While most Santa Cruz County kids are just now easing into their summer routines, a group of 48 young musicians dedicated the first two weeks of their vacation to attend Kuumbwa Jazz Camp. The program brings together junior high and high school students from 22 area schools for an intensive course on the Cabrillo College campus, culminating in a sold out concert at Kuumbwa Jazz Center, Thursday, June 30th. The beaming faces of the performers on the famous stage matched the expressions of pride among the families, friends and teachers in the audience.
“The concert always comes together amazingly well, and always has a full, enthusiastic crowd,” says Steve Wilson, who along with Terrel Eaton directs the camp and final performance. “To play a show like that in this room is like nothing else in the world. A lot of kids leave camp with a strong desire to keep performing, and to practice hard to become more accomplished musicians.”
Founded in 1993, Kuumbwa Jazz Camp provides one of the few opportunities in the county for kids to learn about jazz history and performance. The camp is an important part of Kuumbwa’s mission to nurture and educate new generations of performers and audiences. Key to that mission is the commitment to make jazz camp available to interested young musicians regardless of their financial abilities. Thanks to generous donations from local individuals and businesses, the Jazz Camp Scholarship Fund was able to meet all requests for scholarships this year.
In the footsteps of jazz giants
“This camp is different than others because it is associated with Kuuwbwa, where the greatest jazz musicians in the world have performed. The kids play on the same piano that Herbie Hancock has played, and sit on the backstage couches where Wynton Marsalis and other greats have sat. I don’t know of any other world-class jazz venue that offers such a comprehensive educational component,” remarks director Wilson.
Young pianist Peter Gellman, who attends CT English Middle School in Los Gatos, echoed that sentiment. “My dad found the camp online and I thought, ‘Hey that sounds cool,’ because I love going to Kuumbwa Jazz. So I decided to come and it was a lot of fun. I learned a lot about jazz scales, everything to do with jazz piano.” Gellman added that he might like to try performing in hospitals or for charity events as a next step in his career.
Instructors Wilson and Eaton didn’t shy away from challenging material for the campers to perform. The audience on Thursday’s concert was treated to a wide-ranging program that included original compositions by Sonny Rollins, John Coltrane and Herbie Hancock, not to mention one entitled Ice and Fire by Steve Wilson himself.
The program also gave the performers a chance to solo and even improvise, a skill that many of them learned for the first time at Jazz Camp. Co-director Terrel Eaton explains, “Kuumbwa Jazz Camp develops skills in improvised ‘soloing’, an essential, major component of jazz. Many first year students come into camp apprehensive about soloing, in many cases never having attempted it. Students are never forced or shamed into soloing, but almost all find the environment encouraging and soon give it a try.”
For all that Kuumbwa Jazz Camp does to broaden young musicians’ horizons, the benefits run both ways. Reflecting after the final concert, Wilson said, “For me as a director this camp is wonderful because of the fantastic support I get from my co-director, the coaches and the folks in the office. It allows me to really focus on the overall ensemble experience, and pay attention to educational and musical goals without the usual distractions.”
Eaton added, “Perhaps the most inspiring and beautiful aspect of the final concert is seeing and hearing many students who’ve never played an improvised solo in front of an audience take the leap and go for it. The full house of friends and family invariably rewards and encourages them with enthusiastic applause, and students come away with new confidence.”
For more information on Kuumbwa Jazz Camp or to donate, please visit https://www.kuumbwajazz.org/project/jazz-camp/.
Photo credit: r.r. jones