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Photograph by R.R. Jones
happy campers: A lot of Kuumbwa Honor Band members have been to Kuumbwa's jazz camp. Back row (left to right): Dillon Baiocchi, Ian Bowman, Nick Bianchini, Sam Whitlock, Sam Kellerman, Shamik Mascharak. Front row: Steve Wilson (director), Miyoko Sasaki, Jasmine Daniele, Sam Copperman, Keshav Singh.

Ain't Misbehavin'

Kuumbwa's summer camp gives up-and-coming Santa Cruz jazz musicians a stage to strut upon

By Andrew Gilbert

From Stan Getz and Dizzy Gillespie to Roy Hargrove and Joshua Redman, the Kuumbwa Jazz Center's stage has played host to many of the art form's most illustrious figures. But the bandstand is never put to better use than when it gives aspiring young musicians a taste of the singular frisson created by improvisers stretching their wings in front of an appreciative audience. Kuumbwa's annual summer jazz camp, which provides young musicians in the area with top-notch instruction over a two-week session, concludes every season with a concert at the club, an experience that often inaugurates the budding players into the thrills and anxious exhilaration of performance.

"It's the coolest thing in the world," says trumpeter Nick Bianchini, who's starting the University of Southern California's prestigious jazz studies program in the fall on scholarship. A member of the Kuumbwa Honor Band for several years, he got his start at the summer jazz camp. "I had never even been to a jazz club, and the feeling I got onstage was amazing. That's why I'm still doing it."

Bianchini's jazz education started at Kuumbwa, but he has taken advantage of many other opportunities. He went on to attend the Brubeck Jazz Camp at the University of the Pacific and got a full scholarship to attend Berklee College of Music's highly competitive five-week summer jazz program. But he cites one of his biggest sources of inspiration as fellow honor band trumpeter Ben Flocks, who just finished his first year at the Brubeck Institute's rigorous undergraduate program.

Founded by esteemed jazz educator Phil Snyder, Kuumbwa Jazz Camp provides about 60 students with invaluable musical experience unavailable through individual instruction. Students not only soak up information from the veteran faculty, they get a chance to play with more advanced peers, stoking their ambition. Middle schoolers attend the morning session, while high school students study in the afternoon. The tracks overlap from 11am to noon, when the entire camp comes together for an hour-long listening session that provides grounding in jazz history.

"They let you listen and then they explain what you're hearing," Bianchini says. "It's designed for someone who doesn't know anything about jazz at all to get some history and background. They played all these different great artists I had never heard of, then I'd go play with people at my level and above, which was so inspiring."

While many of the young players won't go on to professional careers in music, they are jazz's future--avid fans likely to spread their love and knowledge to friends and family. Looking at the camp's track record, there's every reason to believe that the most motivated and talented students have a good shot at becoming recognized players.

The vast majority of musicians selected for the Kuumbwa Honor Band come up the ranks through the jazz camp, and some go on to wider stages. In the past decade, the prodigious twins, saxophonist Remy and pianist Pascal LeBoeuf, and tenor saxophonist Jesse Scheinin have emerged from the Kuumbwa programs as some of the most promising musicians on the national scene. In many ways, success breeds success, and their excellence provides succeeding generations with a model to follow.

"Almost all of the kids who have been in the honor band over the years attended the jazz camp," says Steve Wilson, the director of the Honor Band and co-director of the jazz camp.

"Seeing the incredible progress these kids make coming in as junior high students is so satisfying. There's a certain buy-in. They're meeting friends from all over the place and getting all this help from older players. It's a wonderful atmosphere. I realize how much hipper they are then I was at that age."

KUUMBWA JAZZ CAMP runs June 16-26 at Cabrillo College, with the session-ending concert taking place on June 26 at 7pm at Kuumbwa, 320-2 Cedar St., Santa Cruz. Tuition is $220; registration ends June 9.

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