Happiness from Teaching / the Litchfield Jazz Camp Experience

As summertime approaches I can’t help but being excited about my summer schedule. I have a few trips to Europe planned (Ascona Jazz Fest in Switzerland and the Edingburgh Jazz Fest in Scotland among others), a trip to see my best friend in Denver CO, and something I look forward to EVERY year: teaching at the Litchfield Jazz Camp.

My love for Jazz camp started at an early age when my father was teaching and running the Clark Terry Institute for Jazz Studies in LeMars IA in the 1990’s. The first time I attended must have been in the summer of 1994, just before I turned 9 years old. I played piano in a combo (the lowest combo at the camp!) and in a big band, and I also sang with the vocalists group. I have no idea what we sang together, but I know my solo was “You Stepped Out of a Dream”. That was the year I discovered the idea of playing in 12 keys. I remember my combo teacher, Mike McKenna, taught us a 2-5-1 idea (a turnaround) and told us to learn it in 12 keys that evening, and we would have to play it the next day. I went home and was hoping I’d be able to ask Dad what that meant, but he was busy with administration duties and I had to figure it out myself. It took me ALL EVENING and I only got through 7 keys, but Mike told me I had made a good effort. 🙂

My first time at Jazz Camp (I'm on the left)

My first time at Jazz Camp (I’m on the left)

That summer inspired me to start my own band with kids I had met at camp (and through the CT Institute). We were all under the age of 12 and we met every few weeks or so and rehearsed – I remember the next summer at that same camp we were allowed to perform a few tunes even though we weren’t an official “camp combo”.

My next experience with Jazz camp was when I was a little older. My father was teaching at the Birch Creek Music Academy in Wisconsin and before I entered high school I was allowed to come as a student (I was 14). At this age, camp was AMAZING. I loved playing music all day with people my own age and also being around people who were into the same thing I was into: Jazz. I made some great friends those years, quite a few of us are still really close!

Because of my own wonderful experiences I LOVED the idea of being able to participate in a summer Jazz camp again as I got older, so when Vita Muir invited me to attend the Litchfield Jazz Camp as piano faculty in the summer of 2010 I was THRILLED. The camp at Litchfield lasts for 5 weeks, but each week is a new “camp”, meaning as a student you can come for as many weeks as you like; I usually teach 2 weeks. I teach different classes including an ensemble, theory, masterclasses, and private lessons. My favorite is definitely the ensemble class because that’s where I get to interact the most with the students, and where they can interact the most with eachother. I always start the day off with a listening section, where we listen to records and talk about tunes and different artists. Then we pick a tune (sometimes from the listening), learn it, and at the end of the week all the students perform in a concert. It’s very inspiring to see the students being introduced to the music; it reminds me of how exciting it was for me the first time I heard Count Basie, ,Red Garland, etc.

Last summer, during our listening time, I played them Arnett Cobb’s version of “When I Grow Too Old to Dream” and when it was done, they said, “We want to do that!” I was surprised, because it has a band vocal in it (click the link to hear it on youtube) and usually groups of teenagers don’t want to sing together in public! But I said, “Of course, let’s do it!” We learned the arrangement and the song from the record, and they performed it on the Friday Night Concert. I was so proud and happy to see them develop that week, not only musically but as people too. They were having fun! They were making something their own! They were a BAND!

(there’s actually a youtube performance of their show too)

My ensemble in rehearsal before the big concert

My ensemble in rehearsal before the big concert

I can’t wait to get back to Litchfield this summer and meet some wonderful new people and experience sharing this music. If you know of a student (it’s an all-ages camp) who might be interested, registration is still open. Hope to see you there!

I will be teaching at Week 1 this year. The camp runs from July 7 – August 9 and registration is open for every week. No auditions required. Visit this link to learn more: http://litchfieldjazzfest.com/jazz-camp/registration-more/registration/

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