By GWEN OREL
The hall is filled with middle schoolers and high schoolers.
And none of them are playing with their phones.
At Leshowitz Hall in the Cali School of Music at MSU, the kids lean forward, snap, or nod their heads as Ted Chubb blows out a trumpet solo.
Chubb is the managing director of the Montclair Summer Workshop of Jazz House Kids and is performing in a faculty concert on day two of the 13-day music camp for kids ages 10 to 17.
The camp is taught by 25 faculty members, many of whom are famous in their own right: Oscar Perez on piano and composition. Chubb on trumpet. Allison Russo on woodwinds. Christian McBride, Grammy-winner and artistic director of Jazz House Kids, on bass.
The 135 students come from eight states and three countries, breaking down to 17 studying bass, 20 studying drums, 12 on piano, nine on guitar, 17 on trumpet, 22 on alto sax, 12 on tenor sax, eight on baritone sax, four flute players, one on vibraphone, 12 budding vocalists and three on violin.
Many of the kids have attended in previous summers but not all; in a combo rehearsing on the third floor, led by sax player Ed Palermo, many hands shot up when asked who was there for the first time.
Palermo, who says his nickname is “Loudmouth,” dances as he conducts the combos, shouts “whoo!” and “beautiful!” as students do their solos, and says, “That was awesome. Boom! JC, get back on the drums.” When a student forgets to repeat a section, he teases them that they owe him $5.
Tojmera Cordy, 16, of Camden, who plays electric bass, is attending the summer workshops for the first time. His school band director suggested he come, he says. Cordy is looking forward to a private lesson with faculty member Andy McKee, and says the best thing about the workshop is “Christian McBride.”
Catie Farrell, 12, of Montclair, is attending for the fourth time. She plays sax, like her older brother Nathan, who has gone all the way through the program.
Farrell especially loves going to Dizzy’s — Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola at Lincoln Center — where the students will perform on Monday night, one week after they’ve begun the 13-day program.
Farrell says she gets a lot out of playing with others: “If they’re better than you, you can learn from them.”
The students take technique, theory and composition in the morning, play in faculty-led ensembles in the afternoon, go to listening sessions and community concerts at lunchtime, and can play after-hours jam sessions in the evening. They can also receive private lessons.
They will all play at the Montclair Jazz Festival on Saturday, Aug. 12.
LEARNING TO PLAY JAZZ
Palermo, who is a year-round faculty member at Jazz House Kids and has been teaching with the summer workshops since they began seven years ago, says that he never had “teachers so cool like me.
“The kids are just so cool. Once the kids really fall in love with the music, they are already in the echelon of cool kids. They are sophisticated.” The challenges include “getting up in the morning” and ordinary teaching challenges, such as drawing out shy kids.
He teaches improvisation in part, he says, by “telling them what notes they are allowed to play.” Some kids are already
advanced enough to wing it.
On the first floor, keyboard player Oscar Perez leads a combo. It’s hard to believe as the young musicians finish one tune, working on the dynamics as he instructs, that they saw it for the first time only the day before.
Like Palermo, Perez teaches year-round at Jazz House Kids. One of the best things about camp for Perez is seeing the growth in the students — not only physical, as some come back inches taller — but also their musical growth.
In his group, they don’t improvise yet. Perez explains that the children send in audition videos ahead of time, showing scales, arpeggios, improvisation, and then audition again when they arrive. While the kids have to have some competency in their instrument, they don’t have to be jazz players.
“We welcome absolute beginners in the genre,” Perez say. “They are learning the language that jazz musicians play. By the time they get done with camp, they start to understand how to improvise.
“Everybody here at some point did not play jazz. People say, ‘Wow, I wish I had something like this when I was a kid.’”
Violin players Jacquie Lee, 11, of Montclair, and Kailyn Williams, 14, of Denville, both come from the classical world.
Lee is sax player Mike Lee’s daughter, and takes improv with him. Lee plays in Perez’ group.
“I really like coming here. I get to meet a lot of people,” Lee says. She meets some people from that world, and some who don’t play classical at all.
Williams, who is in her third summer at Jazz House Kids, says that what keeps her coming back is “the idea of learning a different genre of music. Classical music is so strict. Doing this, there is more freedom.”
Williams plays in Palermo’s class, and plays a mean solo.
She and Lee stand in line chatting before the faculty concert begins: clearly friendly now, they met here.
SOLOING AND PLAYING TOGETHER
Friends are one of the reasons that Conor Malloy, a teaching assistant, keeps coming back to Jazz House Kids. He is in his eighth year at Jazz House Kids and recently graduated from USC.
Now working as a musician, Malloy says that when he got to college, “I was a bit disappointed. The players were not as
intense and focused.”
Managing director Ted Chubb says that the people he made friends with at jazz camps he went to as a teen in Cleveland are “on the scene today. I see them in New York City.”
Today, Chubb says, he sees Jazz House Kids graduates on the scene.
At the Jazz House Kids workshop, kids not only learn to love the music but also can “develop mentorships with older students, faculty, teachers, and long-lasting friendships with fellow students,” Chubb says. “Sometimes that is the most powerful aspect. When they see other students love it as much as they do, it empowers them to get a better feed off of one another.”
The musical conversation innate to jazz is one of its most defining, and effective features, Chubb says.
Taking a solo and stepping back “allows self-expression, but also giving and getting support from other musicians. It’s a powerful thing. It speaks to similarities to democracy within our country. There are utopian aspects of what we’re supposed to be about.
“Jazz is a reflection of that. It’s why it’s one of America’s greatest cultural contributions.”