A musical education

Student musicians return to the Roaring Fork Valley for JAS Academy

Katherine Roberts
Daniel Cohen, front, with other students practicing during the JAS Academy big band session with Grammy-winning bassist Christian McBride as the director on at Colorado Mountain College in Aspen.
Anna Stonehouse/The Aspen Times

The 2022 Jazz Aspen Snowmass JAS Academy returns to the Roaring Fork Valley on Sunday, after expanding the program to twice its size last year. The double-duty offering showcases 42 student artists over a one-month period in various locations around Aspen and Snowmass.

“In 2021, we expanded the JAS Academy from a single two-week session to two two-week sessions. The first session is for existing small ensembles with four groups participating,” said Andrea Beard, JAS senior vice president. “The second session is the Big Band Session. Students were selected for each instrument or vocal element of a big band.”

And, as always, these student musicians are the cream of the crop. Nineteen students make up the first session, and 23 students total are in the big band session. The 42 students represent 14 of the top music schools in the country.

Local listeners can expect the return of some of their favorite school groups, including North Texas, the University of Miami, Julliard, Berklee, the Manhattan School of Music and Michigan State. But a few new institutions have made it into the mix for this summer, such as Temple, Elmhurst University and Rutgers.

“Audiences are consistently blown away by the level of musical ability these students showcase,” Beard said. “Each one is on the brink of a professional career and were selected based on their talent. They already know how to play when they get here — and how to play well.”

The JAS Academy highlights these talents but is also intended to set these students on the right trajectory as they embark on a career path in a sometimes-challenging industry.

“While at the academy, much of what they learn is less about their playing skills and more about how to take those skills and succeed at the next level,” she said.

This includes multiple instruction sessions on the business of music, learning how to market themselves as artists and performers, developing a stage presence and practicing playing front of a crowd.

“When you see them perform, you’ll not only witness their great talent, but also experience their individual personalities as they are learning more about expressing themselves and connecting with their audiences while they’re here in town,” she said.

Audiences can check out these performers as they come into their own for free, or mostly free. In addition to sets performed at The Collective, the Hotel Jerome and both Limelight hotels, other highlights include the closing performances, where students put together everything they’ve learned over their two-week session and showcase those experiences, musical style. Respectively, those will be the band performances at the JAS Café on July 21 at the Aspen Art Museum and the Big Band performance at the Wheeler Opera House on Aug. 6. Eight-time Grammy®- winning bassist and JAS Academy artistic director Christian McBride will lead The Wheeler show.

As for what makes the academy special, Beard said the fact that it’s Aspen — both the scenery and the welcoming local scene — is a big draw.

“For its beauty and for the welcome that they feel from the community makes every academy special. At every performance, the students are approached by attendees wanting to learn more about them and their background. Audiences also offer them suggestions of what they must see and do while in Aspen. They always leave with new friends and experiences unique to our home,” she said. “Also, many of the students who have participated in the past have ended up returning to the JAS stages in bigger ways, many as bandmembers or bandleaders at JAS Café or JAS June Experience shows. Locals recognize them, reconnect with them and again make them feel right at home.”

“These are brilliantly talented young artists that are here because of their talent,” said Jim Horowitz, JAS founder, president and CEO. “We believe they have what it takes to make it in this very difficult business, so we do all we can to make them feel welcomed with open arms.”

Activities & Events

See more