Working at the Jazz at Lincoln Center Junior Jazz Academy

For the past week I’ve been staying in Harlem and working at the Junior Jazz Academy hosted by Jazz at Lincoln Center at the Irene Diamond Education Center in Columbus Circle. This camp is an intensive camp which explores the history and language of jazz. For eight hours a day, students from New York and as far as Chicago studied harmonic language, the masters of jazz, and performed in a big band and a small combo. I worked as  Teacher’s assistant, providing one-on-one instruction to students who needed extra support. My TA colleagues were current students or graduates of the Jazz Studies programs at The Julliard School, Oberlin Conservatory, SUNY Purchase, and William Patterson University. The faculty of the camp were professors of jazz at Julliard, NYU, Fordham University, and professional musicians who sub with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra.

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My workplace for the week at the Junior Jazz Academy. Right in Columbus Circle!

The program was well planned. Students started with the absolute basics of jazz and each day were introduced new topics. They learned how scales relate to chords, how progressions function, how forms are created, and some more advanced techniques such as tritone substitutions and diminished scales. By the end of the week, each student was able to improvise over various changes. Combos performed Straight No Chaser, Four, Yardbird Suite, and other standards while the Big Band played classics from the Count Basie and Duke Ellington bands.

I had a blast working with the students and jamming with the other TA’s. The camp rejuvenated my passion for jazz, and allowed me to watch the great musicians of this generation plants the seeds for the next one. The students were eager to learn, and demonstrated abilities which promise bright futures.

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My fellow TA’s setting the stage for the final concert of JJA.

Every day after work I made it a point to walk around Central Park, get some reading in, and visit a few places that I’ve always wanted to. Tuesday I happened to stumble upon a rehearsal in the Naumburg Bandshell in Centrap Park. As luck would have it, The Knights, a fantastic chamber orchestra, were about to perform a concert. I managed to grab a seat before the chairs were all filled and stayed for the show. They opened with a piece by Henry Purcell which is based upon one note. At the end of the piece, the one pitch is sustained. The orchestra morphed the sustain into a driving ostinato and, without a break, launched right into a thrilling performance of John Adams’ Common Tones in Simple Time. The effect was mind blowing. A piece so old and a piece relatively new had so much in common, and it took the musical director of The Knights to bring that to light. The first half of the program closed with the world premiere of a breathtaking flute concerto written by Judd Greenstein. I can only describe the soloist’s part as athletic. Mozart’s Symphony No. 40 constituted the second half of the program. With out a conductor, the orchestra stood to perform this piece. The entire concert was riveting and I was lucky to have happened upon it.

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The Knights getting ready to perform a concert at the Naumburg Bandshell in Central Park.

This week was a great time explore a busy city that I’ve never really spent an extended amount of time in. I’ve also been inspired by the ability of my colleagues and the faculty at the Junior Jazz Academy. For the next two weeks I will be serving in the same position except at the Jazz at Lincoln Center Bard Summer Jazz Academy (SJA). This two-week program has students traveling from California, Florida, and everywhere in between to study with full-time members of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra. Personally, I’m looking forward to watching as the Big Band is directed daily by the great Wynton Marsalis. In addition to a Teacher’s Assistant, the rest of my colleagues and I will be assuming the roles of Resident’s Assistants. I’m excited for this next chapter, and will talk about it more in my next post!

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