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Concerts and conch shells: UNC Summer Jazz Workshop hosts students, performers

juan álamo.jpg

Associate professor Juan Álamo plays the marimba during the UNC Summer Jazz Workshop's Salsa Night on Thursday, June 29, 2023.

The UNC Department of Music hosted its Summer Jazz Workshop and concert series — a program with three different tracks — from June 26 to June 30.

One track is a summer camp program for people of all ages where students learn jazz theory, improvisation, play in ensembles and participate in jam sessions.

“I really want to go into music (education) when I graduate, so I thought this would be a good opportunity to learn chord structures and everything like that,” Nick Farmer, a high school student from Cary who played trumpet in the workshop, said.

Aidan Babocsi, a high school saxophone player from Raleigh, said he wanted to learn more about jazz because he didn’t have much experience with it.

"I wanted to learn more about improvising and stuff like that,” he said. “I also get to meet a whole lot of new friends and just have fun.”

The second and third tracks of the program are for college students. Students can gain class credit through the summer session class Music 364: The UNC Summer Jazz Program. Students who are studying music performance participate in classes with community members in the program.

The class also has a non-performance track where students learn about jazz history and music journalism. 

The students take classes on jazz history, basic keyboard skills and journalism in the morning. In the afternoon, they observe group lessons and interview faculty, guests and students.

Kellie Finch, a media and journalism major in the non-performance section of Music 364, said she applied for the workshop because she was interested in writing about music and pursuing a music minor.

“I think that’s been my favorite part — has just been learning about jazz as a genre of music —  because it’s never been something I’ve gravitated towards, but I think after this experience I’m more inclined to listen to it, or even go see some jazz live if there's places around that I can do that,” Finch said. 

UNC Hussman School of Journalism and Media associate professor Andy Bechtel, who has taught in the jazz workshop for the past eight years, said it was fun to share knowledge beyond the journalism school.

“It’s a good way to collaborate with another department and meet students from all over campus from all kinds of majors — business majors, political science majors — all kinds of folks are in this journalism course,” Bechtel said. 

From Monday through Thursday night, students attended jazz concerts with guest and faculty musicians at Moeser Auditorium.

Guest performers, such as Al Strong, a trumpet artist based in Durham, and Roland Barber, a trombonist from Nashville, Tenn., performed throughout the week.

Rebecca Clemens, the associate director of the workshop, said that Strong has written innovative music, and noted that Barber played a conch shell during his Tuesday night performance.

On Wednesday night, guest vocalist Angela Bingham performed as part of a jazz quartet. 

“I got to hear the vocalist teach and hear what she was working on and her advice before seeing her use her exact advice in the performances," Finch said. "So it was kind of interesting to see how a teacher is directly applying what they’re saying to their students into what they’re doing themselves, which I thought was a lot of fun."

Faculty performers included Rahsaan Barber, an assistant music professor, and Stephen Anderson, the director of the workshop and the UNC Jazz Studies program. 

The program was started in 2014 by Anderson and Jan Yopp, a former journalism professor at UNC.

On Friday night, the workshop participants performed themselves to demonstrate what they had learned throughout the week.

Clemens said it was cool to see how excited young students got about collaborating with other people who also love jazz.

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“The bulk of the students we see at this camp are local students who attend public schools and private schools, and they get to take everything they learned back to their band programs, which is really something special,” she said.

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