Brubeck Summer Jazz Colony mentors praise experience

Here is a nice article by Tony Sauro from the Recordnet about our recent Summer Jazz Colony.

SJC pic

Record Staff Writer
August 08, 2013 12:00 AM

Not surprisingly, guys who’ve been nominated for Grammy Awards are getting as big a kick out of the process as the teenagers they’re tutoring.

It happens each summer when experienced professionals share their skills and experiences with young jazz musicians at University of the Pacific’s Brubeck Institute.

The “summer colony” – where 18 high-school students from around the nation congregate for a week of intensive instruction – is designed to help preserve, perpetuate and propagate America’s most revered cultural export.

“These are some of the finest young musicians in the world,” said Stefon Harris, a vibraphone player who’s been nominated three times for America’s top music award. “This is probably the highest level of student I’ve come across. We really are lucky to have the opportunity to be around the future greatest artists on the planet.

“The people who will continue the art form forward. It’s very, very clear. It’s just a question of choice. You never know who’s gonna be willing to put in the hard work.”

Everyone is doing that this week, leading to a concluding concert Friday at Faye Spanos Concert Hall.

“They’re brilliant,” said drummer Matt Wilson, a former Grammy nominee who’s tutoring at his fourth jazz camp this summer. “What’s great is they’re gonna come up with melodies people haven’t experienced. They’re not polluted yet. They’re really innocent and free.

“They’ll never write music like they do today. I have to say it: A lot of institutions are limiting things. Putting tarps over imaginations. It’s safer. It is risky. You have to take risks.”

Dave Brubeck (1920-2012), the Institute’s namesake and visionary, definitely did that at Pacific. In the 1940s, jazz was treated like punk-rock at college conservatories. Brubeck gambled, though, often playing jazz in Stockton clubs and restaurants. Such risky creativity characterized his career.

In addition to Harris and Wilson, two Grammy winners – bassists Eddie Gomez and Clark Sommers – are providing their guidance along with Pacific faculty members, other educational professionals and former summer “colonists.” The young musicians have been jamming with the pros and professors nightly at Take 5 Jazz at the Brew, too.

“I have a sincere passion for education,” said Harris, 40, a native of Albany, N.Y., who also assists with Pacific’s “distance-learning” program through New York University. “I love teaching just as much as I love being on stage performing.

“Each discipline informs the other. When I’m teaching, I’m reiterating points to myself. When I perform, I essentially get experience I need to impart to students. I’m always teaching.”

Wilson prefers a degree of uncertainty.

“I enjoy this,” said Wilson, 49, from Westchester, Ill., who prefers that learning take an “organic” approach.

“I’m into allowing people to find out who they are. To take the tarp off. Education can take away from the individual. There are a lot of things to learn. Blah. Blah. Blah. But, a lot of times, what are we waiting for?”

Harris and Wilson experienced their own instructive opportunities as young musicians.

Harris, a “self-taught kid” immersed in classical music as a teenager, didn’t play jazz until he was studying at the Manhattan School of Music. As a high school member of New York’s Empire State Youth Orchestra, he met conductor Richard Bagley.

“He was absolutely the most important person in my life,” Harris said. “An incredible mentor who helped change my life.”

He’s passing that on: “It’s more just about becoming a musician. The exposure to possibilities. The intrinsic values in art as community. The ability you have to create change. It all creates movement, whether it’s visible or not.”

At 19, Wilson received a National Endowment for the Arts grant as a student at Wichita State (Kan.) University. Under the tutelage of Ed Soph, he explored the jazz environs of New York, watching masters such as Joe Jones, Sonny Rollins and Billy Higgins: “That was pivotal.”

Understandably, Harris and Wilson – who also reveres and values the sense of “community” – have been answering sophisticated questions this week. They have some general answers they hope to impart.

“Yup,” said Wilson, who lives in Baldwin, Long Island, N.Y., with a family that includes a 15-year-old daughter and triplet sons, 12. “The answer is ‘yes.’ You wanna try this? ‘Yes.’ You wanna learn at this place? ‘Yes.’ If it’s legal, the answer is ‘yes.’ People have different ways of approaching it. If someone says they have the way, be very suspicious.”

“They have lots of great questions,” said Harris, who lives in East Orange, N.J. “Many of them are broader than just the mechanics. Like, ‘How do I find a way to express myself?’ I want to help them understand they already have their own voice that’s influenced by all the events in their life. The essence of music expresses a story they already possess.

“This is their time on the planet. This is about ownership. You are a unique generation with a unique story to be told. If they don’t tell their story, it won’t be told. They have to take ownership and share it with the world.”



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