Jazz Camp pairs New Orleans musicians with young players
Jul. 15, 2017
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — "Let's go to work."
Artistic Director Kidd Jordan begins each morning at the Louis "Satchmo" Armstrong Summer Jazz Camp with that phrase, and the kids take it to heart. They bolt off from the morning meeting, headed toward their small group classes to prepare for the ensemble practices later that day.
For 23 years the Jazz Camp has hosted young musicians on Loyola University's campus during three summer weeks, to not only train them in their instrument, but also leave them with a sense of duty to performing. The kids pick up a professional appreciation for their art, and part ways with the camp as more seasoned players.
Each summer, Satchmo Jazz Camp taps into the New Orleans music scene's roots to staff its classrooms. The same voices that have entertained club and lounge audiences for years resound through the camp's hallways, giving sharp instructions to what may be the next generation of jazz greats. Norma "Queen of Swing" Miller teaches dance as a lifelong Artist-In-Residence, alongside this year's artist, trumpeter Cecil Bridgewater.
This year's camp kicked off June 26 with 56 young people between 10 and 21 years old eager to earn a leg up in the world of professional gigging. The camp ends with a final concert on July 14, open to the public in Loyola's Roussel Hall. There, each student will take the stage and celebrate by performing solos and then playing together.
The camp's focus is on jazz, but instructor Rachel Jordan's class of four recently picked up playing classic blues on an assortment of string instruments.
"We're no longer playing notes, we're playing music," Jordan said. "Everybody has to feel the pulse together."
All of the students in her classroom and across the majority of the camp bring their own instruments for the summer. To enroll in the camp, each student has to complete a non-competitive audition. The camp's business manager, Nicole Robinson, said the audition process is not meant to keep any students out, but to get a sense of their playing. The camp does require at least two years of music experience, however.
Jackie Harris, founder and Executive Director of the camp, said her favorite part of the summer is seeing a completely full auditorium on the night of the concert. This year's concert is themed around civil rights and social justice, along with the camp's tradition of honoring musicians who have died in the last year.
"Music education and arts education is not a privilege," Harris said. "It's a necessity in a child's life."
Fresh New Orleans Center for Creative Arts graduate Kevin Gullage focuses on piano at Jazz Camp, but keeps busy singing and writing his own music. Gullage, 18, is enrolled in the camp for his fourth year in a row and said he loves his teachers' professionalism.
"This camp has always put me on a different level compared to other people my age," Gullage said.
He recalled seeing his camp teachers all over the city's music scene, including a run-in with all-star vocalist Germaine Bazzle between sets at Jazz Fest. Gullage said he just wrapped his own performance when he had the chance to catch up with his former vocal instructor back stage. He attributed parts of his own musical maturity to the camp's staff of true performers and their hardworking attitudes.
"They've shown me the professional process of music," he said. "You've got to do the work."
During the day, piano students mingle with string students and everyone in between, getting to know each other beyond their rehearsed pieces. Fourth-year violin student Jack Groh was hanging out with Gullage and two trumpet players between rehearsals Wednesday afternoon. The group of high school freshmen and sophomores did not know one another before attending Jazz Camp, but now make up an ensemble.
"You get to work with basically everybody, which is pretty cool," Groh said.
Harris said she founded the camp in 1995 with then-Mayor Marc Morial as a government program, but it has since grown to be much more.
Harris said a banking expert is visiting the camp once again this year to give a course on money literacy. In past years the camp offered workshops in film scoring, music business and music production in addition to students' normal curriculum. Harris said she would love to reintroduce these programs in future years if the camp receives enough funding.
"Producing this camp is a year-round activity," Harris laughed.
The camp charges tuition, though organizers also seek donations to help provide scholarships for students.
Some of the camp's alumni include Shamarr Allen and members of Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue.
Information from: The Times-Picayune, http://www.nola.com