JAS Academy grows in size, scope
Two-week intensives go beyond performance
What: JAS Academy Big Band student performance led by Christian McBride
When: Saturday, August 7 at 6 p.m.
Where: Harris Hall
Proof of COVID-19 vaccination required for entry.
Daily rehearsals, hands-on recording labs, lectures from industry giants and public performances packed into two-week intensives in the art and the business of making music: the Jazz Aspen-Snowmass Academy is no leisurely summer camp in the woods.
The impromptu recording studios, classrooms and rehearsal spaces set up in hotel conference rooms play host to what Grammy-winning bassist and academy artistic director Christian McBride sees as some of the great talents of their generation.
“If you look at a list of some of the most important and noted musicians on the jazz scene inside the last 20 years, I can guarantee you that the vast majority of them have been a part of the JAS Academy. … There’s been such a flow of young geniuses who have come through our summer program,” McBride said in a July 27 phone call.
There are more of those geniuses now (and here for longer) than in previous iterations of the program, thanks to an expansion to two different two-week sessions this summer.
There’s the return of the big band cohort, composed of 23 individual musicians collaborating at The Gant in Aspen through Aug. 7, but also a “combo/ensemble” session for a handful of bands — 21 participants total — who already have a set sound and style, according to program director Chuck Bergeron. That group was posted up at the Limelight in Snowmass Village July 11-25.
Participants are mostly current college students or recent grads studying performance or music business. The rhythm section (guitarists, drummers, pianists, bassists) and horns (trumpet, trombone and saxophone) are well-represented, with a couple of vocalists also in the mix.
The program is scholarship-based; participants don’t pay a dime, thanks to a five-year funding commitment from Sasha and Ed Bass. This summer’s expansion marks the beginning of the second phase of that commitment. The plan from the get-go was to add the second session in the third year of the Bass’s support, according to Jazz Aspen president and CEO Jim Horowitz. The Frost School of Music at the University of Miami takes the lead on curriculum and content during each session.
The program is also a central “pillar” in the organization’s broader fundraising efforts that will help establish a JAS performance center at the historic Red Onion building in downtown Aspen, Horowitz said in a July 30 phone call. Those efforts are just now “coming out of the hibernation of COVID” after it was placed on the back burner last spring, he said.
“We hope it plays a very big role,” Horowitz said. “Having a permanent home for the JAS Academy that would be a performance and recording center is far beyond anything we ever really dreamed about. It’s so exciting. … We hope that the ability to provide a real home for this program and really give it wings will end up helping with the fundraising.”
The center would be a year-round hub for JAS education programs, including the academy; it would also establish permanent, professional-level recording space so academy participants no longer turn to makeshift studios in local hotels for the recording and mixing components for that program.
Though performance is a component of the program, it isn’t the only focus; the JAS Academy also aims to instill skills — in life and in the studio — that will help participants think beyond the sheet music, McBride said, “because musicianship is only a reflection of who you are as a person.”
Hands-on sessions on recording and mixing teach participants how to use the software to package their music; lectures from accomplished pros lend perspective to the business; each session culminates with students presenting electronic press kits marketing their work to a room of bookers and promoters, according to Bergeron, the program director.
“As young jazz students, they think mostly about the music,” Bergeron said in a July 23 interview at the Limelight. “Now, we have to get them to start thinking about, ‘OK, you can make the great music. Now what are you going to do with it?’”
Michael Dudley, an alum of the JAS Academy, is one of the faculty members lending expertise to that mission; he teaches recording and production at the program.
It has become an almost necessary skill set for the modern musician, Dudley said when he joined Bergeron in a conference room at the Limelight last week; there are so many artists who can perform and produce that to only perform — no matter how well — may no longer be sustainable in the industry.
But knowing how to mix a song isn’t just about eking out a viable living as an artist, Dudley noted. It’s about the collaborative nature of making music, too.
“The more you know about all different parts of this process, the more you can relate to the other people who are a part of it, and so it becomes — it goes back to human connection, and that’s what we do when we play,” Dudley said.
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