New York Hot Jazz Camp: Molly and Bria Celebrate 5 Years

Among certain nations, a baby’s birthday isn’t celebrated until its second anniversary; they
don’t want to get too excited or jinx things in light of their high infant mortality rates. Considering the mortality rate surrounding traditional Jazz events, the up-coming 5th annual New York Hot Jazz Camp may be cause for at least a little celebration by its determined, inspired co-founders, Bria Skonberg and Molly Ryan.

It would be understated to call the staging of an annual, weeklong, musical convocation in the heart of Manhattan a ‘challenge’; it’s more nearly a miracle! But the Camp’s high enrollment and high return rate is proof of the drive, resourcefulness, leadership, teamwork and musicianship of the Camp’s two busy, full-time, professional career musicians.

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Most Syncopated Times readers will be familiar with this dynamic duo: Bria is a nationally recognized, trumpet player, vocalist, composer, bandleader, educator and recording artist with far to many performance and recording credits to mention here.

Bria Skonberg and Molly Ryan
Bria Skonberg and Molly Ryan

Similarly, Molly’s list of credits span two decades and she currently performs nationally and overseas with several bands, including her own. You can read more about Bria and Molly on their websites briaskonberg.com and mollyryan.com

The first four years have proven so impressive and successful by the attendee’s standards that I myself have been proudly among a handful of operational volunteers, since its inception. I’ve witnessed the program’s positive impact on fostering the appreciation, the performance and the preservation of high quality traditional Jazz, while pushing it into the 21st Century. And I’ve seen the work it takes to make it successful; all of which led me to finally ask Molly and Bria (jointly):

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Q: Why did you dare to take on this mammoth project?

M&B: Jazz is a ‘pay-it-forward’ art form, passed from generation to generation. Attending jazz camps in our youth inspired us to pursue it full time and we want to do our part in ensuring the music and its many benefits keep going.

New York Hot Jazz Camp 2018
Group shot of 2018 New York Hot Jazz Camp staff and attendees.

Q. Why create this program when there are other camps; what makes this one unique?

B&M: This is the only camp of its kind in New York City, where so many of the musical and cultural shifts took place such as the Harlem Renaissance. We put all our focus on a period of jazz not often covered by other local schools and jazz programs. New York is home to many of the leading musicians of the genre so both the quality of instruction and options for nighttime concerts are world class. Due to
space limitations the camp is intimate causing an intensive week of learning and building relationships between students and staff.

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Q. What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced with this program?

Bria Skonberg and Molly RyanM&B: We grow a little bigger each year, so it’s been a matter of navigating the changes. For example, to give our students a proper final performance we now co-host the Gotham Jazz Festival, a multi-band twelve-hour marathon of NYC hot jazz talent. Next year’s Gotham Jazz Festival featuring the camp bands will be April 19th, 2020 at the Players Club. We are very grateful to the dedicated staff coordinators and enthusiastic team of volunteers who help us make the camp a seamless and positive experience.

Q: What are you goals for the Camp?

B&M: We are striving to provide quality tools, historic vocabulary and connections to musicians who want to further their knowledge and opportunities in the styles of traditional/classic jazz in a positive and supportive environment.

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These tools can be brought to the campers’ local scenes and educational outlets, making the outreach possibilities endless. The best news we can get is a student is unable to come back to camp because they’re too busy gigging.

Q: What have been the rewards?

M&B: Seeing the growth of individual campers’ musical abilities and confidence over the course of a single week is very rewarding.

It’s a joy to see and hear performances of past attendees who have gone on to start their own groups and are creating positive listening and learning environments for others. The camaraderie of the staff extends beyond the camp week.

Due to generous donors we’ve been able to offer scholarships to the next generation of players and give them a more thorough understanding of the foundational benefits of classic jazz.

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Finally, it’s simply fun to go out in the hustle and bustle of New York City and celebrate the incredible working community of musicians.

The weeklong program is designed for adults ages 18 and up (advanced beginners to semi-professionals). Under the guidance of a roster of notable, active recording and preforming traditional jazz artists (mostly from NY), the campers benefit from one-on-one studies, sectional work, improvisational work, a lot of small ensemble playing, evening jamming and general networking, guest lecturers from the industry and, historic Jazz-centric optional excursions and too many choices of Big Apple Nightlife to mention.Bria Skonberg and Molly RyanThe 2020 All-Star faculty includes: Rossano Sportiello (piano); Cynthia Sayer (guitar-banjo); Jared Engel (bass); Kevin Dorn (drums); Randy Reinhart (trumpet); Dion Tucker (trombone); Antoinette Montague (vocals); Dan Levinson (reeds) and guest lecturer-clinician, Todd Stoll Vice President of Education at Jazz at Lincoln Center and Jazz trumpeter. For more info go to: www.nyhotjazzcamp.com/

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