting offers participants a chance to “get away” and immerse themselves in a stunning natural surrounding which, again, furthers the creative experience.

JA: Our camp is pretty much jazz education from early morning until close to midnight. The emphasis is on each person and their ability to create music using their knowledge and imagination. There’s nothing quite like it in the world.

SS: We strive to give students who are part of our Teen Dorm Program a well-rounded summer camp experience. On the weekends, we go to the beach, movies, and bowling and do other fun activities. However, especially in the case of our teenage campers, they want to be immersed in a total music experience. I have been told many times by campers that they are so happy because in camp they can talk about music all the time with their fellow campers.

BS: At Interlochen, the emphasis is on music and the arts, but there are opportunities for recreation and other activities. The social aspect of the camp is good for building community. We do this by encouraging the students to organize jam sessions in the evenings as well as to practice together for their classes. 

What trends have you been noticing with respect to jazz camps? Regarding the material covered, the student body or faculty makeup, the age of participants – anything.

JA: My Summer Jazz Workshops have a 50-year history and the faculty is a team of experienced players and educators who care about each student, whether they are a teenager or a senior citizen. Over the past ten years or so we’ve been attracting more adults over 21 years old. We have five theory classes, which meet each day. Each theory teacher has an agenda they try to cover over the five-day period. In the student combo rehearsals the students get to apply what they’ve learned in their theory classes. Our real emphasis is on application via their participation in combo twice a day. This is where the combo instructor can tell if the students are applying in a creative manner, what they have learned in theory and master classes.

SH: Jazz Camp West has grown and expanded over the past 32 years. Folks are flying in from around the world and 50 percent of our student body returns each year. The jazz curriculum expands with varied musical influences such as beatbox, hip-hop, and reggae.

OM: Many jazz camps are offering very esoteric programs to develop specific functionality in young performers. This is, of course, connected to the material that is on offer with the boundaries being pushed further every year. What we do here is to try and mirror the development of the curriculum in our undergraduate program, which in itself is a microcosm of the contemporary music industry. In that way we try to be holistic – contemporary, but also organic in our offerings, so that we are not trying to force our opinion of what contemporary music is on our students, but rather arm them with the knowledge and immerse them in the body of talent and expertise that can help them on the path to becoming great musicians.

BS: Trends that I have noticed are that serious students enjoy attending several camps during the course of the summer. If a program is too long, it tends to lose some students. The one and two week camps are the most successful and get the best concentration of talented students. Some camps bring in “famous” faculty and the success of this is mixed. Some of these musicians are great teachers and dedicated, some are just along for the ride. Ensuring that there are quality, committed teachers of this music, regardless of their stature, is paramount to a successful program.

SS: I think that campers, in general, are very knowledgeable about music technology and they want to come to camp to learn even more. I also think that our campers do not necessarily want to be labeled as a “jazz musician,” a “rocker,” or a “classical” musician. 

Any final thoughts to share with our readers?

SH: Jazz camps, in general, are an incredible opportunity to be immersed in a creative community without the normal distractions of everyday life. Just the benefit of eight days [away] can last throughout the entire year in terms of new educational pathways, exposure to new styles of music, amazing mentors, and profound motivation.

JA: Jazz is from America and is our music. “Anyone Can Improvise” is my motto and my Summer Jazz Workshops prove this each and every year.

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