Jazz Camps Will Swing On!

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Left: Drummer Allison Miller will teach at Jazz Camp West this summer. Right: Summer Jazz at DePaul University offers its first camp at the famed jazz institution this summer.

(Photo: Courtesy Jazz Camp West and DePaul University)

For anyone (make that all of us) who are just plain done with this pandemic, here’s a prediction: Jazz camps will go forward, in full force this summer. Even as we slog through the dredges of the omicron variant and uncertainty, this prediction is based not on a guess, but on the plans, preparations and the sheer determination of the dozens upon dozens of jazz camps surveyed on the following pages for DownBeat’s annual jazz (and blues) camp guide.

A few camps have decided to stay closed or go virtual this summer, but the vast majority are ready to offer campers young and old the opportunity to gather, commune and have a crazy good time immersed in music.

DownBeat reached out to several camps to ask what lessons learned last summer will serve the camps and campers well this year, and what they are looking forward to this summer.

What a Difference a Year Makes
As the Stanford Jazz Workshop prepares for its 50th anniversary season, Jim Nadel, the founder and artistic director of the event, said he’s never experienced anything like this in his time with the Workshop.

“We’ve had challenges, but nothing like this,” he said. “The environment at Stanford is so protected and safe that it’s rare that anything causes any disturbance at all to our programs. We’ve never had anything that prevented or discouraged students from coming to SJW, prior to the advent of COVID.”

Nadel said he was happy to report that the camp would be back live and in person this summer after being closed last summer.

“Last year, the campus was closed for our kind of program. Except for a handful of outdoor concerts, our jazz venues were dark. Stanford is very much on top of the latest testing and health safety protocols, and the campus is relatively isolated, so it’s somewhat easier to keep on top of this,” he said.

DownBeat's 2022 Jazz Camp Guide
DownBeat’s 2022 Jazz Camp Guide

At the Shell Lake Arts Center in Shell Lake, Wisconsin, Patrick Barnett is just getting his feet wet as the new executive director of the center’s music camp.

“I was on faculty last summer,” he said. “We were one of the few places to offer a full schedule of camps last summer. We reduced our capacity, practiced social distancing, mask-wearing and playing outside as much as possible. Since that time, we have developed a series of COVID protocols which will guide our work this summer. We are hopeful that we will be able to offer our camps at full capacity this summer, but that decision won’t be made until we get closer to June.”

On the adult camp side of the equation, the New Orleans Traditional Jazz Camp was able to go live last summer, according to Banu Gibson, one of the camp’s founders.

“We canceled camp for 2020, but managed to have our camp last year in June of ’21,” she said. “We were lucky that our dates fell within one of the valleys of COVID. The majority of our campers fall into the older and most vulnerable age group, and both we and our campers were concerned about protocols and precautions. We mandated that everyone was vaccinated and for our younger scholarship students who couldn’t be vaccinated at that time, that they mask up. We were fortunate that no one got sick at camp or after they returned home.”

And at Jazz Camp West, in Northern California, youth camp was able to go forward last year as well as its four-day music festival over Labor Day weekend. Stacey Hoffman, executive director of Living Jazz, the organization that hosts the camp, said they learned a great deal that help with preparations this year.

“We had a team of people including a medical doctor, nurse, lawyer and experienced camp staff that researched and wrote a COVID safety manual that will still be a relevant tool this coming summer to guide us through our safety protocols, logistics and all camp procedures,” Hoffman said. “Our big takeaway last summer was that we found we can safely produce camp as long as we maintain our commitment to our dedicated safety procedures. Showing proof of negative PCR tests upon arrival taken within a specified time range, not leaving the site once checked in until camp is over, mask wearing throughout the week, microphone covers, wind instrument safety covers, etcetera, were all part of the necessary procedures last summer.”

Looking Forward … to Fun
The only way camps missed out on the hand wringing and recalibration that COVID caused over the past few years is to be a brand new camp. And one of them is Summer Jazz at DePaul in Chicago. The camp offers students an immersive dive into jazz under the direction of drummer Dana Hall, DePaul University’s director of jazz studies.

“I’m most looking forward to collaborating with my faculty colleagues in sharing our passion and love of every aspect of this music — its history, its theory, its great performers and composers, its exceptional repertoire — and all of the generous, enveloping sense of community that comes with jazz and the Black American musics, with talented, spirited and enthusiastic students who are interested in further developing and growing their understanding of this music and their ability to perform it. … And doing so all in person,” Hall said. “It’s going to be great to share the history of jazz in Chicago and jazz at DePaul with attending campers.”

That sense of community rang true through all those looking toward this summer’s in-person experience.

“Last summer, we all came away understanding the profound positive impact our summer programs had,” Hoffman said. “It felt like we were all returning to our Living Jazz family. Our youth campers and staff were overjoyed to be together, and the creativity, focus and motivation was definitely enhanced by the power of finally being together in classes and concerts after such a long separation and the isolation we all endured.”

“I am looking forward to connecting students with awesome faculty members, Barnett said. “We bring to Northern Wisconsin some of the finest jazz musicians from around the country. Our motto is ‘master teachers, magic setting.’ What an amazing place to watch students grow in knowledge, skill and talent in jazz.”

And don’t think that excitement is just for kids. At Trad Jazz Camp, Gibson sees a twinkle in the eyes of mature adult campers, too.

“Our campers were so excited to reunite and play music last June,” she said. “Everyone was so thrilled to be doing something besides hiding under the bed.”

It may be a little different, but jazz camps will be live this summer. DB



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