How JEN Helped Me 

By Monica Shriver
Performer, Educator, JEN Member

I’m often asked what JEN is all about and why I attend the Jazz Education Network Conferences. These are good questions. While I don’t consider myself a “typical” conference attendee – usually they are full-time students, full-time college faculty, famous jazz artists, instrument or mouthpiece makers, music publishers… I do consider the conference extremely valuable as a 30-something musician and educator who’s trying to find my place in this world. I don’t have a school or sponsorship that will pay for me to attend, I pay all the expenses out of my own pocket. (I did get a grant to attend my first conference which is what pretty much started it all.)

It is worth it? Most definitely! There are many reasons to attend – concerts by talented musicians of all ages, clinics by top musicians and educators from around the world, networking – but for me, the biggest reason to be a part of JEN and to attend the conferences is the people and the opportunity to interact with them in person. Having a conversation with someone is different then writing an email or interacting on social media, just as hearing someone perform live is different from listening to a recording.

My first JEN Conference was 2011 in New Orleans. That first conference was a combination of blissful and lonely – it’s can be challenging when you don’t know anyone, but at the same time you are constantly meeting new people. It’s amazing and overwhelming at the same time. I left that first conference exhausted, but completely hooked on the whole experience and I couldn’t wait to do it again. The JEN conference became one of my yearly priorities – something I had to make happen.

After attending the 2012 Conference in Louisville, I decided it was time to apply to perform myself. I have a group called Doublers Collective – a project that I envisioned and brought to life in 2010 with the mission of presenting concerts, performance clinics, outreach and to collaborate with composers through music that features all woodwinds in a jazz setting. I wanted to share this group with people outside of Arizona (where I’m from). I applied to perform at the 2013 conference in Atlanta and was thrilled to be invited to play. It was an incredible opportunity for me as a musician.

In January 2013, Doublers Collective performed at the Atlanta conference – our first performance with any national exposure. As the bandleader, this was an extraordinary moment for me. (You can read about it in detail here.) The rhythm section from the Army Blues joined us – Tony Nalker (piano), Regan Brough (bass) and Steve Fidyk (drums) – and that alone was an incredible experience, hands down the best rhythm section I have ever played with.

In addition, in the audience was the distinguished composer Michael Abene. I had been in conversation with him about composing a piece for the group when funding became available. After hearing Doublers Collective perform live, he fell in love with the group and wanted to start composing right away. I applied for two different grants in an attempt to secure funding for the commission – both which did not come through. However, he was so excited about the project that he started working on the piece anyway, completing the piece in June 2014.

In August, we decided that Micheal Abene was going to come to Arizona and rehearse his new piece with Doublers Collective. And since he was going to be here anyway, why not have him do some clinics and concerts? With that “Michael Abene in AZ” became a reality and is happening from Nov. 17-20.

All of this is happening because of JEN. Over the years I have met people that quite literally changed my life. I started my Masters at Capital University because of JEN. I’ve made new friends and professional connections that I really couldn’t have made any other way. Being a part of JEN is like being a part of a big family and although keeping in touch online is certainly possible, it’s much more rewarding and fun to hang out in person!

Here are two other JEN Conference stories:

Meeting Dave Stryker from the 2014 Dallas Conference.

How I met Alan Baylock (who also wrote a piece for Doublers Collective) from the 2011 New Orleans and 2012 Louisville Conferences.

Monica Shriver is a musician, clinician, and teaching artist in Phoenix, AZ. Learn more about her at monicashriver.com.