After a week in New York, I traveled with the Jazz at Lincoln Center team to Bard College for the Summer Jazz Academy, a summer institute for talented high school jazz musicians staffed by the Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra (JALCO).
My role at this camp was more of a Counselor/RA type than a TA. Most of my duties fell at night so that meant that I was free to attend big band rehearsals and history lessons taught by Wynton Marsalis and Rodney Whitaker in the morning. In the afternoon I sat in with James Charillo, guitarist with the JALCO, and he taught the guitar studio, private lessons, and coached a septet.
One motto of the Jazz at Lincoln Center organization is that “all jazz is modern.” In this spirit, the spirit of jazz, student performed works from composers of all eras. each combo dove into the music of Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Tadd Dameron, Benny Golson, Thelonious Monk, and Wynton Marsalis. The repertoire for the big bands was equally diverse.
This first week was a blast. The level of playing was incredibly high. The late night jam sessions with students were a blast to play in. I’ve taken this opportunity to widen my library of jazz albums and change the way I listen to tunes. One of the best bits advice I’ve received is to pick a certain phrase and memorize it in your head. Without using paper, transcribe the pitches relative to the harmony, and sing it on repeat. This builds vocabulary. It is also just fun to sing along to solos.
Tonight the students performed the first of their series of concerts. Four of the eight combos performed as well as the faculty octet. The most memorable moment of the night, by far, was a drum solo that one of the drummers took in the last tune of the student portion. The solo was diverse in texture, musically sensitive, and thrilling to take in. I would put it up there with one of my favorite drum solos I’ve ever heard live. The most impressive part about the whole thing was that the drummer was 15 year old. This was the level of playing at the SJA summer institute: prodigy students.
This next week continues with rehearsals and culminates in a performance by the JALCO and the two big bands of the program. Sometime this week hopefully the TA’s can get the opportunity to perform as an ensemble. The campus at Bard is beautiful, the food is great, and overall this has been fabulous experience.