Jazz Aspen’s JAS Academy reborn at Colorado Mountain College | AspenTimes.com

Jazz Aspen’s JAS Academy reborn at Colorado Mountain College

Grammy-winning bassist Christian McBride has a laugh while directing a JAS Academy big band session on Tuesday morning at the Colorado Mountain College in Aspen. McBride has brought 21 elite young jazz musicians to town for a week-long intensive workshop focused on big band music.
Anna Stonehouse/The Aspen Times


What: Ribs & Jazz

Where: Home Team BBQ

When: Wednesday, Aug. 15, 6-9 p.m.

How much: Free

More info: All 21 JAS Academy students will perform during this informal, free event

Who: Dianne Reeves

Where: JAS Cafe at the Aspen Art Museum

When: Friday, Aug. 17, 7 & 9:15 p.m.

Tickets: Sold out

Who: Christian McBride, Benny Green & Russell Malone

Where: JAS Cafe at the Aspen Art Museum

When: Saturday, Aug. 18, 7 & 9:15 p.m.

Tickets: Sold out

Who: JAS Academy Big Band. directed by Christian McBride

Where: JAS Cafe at the Aspen Art Museum

When: Sunday, Aug. 19, 7 & 9:15 p.m.

How much: $35 ($110 with dinner)

Tickets: jazzaspensnowmass.org

With a blare of horns and big, brassy cascades of joyful jazz emanating from Colorado Mountain College on Monday morning, the JAS Academy made its return to Aspen.

The program, run by Jazz Aspen Snowmass and directed by Grammy-winning bassist Christian McBride, has brought 21 elite young jazz musicians to town for a weeklong intensive workshop focused on big-band music. It marks the relaunch of the academy after Jazz Aspen shuttered it eight years ago amid dramatic post-recession belt-tightening at the nonprofit.

“I’m very excited that the academy is back,” McBride, who first taught with the Jazz Aspen program in 1999 and two years later began serving as its artistic director, said Monday.

Addressing his students before their first sessions, McBride listed some of their predecessors from the first iteration of the JAS Academy who have since reached the heights of jazz and pop: vocalists Lisa Henry and Gretchen Parlato, drummer Johnathan Blake, saxophonist Marcus Strickland and his drummer twin brother, E.J.

“There have been some amazing all-stars to come through this program,” he told students.

The new students arrived in Aspen on Sunday and got to work Monday. In the traditional big-band formation, their areas of focus include saxophone, trombone, trumpet, piano, vocals, piano, bass, guitar and drums.

This 2018 class includes 21 students — 19 of them men — from U.S. music programs including the University of North Texas, University of Iowa, the Juilliard School, University of Michigan, Oberlin College and two students from overseas in Tel Aviv, Israel. They’re as young as 17 and as old as 26. The program is all scholarship-based, with Jazz Aspen covering travel, hotels, meals and tuition for all 21 students.

“They’re kids, but they’re precociously talented kids,” said Jazz Aspen President Jim Horowitz.

Anthony Hervey, a trumpeter entering his fourth year at the Juilliard School, said spending a week studying under McBride in this intimate environment is a dream scenario.

“I’ve been listening to him for a long time and he’s also one of the masters of this music,” Hervey said. “So I want to study with him and the other guest artists that are coming and learn as much as possible.”

In January, McBride won his sixth Grammy Award. Appropriately enough, in the year of his JAS Academy’s big band-centric return, the prize was for his Christian McBride Big Band’s album “Bringin’ It” for Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album.

The students’ first session of the week, after a breakfast and some informal morning jamming, was a master class about the business side of music led by Rey Sanchez, associate dean of the Frost School of Music at the University of Miami.

Jazz Aspen recently announced its partnership with the Frost School on the JAS Academy and the JAS Center, a new $15 million education and performance space in downtown Aspen. That brick-and-mortar building on Cooper Avenue will give the school a permanent home once construction is completed. Jazz Aspen officials are hoping to have it open in time for the JAS Academy class of 2020.

Frost School dean Shelly Berg also will work with students this week. Horowitz said the Frost officials and Jazz Aspen will be working out a detailed plan for their partnership, programing and curriculum this week, and perhaps nail down a plan to bring the Frost School’s vaunted Henry Mancini Institute Orchestra to the academy in years to come.

Horowitz stressed that the academy is aiming to give students practical instruction on how to make a career in music, along with creative guidance.

“All of you are here because you can play,” Horowitz told the class. “You wouldn’t be here if you couldn’t play or sing — you all have the talent and dedication, clearly. The thing I love about Christian McBride is his broad approach to music and his understanding that being a successful musician is not only about knowing how to play, but understanding all the things that go on around it.”

Monday afternoon included the first “Big Band Session,” a three-hour class under the direction of McBride. Each day this week includes a Big Band Session and master class, along with rehearsals and nightly group dinners.

The week of study and rehearsal culminates in a public performance by the JAS Big Band on Sunday night at the JAS Café at the Aspen Art Museum.

The artist-teachers working with McBride — pianist Benny Green, guitarist Russell Malone and vocalist Dianne Reeves among them — also will perform at the JAS Cafe this week.

The academy is expected to stick to its intensive one-week approach next year. After that, in 2020, when the JAS Center is expected to be open, Horowitz and Jazz Aspen Vice President Andrea Beard said they’re tentatively planning to expand it to two weeks. And from there, the organization is hoping to grow the program, eventually, perhaps, to a summer-long jazz school.

That, Horowitz noted, would be a long way from the JAS Academy’s scrappy start two decades ago in Snowmass Village of pairing jazz greats like Ray Brown with students in leaky tents and practicing in ski storage rooms. The program was founded in 1996 as the Thelonious Monk Institute Colony and reorganized as the JAS Academy five years later with McBride at the helm.

Horowitz was grateful to have gotten Colorado Mountain College on board to host the academy until the JAS Center opens.

“When you try to do a program like this, you quickly realize the limitations of space — you just can’t do anything about it,” he said. “And musicians are not always welcome. They make noise.”



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