Duquesne University camp helps keep jazz music alive
I have been a jazz fan since my college years. Consequently I was very excited when I learned that my 16-year-old grandson, Ian, was signed up for jazz camp at Duquesne University and would be staying with me for a week.
The camp was held at the Mary Pappert School of Music on the Duquesne campus under the leadership of Mike Tomaro, the director of Duquesne's Jazz Studies program. He specializes in composing and arranging, plus instruction with the reed instruments.
The other instructors were Duquesne adjunct professors. A bonus for me was being able to listen to a concert at the end of class each day.
The first three days, the faculty formed a septet that played a full set for the benefit of the students, supplemented by relevant comments regarding concepts that had been covered in class.
Individually these were outstanding musicians; together they made up a very impressive jazz band.
The lesson plan for the camp was particularly interesting. I anticipated it would emphasize technique, in the form of master classes. Apparently the faculty assumed that anyone interested in music at this level was at least adequately proficient with his instrument. Instead they emphasized intellectual skills — harmony, ear training, and improvisation — and working together in small and large ensembles.
Improvisation, of course, is fundamental to jazz. The Thursday afternoon concert had the students performing in small groups, with each one playing an improvised solo. Ian's written “music” for his solo was merely a series of empty bars of music with key changes noted. I am not sufficiently familiar with music to understand what was going on, but I was quite impressed when I heard him play his solo.
Friday afternoon they performed their large ensemble concert in front of a fairly large audience, the families of the performers. The faculty sat in with the students. The resulting performance was fine, certainly one that would be well-accepted in any venue.
Their first selection was “The Red Door,” composed by Gerry Mulligan and Zoot Sims. Next came a real classic, “Our Love is Here to Stay,” George Gershwin's very last composition.
I was able to record the full version on my iPhone. Listening to it after the fact, I am even more impressed than I was hearing it live. They then played “Cubano Chant,” acknowledging the influence of Afro-Cuban music on the evolution of jazz.
The fourth piece was “One for Daddy-O,” which I knew from Cannonball Adderley's wonderful “Something Else” album. They then played Gerry Mulligan's “Out Back of the Barn,” providing a student baritone saxophone player an opportunity to perform a solid solo. The band concluded with a sprightly version of Cannonball Adderley's well-known “Jive Samba.”
Vicariously, Jazz Camp was a wonderful experience for me, and I am sure Ian also benefited greatly from it. I am thrilled that these perceptive young people are interested in keeping this art form alive, especially in contrast with what passes as popular music today.