MSJ in the News

Camp gets musicians jazzed about return to scene

July 27, 2005

K Kaufmann
Staff Writer

Jazz saxophonist Jeff Antoniuk (left) teaches a master class in improvisation at Maryland Summer Jazz, the three-day adult jazz camp he organized last week at St. Mark's Presbyterian Church. The camp drew 36 musicians, like drummer Allan Lewis of Takoma Park.

Jeff teaches a groupMost days, Allan Lewis of Takoma Park is an analyst with the Federal Aviation Administration, Steve Marcus of Silver Spring teaches electrical engineering at the University of Maryland and Steve Kaufman of Bethesda is a periodontist with offices in Washington, D.C.

But on Friday night, all three men were performing jazz standards -- Lewis on drums, Marcus on flute and Kaufman on trumpet -- with area sax player Jeff Antoniuk and his band, Jazz Update. The occasion was the closing concert of Maryland Summer Jazz, Antoniuk's three-day jazz camp for adult musicians, at St. Mark's Presbyterian Church in Rockville, and the mood was jubilant.

"I love being up there," Marcus said after a final jam with Antoniuk and other students. "I feel such joy."

Marcus is typical of the 36 campers from all over Maryland and Virginia who came to the church on Old Georgetown Road for the opportunity of learning and playing with Antoniuk and other area jazz musicians like trombone player Jim McFalls and keyboard player Wade Beach.

Originally from Texas, Marcus played in his high school band, but put the flute aside for professional pursuits for 30 years, he said.

He picked it up again seven years ago and has since gone to similar jazz camps.

"It was an opportunity to play with both students and faculty who are more experienced than I am," he said. [It's] one of the ways I improve."

For Antoniuk, who lives in Annapolis, the camp was the next logical step in building a network of jazz enthusiasts in the Washington-Baltimore area. The Canadian-born Antoniuk, 40, has been performing and composing jazz for more than 20 years, in addition to teaching at Towson University.

He has long focused on introducing school children to jazz, playing to about 10,000 kids a year through a program of the Washington Performing Arts Society. But it is only in the last few years that he started to attract a following of adult students. Many had been listening to jazz for years, he said, but there "was not much opportunity for folks to play with each other."

Antoniuk put them together in master classes -- small group sessions where students learn and jam -- which in turn led to requests for a summer jazz camp. Antoniuk enlisted band members McFall, Beach, bass player Tom Baldwin, guitarist Steve Herberman and drummers Tony Martucci and Frank Russo as teachers, and his wife, Terry, a caterer, to take care of meals. A student who was also a member at St. Mark's hooked him up with the church. The price for the three-day intensive was $405.

The schedule mixed instructor mini-concerts with intensive classes in jazz improvisation, focusing on standard tunes like "Summertime" and "Take the A-Train." Students also had regular opportunities to jam with the professionals.

Riley McDonald, 66, of Columbia is another late-blooming musician, who picked up his saxophone again after a 50-year hiatus. He plays with a community band, but performed his first jazz solo at the camp.

The experience, he said, changed his relationship with his horn.

"I [had] never got to the point where I loved the sound I made," he said. "But I find myself liking the sound."

Elaine Levit, 41, a speech pathologist from Annapolis, is in one of Antoniuk's master classes, but came to the camp for a "total immersion."

Trained in classical piano, Levit said playing jazz keyboards gets her "charged up. It's an adrenaline rush."

So, how do you teach improvisation? Antoniuk said it's like a conversation, with music as the language and a specific song as the subject. "There's a dynamic to how seven people interact," he said. "We spend a lot of time learning the language, a lot of time learning the subject. [Then] we have a conversation."

He also has a lot of respect for his students and the risks they take to start playing an instrument after years in the professional world. They are "high-level people who manage other people," he said. "They all agree to come here and screw up in front of each other."

Antoniuk said he is committed to keeping the camp going for at least another two years and may expand it to five days. And he hopes to reach more adult musicians, playing alone in their basements.

"I'm a jazz matchmaker," he said. "Once you play music, that bug doesn't go away.

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