Summer camp invokes images of cabins in the woods with kids from strange and exotic places like the next county, swimming in the lake under the "buddy" system, campfires, questionable food and lots of mosquito repellant. However it could also mean scales, charts, practice rooms and reeds soaking in a cup by your side as you jam with some of the finest jazz musicians in the world. It does if you're at the University of Louisville in the beginning of July for this year's Jamey Aebersold Summer Jazz Workshop. Each summer Jamey brings together local and national talent to spend a brief but very intense time trading licks and trading knowledge about the music they love. The faculty isn't too bad either.
Where did it all begin? The way Jamey tells it, in 1965 he was a part of a Big Band Camp at IU in Bloomington and suggested to the folks running the show that perhaps it would be a good idea to have a theory class around suppertime and maybe even some combo sessions for more advanced students. In 1971 or thereabouts they began a combo camp in Illinois and Jamey started doing his own camps at U of L in 1976. Combos were an important part of the camp because as Jamey explains it, "when the big bands would play there would be maybe three or four bands with maybe a hundred kids and only a couple of them would get to stand up and take a solo. Now we have a combo camp where everybody gets to show what they can do."
Not that jazz camp is just for the kids, mind you. Of the 300-400 people that come to camp each week, 50% are over the age of 21. The week begins on Sunday, when students go through auditions, take a short theory test, and are assigned a combo for the week. There are about 45 of these combos, consisting of from five to nine students each. These combos get to work with some of the 70 faculty that are brought in for each week of camp.
The faculty comes from around the country to teach at Jamey's camp. Many of them are familiar names like pianists Andy Laverne, Hank Marr and David Hazeltine. Bassist David Friesen is a new addition to this year's camp. Saxophonists Jerry Coker, Eric Alexander, Jim Snidero, Denis DiBlasio, Pat LaBarbera and Don Braden will be here, and familiar locals like Dick Sisto, Harry Pickens, Tyrone Wheeler, Todd Hildreth, Sonny Stephens, Scott Henderson and Craig Wagner are a part of the faculty. It's an immersion experience where the students have the chance to meet with the faculty in their combo sessions, but also talk about what their learning or having trouble with over breakfast, lunch or dinner. It's an opportunity for the students to hear stories of the road and get an idea of what the working musician's life is like and it's not for the faint of heart. It's pretty intense and students who come had better be ready to work.
Jamey will sometimes ask parents who inquire about sending their children to camp, "well, your son or daughter is not a troublemaker, are they? You're not just sending them to camp to get rid of them for a week, because that's not what we want." Trouble has been rare at Jamey's camps, in fact they've not had to send anybody home in several years. That speaks to the seriousness with which the students take their time here. If they want to go horseback riding or make a leather wallet for mom or dad they can go somewhere else. They're here to play jazz, pure and simple. Some of the distinguished alumni of the camp include pianists Keith Jarrett, Mulgrew Miller and James Williams and saxophonist Bill Evans.
Playing is not the only thing they'll do while at camp. There's lots of listening to be done as well. That may be the most fun of all, because these students get to hear the faculty stretch out on some tunes and see the chord changes projected on a screen so they can follow along. Then, after the concert, they have the opportunity to talk with the faculty about what was just played.
While you may think that this is all very nice, the students get to come to camp and learn jazz, but it doesn't affect you at all, let me tell you how wrong you are. You are invited to the concerts on Sunday, Monday, Tuesday and Thursday nights at 7:30 in Comstock Concert Hall at U of L and they're free. On each Wednesday night of camp the concerts are held at Masterson's on 3rd street. Three faculty combos will play each Wednesday and the cover is only $10. It's $8 for card-carrying members of the Louisville Jazz Society and $5 for students. This is a great chance for you to hear artists who don't make it this way very often in informal combinations that make for an exciting evening of listening.
The longevity, continued popularity and repeat attendance of the students and faculty at the Jamey Aebersold Summer Jazz Workshop attest to its value to the jazz community, but the real test may be in the students who have come through the program to become well known artists in their own right. The workshop begins on Sunday, June 30th and continues through July 12th. Come on out and hear some great music and perhaps meet some of the stars of the future.