How to Get the Most out of Summer Jazz Camp

By Ernie Rideout

Summer camps can help supercharge your passion for music. When you spend time attending a summer camp, you can improve your tone, technique, master new styles, and acquire new skills and repertoire. You can hear things that you never thought were possible to do with jazz, and make lifelong friends and musical connections. And, importantly, you can lay the foundation for the entire year, of very efficient practice.

The way summer camps work, however, instructors rarely have a lot of time to prepare. At many of the best jazz camps, the instructors are professional jazz musicians at the top of their careers, and they might fly to the camp right from being on tour. So when they meet with you, they don’t necessarily know how you play, or your goals. They may have curriculum materials with them or they may not. And since jazz education is a very creative process, itself, when your instructors interact with you, it’s likely that they’ll come up with ideas that are just for you, maybe things that they may have never thought of.

So how do you capture all of this invaluable information? How do you get the most out of your investment of time and money? They key is capturing all of the relevant information as quickly as you can without distracting yourself from whatever activity you might be engaged in, whether it’s a combo rehearsal, a theory class, master class, or jam session, or even just a late-night hang.

  1. The most basic tool to help you capture all this info is a book of manuscript paper and a pencil. Do not go to camp without this. It takes time to stop and write things down, or even notate ideas, but it is well worth it.
  2. An audio recording device is a critical tool for jazz camp. It can even be a cassette or even mini disc recorder, as long as it captures everything!
  3. These days, everybody has a Smartphone and now there are tons of apps that can help you capture information and sort/organize it to get the most out of it later. For recording audio in a targeted way, one of the greatest new tools is an app called Cogi. When you activate it, it records constantly, but only saving the previous 15 seconds (or other time interval) of audio. So when your instructor suddenly mentions the name of a jazz musician you’ve never heard of, and you don’t want to write it down, you just hit the Cogi button and save it. You can add tags, notes, and take a picture to associate with that audio file, to help sort through all your clips when you get back home.
  4. Another good use of your Smartphone is to take pictures of a blackboard, when an instructor has written everything there is to know about jazz theory. This helps you pay attention instead of taking handwritten notes, to avoid sorting it out later.
  5. Every time one of your instructors plays or sings to demonstrate something, use your phone to grab a video clip of it. Do not fail to do this. With a video of what your instructor played, you can go back later to play along with it, transcribe it, get the inflection from it, or use it as a play-along track. Video clips of teacher demonstrations are invaluable to help your practice for the incoming year.

After you get home from jazz camp, what do you do with all this information? If you can tag and notate all these files as you’ve gone along, it will be fairly easy to go through it all. Make a list of all the things that inspired you the most, and use these as goals for the coming year. This is your chance to decide where you want your jazz playing or singing to be, by next summer. What kind of musician do you want to be then? You’re going to use all the new information that you learned to create a practice plan to help you get there! Maybe your goal is to learn 100 jazz tunes by next summer. Or 50, or even 30. Maybe you want to master all the diatonic ii-V-Is in all keys. Maybe you want to master the diminished and altered scales. Maybe you just want to feel more comfortable playing on a blues scale, or keep time and have rhythmic ideas when you solo.

Of course, the way to get there is to practice and to set up a plan for practice to get there incrementally. There are two very important things about practice: 1. Practice makes PERMANENT and 2. Perfect practice makes perfect. When you practice, it’s fine to play at glacially slow tempos in order to be able to play perfectly. (Although “glacially” is no longer really slow, is it?). This helps you pay attention to tone, time, rhythm, and articulation. Also, it’s critical to practice every day, even just for five minutes. BUT – now that you have your goals in mind, the question of how much to practice becomes easy because you can just break it down. Here are some sample goals that you can set, but feel free to make your own:

  1. For example, if you want to master the ii-V-I progression in all major keys, schedule yourself to work on one key per week for 12 weeks, for 15 minutes a day. That’s a pretty easy daily goal to attain! Those 12 weeks are going to go by really fast and you’ll be amazed at how much more confident you are at the end of it, just by putting in the time towards that goal.
  2. If repertoire is your goal, learn one tune a week, for 30 minutes per day.  And in 50 weeks when you go back to jazz camp, you’ll have a ton of new repertoire.
  3. Perhaps you discovered a new artist at camp and want to listen to everything they have recorded. Schedule one album or CD per week. Listen to it over and over. Set aside time to get carried away and absorb the sound. In 12 weeks, you’re going to be an expert not only in that artist’s repertoire, but in that entire period of jazz history!
  4. If jazz camp inspired you to start transcribing jazz solos, schedule time to complete one every 2 weeks or so, maybe setting a goal of transcribing one chorus every 3 or 4 days. If you chip away at it, every few months, your awareness of jazz phrasing or harmony will have improved incredibly. You can do this with anything that has inspired you at jazz camp. You can turn anything from an “aha” moment to a few months of intense personal growth.

You can do this with anything that has inspired you at jazz camp. You can turn anything from an “aha” moment to a few months of intense personal growth.
If you don’t have time to practice everything you want in the day, schedule it so you alternate topics every other day to make it fit into your schedule. And then, work your plan! By next summer, you will be playing, writing, or singing at a whole new level!

Ernie Rideout is the Marketing Director and Teacher at Stanford Jazz Workshop. Stanford Jazz Workhop is offering a special JEN member discount – mention your JEN membership status for $100 off tuition to the Jazz Institute (August 3-8).