by Billiann Robertson
Telling my peers I went to jazz camp this summer hasn’t gotten me the kindest of reactions. They automatically assume that I and everyone there are band nerds who like to play music all day. Which, I suppose, I also assumed about the other students going to jazz camp. I left Reedley with the assumption that I would want to go home by the first night and be bored out of my mind. Why I thought so, I can’t exactly answer now. What I do know, however, is that Mammoth Lakes Jazz Jubilee Jazz Camp was an absolute blast.
The camp consisted of about 40 high school students from all over the country. Some came from Idaho, one from New Orleans, some from Montana, four of us from Reedley, and the rest from all over California. The two counselors had their hands full. We were separated into six cabins right away. During the first two hours of being there, we all took the opportunity to get to know each other. I discovered that I had a lot in common with many of the other students. I had assumed their hobbies would be playing video games and reading comic books all day (no offense to them) but my assumptions were wrong. Most of them were athletes, liked to hang out with their friends and played video games on a normal basis. I soon figured out that we would all have a lot to talk about and get a long very nicely.
The adults responsible for the musical aspect of the camp were from a professional jazz band called The Professors. The Professors separated us into six bands, coaching each one in the areas where they were weakest. This prepared the bands for playing in the Mammoth Lakes jazz festival at the end of the week.
On the first night, we auditioned to be placed in one of the six bands. The audition process evaluated our playing ability, technique, jazz experience and knowledge of playing by ear. Auditions took place after dinner in front of the whole camp. We were told to play a twelve bar blues in the key of B-flat. The Professors started playing and the students joined in. After twelve bars, we were cued to solo for another twelve bars. For me, getting up and auditioning in front of everyone was nerve-wracking! When I got up there, I was literally shaking but — after a few times through the twelve bars — I felt pretty confident. This confidence landed me a spot in Band Five.
The rest of the week, we focused on preparing for the jazz festival. We spent four to five hours each day working with our bands and learning tunes we would play each night at dinner then at the end of the week in the festival. Playing tenor saxophone, I learned how to read chords better and play a back-up harmony part according to what the trumpet player played. Our days were split between band rehearsals at the local school, some kind of recreation, dinner (which was delicious!) and time in the rec room to play games for a few hours before lights out. One day, we went to a park where we played football and basketball. Another day, we went to the nearby lake where we swam and hiked for a few hours. As the week went on, all of us students formed closer bonds. I still talk to a lot of them on a regular basis and can’t wait until I get to see them next year.
The biggest event of the week was the annual Mammoth Lakes Jazz Jubilee. When we weren’t performing, we got to participate in the rest of the festival. On our first night of the festival, we attended a Mardi Gras event. We all dressed up in Mardi Gras attire, learned how to swing dance and danced to the three bands that played. The second night was Big Band night and we danced to the familiar jazz tunes they played. When we were performing, the rest of our peers were in the audience cheering us on, along with adults who shared a common appreciation for the next generation of jazz musicians. While performing, the hours we had worked the days before all seemed worth it.
Jazz camp gave me the opportunity to step out of my box and try a lot of new things. I gained a lot more knowledge in the area of jazz, and camp provided me with the desire to major in music when I go to college. I am no doubt going to go again, and to other camps like this one. I am excited to see how the four of us from the Reedley River Rats will take what we learned at the camp and apply it this year in the Reedley High School band. The Mammoth Lakes Jazz Jubilee website has more information about the camp, including applications.