by DeeGee Lester, Director of Education The Parthenon
“Jazz is a language,” says Evan Cobb, director of the 6th annual Nashville Jazz Workshop Summer Jazz Camp. “Like any language, we listen before we use it. Jazz is no different.”
Hosted by Vanderbilt’s Blair School of Music, Jazz Camp offers students ages 13–19 an opportunity to immerse themselves in the language of jazz. Whether solo or in ensemble, for the musician and the listener, that language is both complex and spontaneous, and the key to it all is improvisation.
Launched in 2012 by NJW founders Roger Spencer and Lori Mechem, the popularity of the instrumentalist and vocal camps quickly outgrew the facility. The 2017 camp (June 26–30) is the second year at Blair, which, as Cobb points out, “graciously allows us to plant our flag for a week.” The expanded space allows combining the instrumental and vocal camps into one. Meanwhile, the generosity of individuals and sponsors (Billy Strayhorn Foundation, Van Heusen Music, and Jupiter Band Instruments) underwrites scholarships for students in financial need, as others (Jamey Aebersold Jazz, D’Addario, Vandoren, Pearl Drums, and Meinl Cymbals) donate products and equipment. In addition, each year Homewood Suites by Hilton Nashville Vanderbilt offers 3–5 rooms at a special Vanderbilt rate for out-of-town students/families
The camp concludes with a concert (June 30 at 3 p.m.) providing each participant an opportunity to perform in one of several ensembles with a featured solo.
Cobb explains that camp participants are already musicians who can “play what’s on the page,” but in this creative environment, surrounded by both faculty and featured guest musicians, students expand that basic knowledge to include improvisation, theory, and ensemble.
One offering, Ear Training, he describes as “learning to recognize parts of the jazz language while also expanding the ability to describe and talk about them.” Another focus area, Lyric Interpretation, moves beyond learning songs to an awareness of how music and lyrics work together. “It’s not just hearing the words, but responding to the words,” Cobb says.
He describes the one-week camps as fairly intense. “Many have no direct experience with jazz and must overcome the fear factor associated with improvisation—moving beyond the existing melody or basic rhythm. What is challenging about jazz is also what appeals. Jazz as a genre appeals to many because it is less rigid, more interactive,” he says. “Although it’s challenging, it’s also musically rewarding. If you can play jazz, you can play any style.”
For Cobb and other instructors, it is not as much teaching as it is releasing the student to an awareness of what makes jazz cool: With improvisation, each performance will be unique to that moment whose exact musical sequence will never be heard again.
For more information, visit www.nashvillejazz.org.