Students learn to reed
When 14-year-old Ross Hart says he doesn’t do anything like other kids his age, he isn’t exactly exaggerating.
While other teenage boys are scoring touchdowns and learning formations at football camp, Hart is tapping his bare foot to rhythms and mastering the Ionic mode of D-major on his tenor saxophone at the Third Annual Sierra Jazz Camp.
For five days, students of all ages and musical talent congregate in small, portable classrooms at Nevada Union High School to receive instruction from internationally known jazz musicians brought to town by the Sierra Jazz Society.
“At this camp, we figure out how to get people’s creative juices flowing,” said Bill Douglass, the camp’s director.
Douglass and the other 10 jazz instructors at the camp offer classes in musical theory, performance, improvisation and even tension release.
“Students have to learn how to play without tension and at ease,” flute instructor Nora Nausbaum said.
In addition to Douglass’ long list of accomplishments – including musical recordings for motion pictures – other instructors like Jimmy Robinson have earned international recognition.
Robinson, a drummer, is listed in a French Jazz history book for his work in Paris during the 1960s, and he was honored as a Bay Area Jazz Giant in 1999.
The camp’s musical theory instructor, Bob Claire, is a lecturer at Stanford University in Baroque flute.
The camp concludes on Sunday with a performance of both standard and original jazz tunes in Don Baggett Theatre by the 55 students and instructors.
“The concert is the fruit of the week,” Douglass said. “It’s our way of showing the parents and community what jazz is all about and to really show off.”
Making a good impression with jazz is a daily challenge for Douglass and the other instructors. Unlike more traditional and classical forms of music, jazz does not always earn the same level of appreciation, they said.
Jazz programs often lack accreditation at even the nation’s most prestigious universities, such as UC Berkeley, said Stephanie Bruce, a singer and songwriter who teaches at a jazz school in Berkeley.
“Jazz sort of goes against our culture,” Bruce, said. “You won’t find it on MTV and it’s not pop-candy.”
Reflective of the music’s unconventional nature, Sierra Jazz Camp lacks the structure and composition of other types of music and sports camps.
For example, students are encouraged to deviate from musical standards and be comfortable making mistakes.
“We try to get students off the page,” Douglass explained. “We don’t use a lot of written music, and we encourage improvisation.”
While convincing parents to shell out $250 for a camp that encourages mistakes and emphasizes creativity might seem like a difficult task, many of the camp’s students have attended all three years.
“Where am I going to get another opportunity to learn and play with some of the nation’s greatest jazz professionals?” said 17-year-old Jeff Rector, a third-year veteran of the camp.
“The way I see it, this is a wonderful opportunity to be a part of a truly historic art form.”
KNOW & GO
WHAT: Sierra Jazz Camp Concert
WHEN: Sunday, 7 p.m.
WHERE: Don Baggett Theatre at Nevada Union High School
WHO: Faculty and students
TICKETS: $5 at the door
CONTACT: Bill Douglass, 273-5489
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