The first-ever New York Hot Jazz Camp is now in the books. It was conceived, organized, and overseen by my good friends Molly Ryan and Bria Skonberg and took place last week at the Greenwich House Music School in the Village—that’s Greenwich Village for out-of-towners. Something like 40 adult campers from all over the country attended, and they were instructed on their respective instruments (including vocal chords) by some of NYC’s finest trad jazz musicians.
As soon as I heard about this I jumped on board. Knowing the talent, brains, and charm of Molly and Bria, I had no doubts that this would be a first-class event. I was not disappointed. I’m not a musician, so I wouldn’t be enrolling as a student, but I welcomed the opportunity to be a volunteer.
I could only work the first two of the five days of camp due to other jazz gigs I had plans to attend outside NYC. Then I returned yesterday as the culmination of all the work that went into camp came out at the student concert in the afternoon at Iridium followed in the evening by the faculty concert at Birdland. Both were viewed by packed houses and justifiably well received.
The camp opened on Tuesday with a jam by the faculty. Then the students were assigned to groups of about six or seven to work with their individual instructor. They learned all the ins and outs of ensemble playing, as well as honing their individual skills.
I was only able to sit in on one group since I was there to be a schlepper and gofer, and there was a lot of schlepping and gofering to do—setting up and taking down chairs, tables and music stands, storing instruments, putting up drinks and snacks. My usual form of exercise is bicycling. I didn’t have my bike with me, but I got plenty of alternate exercise going up and down the four flights of stairs in the school’s 110-year-old landmark (that means elevator-less) building.
Each day after classes were over the students got to jam at nearby clubs, such as Fat Cat. I attended the jam on Wednesday. Then in the evening there were many opportunities to hear the city’s top players. I did just that—Monday night it was the Nighthawks at Iguana, Tuesday was Baby Soda‘s gig at a post-graduation event at nearby NYU, followed by Barbara Rosene‘s occasional soiree at Mezzrow, and Wednesday I saw the Louis Armstrong Memorial Band, now starting its 17th year at Birdland. Bria usually plays with them when she’s in town, and Vince Giordano is normally there on banjo, quite different from the bass sax, string bass, and tuba that he plays in his own band, the Nighthawks. I could have taken in still other gigs, but I’m not so young anymore and need my sleep if I’m going to make the grade schlepping and gofering.
I was not the only volunteer at camp. There were four of us on the two days I was there, though not the same four each day. They were a pleasure to work with. Our love of traditional jazz was the cement that kept us all together. But to me the greatest satisfaction came from the enthusiasm shown by the campers and their appreciation for what they were learning, and the care they got from the faculty, most of whom it was already my privilege to know.
I’ve admired the talent and professional growth I’ve seen in both Molly and Bria in the years I’ve known them (about ten for Molly, five for Bria). My admiration took a big leap this past week. I’m ready to sign up for next year.
Bill Hoffman is a travel writer and an avid jazz fan and supporter of musicians keeping traditional jazz alive in performance. He is the author of Going Dutch: A Visitors Guide to the Pennsylvania Dutch Country, Unique and Unusual Places in the Mid-Atlantic Region, and The New York Bicycle Touring Guide. Bill lives in Lancaster, PA.
More New York Hot Jazz Camp Coverage:
Gotham Jazz Fest and the 3rd annual New York Hot Jazz Camp
New York Hot Jazz Camp Announces 2019 Dates
Traditional Jazz Camps for Adults- A Guide
And the Related New York Hot Jazz Fest:
From the New York Hot Jazz Fest
2016 NY Hot Jazz Festival held at Interactive Theater Venue