Montclair Jazz Festival: students in summer workshops count the time
By GWEN OREL
The Montclair Jazz Festival begins on Aug. 11.
But there will be a lot of jazz in Montclair as the festival count-down begins (See INFO at end of this article). The Jazz House Kids summer workshops began this past Monday. More than 100 students flock to Montclair State University to study with their heroes and play in Montclair.
The students, who live far enough away to have to live on campus, will travel with some of the faculty to the Newport Jazz Festival on Saturday, Aug. 4. Local students will perform that same day in Jazz Across Montclair at Montclair Center Stage on Church Street.
Ted Chubb, trumpet player and director of the Jazz House Summer Workshop, said that while some students come in with jazz experience, others are new to it. The most popular instrument changes every year: this year there are a lot of sax players, and only two violins. Someone came to study jazz French horn.
The students “play classical usually, and they’re looking for something a little bit deeper in jazz and so they find a workshop like ours, and then the interest grows and grows,” Chubb said.
In addition to their workshops and lessons, students have the opportunity to play and to listen. His goal, he said, is for “the students to fall in love with jazz for the rest of their lives.”
NEWPORT JAZZ FESTIVAL
For the first time, a group of students is going to the Newport Jazz Festival this year. Jazz House Kids’ Artistic Director Christian McBride is in his second year as AD of the Newport Jazz Festival. Chubb will ride the bus and go up with them, and a few of the teaching assistants, or TAs, are even performing.
Twenty-one year old Zach Adleman is one of the TAs who will perform at Newport. The rising senior at Michigan State plays jazz drums. Playing in Newport “is such a huge honor. It’s exciting to play in front of some of the kids. When I was in their shoes I remember saying, ‘Man, I want to do that, they are incredible.’”
Adleman, a Montclairite, started at Jazz House Kids as a freshman in high school. He thought Jazz House Kids would make him work hard, “and that was correct. It was the best jazz education I could ever think about or dream of. It inspired me to play jazz, which is what my whole life is about now.”
To get there and back in one day, students will leave at the crack of dawn. And when the students get back, they have to practice for a performance at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola the next day, Chubb said. “You know, they have to get ready for a big, big week because really the weekdays, they are working all day long. But even in the evening, there’s a lot of practicing that has to be done to just keep up with the amount they have to be responsible for.”
Going to Newport is a draw for 17-year-old Sultan Stevenson, who comes to the summer workshops from London. It’s the young pianist’s first time at Jazz House Kids; he won a scholarship from the music school he attends at home, Tomorrow’s Warriors. He hopes to become a more rounded musician from the workshops, and to become immersed in American jazz. London jazz, he said, takes influences from Calypso and West African, and has less traditional swing than American jazz.
He’s looking forward to the jam sessions and to the performance at Dizzy’s. And “all my heroes play” at Newport, he said.
President and Founder Melissa Walker said that “all other festivals are measured by the Newport Jazz Festival.” Students will have access to performers backstage, and have a meet and greet, she said. As much as the classes are energizing, attending Newport will
also be invigorating. “They will be around a whole community of people that are kind of vibing on this great music.” The day will be fun, but also offer “a whole new look at their own craft, and how they work at their own craft and where they can go with their own craft.”
JAZZ ACROSS MONTCLAIR/TEACHING ASSISTANTS
Jazz across Montclair (JAM) will take place on Aug. 4, the same day some of the students will go to Newport. Teaching assistants and some of the advanced students will perform. “It’s not uncommon for us to have two or three things happening in Jazz House on the same day,” Chubb said with a laugh. “Very rarely do we have everyone in the same place.”
Every summer, Jazz House Kids brings in 20 to 25 students that have graduated and are either in college or just out, to be teaching assistants and mentors for the kids in the workshop. Many are at top music schools, preparing for or already involved in professional careers. They are a great inspiration, Walker said, and “can give the inside scoop” about college. “When you really begin to think of the legacy of an organization, you see it through the work you’re doing, and the work we’re doing is the work with young people. At the heart of what we do at Jazz House Kids is to build community.”
The young people who are now TAs have been through the program, some starting as young as fifth grade.
Birsa Chatterjee, 21, of Montclair, will play in JAM. The rising senior at Oberlin Conservatory of music plays jazz saxophone, with a vocal in jazz voice. He began playing clarinet in school, and also plays the tabla, in Indian classical music. His best friends steered him to Jazz House Kids when looking to do something over the summer. For him it was powerful that at a young age, people could come together and respect one another, hear each other’s voices, no matter what they looked like, he said.
“The first jazz I listened to, I couldn’t help but dance to it,” he recalled. “I couldn’t sit still and listen to it, even though I didn’t know what was going on, rhythmically or harmonically. I couldn’t dissect it like I can now. It was that feeling of swing. It made me really happy.”
He sees himself as a bridge between the faculty and the students. “I remember when I was a student, I would always look up to the TAs, who were just a little older than me. They had gone through the program. I saw their growth. When I had questions I was scared or embarrassed to ask the teachers, I was comfortable asking the TA.”
The jam at Ruthie’s on Aug. 7 will be hosted by the TAs, Chubb said. “One of the big things we tried to do here at Jazz House Kids is offer opportunities for students to mentor other students. And this is a chance where our high school students can learn from students that are just a year or two past where they are.”
It’s a chance to “do what jazz musicians do,” Walker said. “They hang, and they have a jam session.” This jam has an authentic feel, since it is not in a school, and faculty won’t be in front of them. The kids will play standards, call a tune, count the tempo off. It won’t be pre-rehearsed, she said. The ones who are getting started get encouragement, and the ones who are “on that path, and really blowing, get some admiration.” And students can form connections that last: Zach Adleman and Birsa Chatterjee, TAs who continue to play together, met at Jazz House Kids, she said.
Students will also be performing for half an hour, in what Walker calls “giglets,” before the “Portraits in Jazz” series of films that began July 28 and run through Aug. 4 at Cinema505, a partnership suggested by Montclair Film’s Executive Director Tom Hall. The partnership really touched her, she said. Next year, for the 10th anniversary, Walker hopes to do something with Montclair Film and the Montclair Orchestra.
Emily Springer, 17, just graduated from Montclair High School, and is a student who will perform during the festival. The rising freshman at a Smith College plays trumpet and sings. She wasn’t much of a fan of jazz when her parents signed her up four years ago, she said. “That definitely changed. As a beginner, I was definitely really scared. It’s a scary thing to try. Jazz is so complex. People call it a language, and it really is. Jazz House Kids instilled that I was capable of playing, succeeding and doing well. When you’re a teenager, you’re self-conscious and nervous and you don’t want to fail. Jazz House Kids let me know it was OK to make mistake. You just have to try and keep going.”
Four years later, she’s in the top Jazz House Big Band. “It’s so much fun being a part of a program that I joined reluctantly,” she said with a laugh.
The students have an opportunity to learn from the best not just in their classes, but in daily concerts that take place during the workshop. The concerts are free to the public, and will also be live-streamed on Jazz House Kids’ Facebook page. The first two days are concerts by the faculty. Wednesday, trumpeter Ingrid Jenssen will visit; Jenssen will play with McBride and with Billy Hart, an acclaimed jazz drummer, who has played with Herbie Hancock and Miles Davis, and who lives in Montclair. Other highlights include a performance by pianist Eddie Palmieri on Tuesday. Palmieri, Chubb said, is one of the great innovators of Latin jazz and salsa music. Palmieri will also perform at the festival. To get him in the room with the students “is not an experience our kids will forget any time soon.”
PRESERVING THE PAST, PREPARING THE FUTURE
For everyone at Jazz House Kids, the music itself is on a continuum of culture. Ask students or faculty what they love about playing jazz and before they describe the music, they talk about community. The democratic process of taking turns and letting each instrument have a solo inspires Chatterjee. Jazz, he said, “embodies everything America is to me. It’s a place where people of all different cultures can come together and collaborate together, making something beautiful and powerful.”
Chubb too stressed jazz is an American art form. People like Eddie Palmieri and Christian McBride are cultural ambassadors, he said.
Adleman said he loves that jazz musicians work hard and practice for hours a day, and that jazz is about “respecting your elders. It’s really beautiful. Whenever you see an older jazz musician, you try to understand their experiences.” And he loves the community.
“You can walk into a club and see all your friends,” Adleman said. “I grew up going to temple. It’s similar to that.”
Walker didn’t have anything like that when she started out. There was nothing like a group taking her to the Newport Jazz Festival, no summer concerts or talks from jazz professionals. Growing up in Alberta, Canada, she played bassoon in the school band. “I remember the day I got a book about Billie Holiday,” she said.
In her office at Jazz House Kids, a Billie Holliday CD is propped up on her letter tray. Today, children come to Jazz House Kids already knowing Billie Holiday, Duke Ellington, and she thinks that’s wonderful.
“This is America’s great art form,” she said. “And so you know that’s part of what we’re doing we’re preserving and recreating the future.”
Montclair Jazz Festival events
Portraits in Jazz film series
Saturday, Aug. 4, 7 p.m.
Montclair Film, Cinema505, 505 Bloomfield Ave.
JAM: Jazz Across Montclair
Saturday, Aug. 4, 5-10 p.m.
Montclair Center Stage, Church Street
Student Jam Session
Tuesday, Aug. 7, 7-9 p.m.
Ruthie’s Bar-B-Que & Pizza, 64 Chestnut St.
Jazz House summer workshop performance
Monday, Aug. 6, 7:30 and 9:30 p.m.
Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola, 10 Columbus Circle, New York City
Mid-day summer concert & symposium series
Thgouth Aug. 10, 2:30-3:30 p.m.
Montclair State University’s Leshowitz Hall, 1 Normal Ave.
Livestreamed on jazz house kids, watch on Facebook
Montclair Jazz Festivalf:
Saturday, Aug. 11, noon-9 p.m., rain or shine, Nishuane Park.
All events are free.