MSJ in the News

Fantasy camp: Jazz lovers share a bill with the pros
Wednesday, July 21, 2010
by Jordan Edwards | Staff Writer

Maryland Summer Jazz Festival
Percussionist Sherrie Maricle leads the Diva Orchestra in New York. This month, she is lending her knowledge to the Maryland Summer Jazz Festival.

Six years into the Maryland Summer Jazz Festival, founder and saxophonist Jeff Antoniuk knows the bar is set high.

Attendees expect not just quality but variety as well. For every camp, he tries to bring in players from all over the country as well as his native Canada. It looks good from a market perspective, but also provides fresh takes on jazz for the students.

"We try to have some [musicians] that have some rock experience and some funk experience," Antoniuk says. "Lots of times, jazz musicians are guilty of focusing on one decade of music, but there's so much more. We want to include that."

Maryland Summer Jazz Festival
Percussionist Sherrie Maricle leads the Diva Orchestra in New York. This month, she is lending her knowledge to the Maryland Summer Jazz Festival.

Although the camp welcomes students of different abilities, many students either perform or plan on performing professionally. That's why the two concerts at Saint Mark Presbyterian Church in Rockville are such a sweet way to end the three-day experience. Campers don't always share the stage with the professionals, but they do share the bill.

"It's a pretty big deal [for the students]," Antoniuk says. "Some of these faculty members are people they have listened to for 10 or 20 years. It's inspiring and frightening and everything else."

This year's marquee percussion instructor is Sherrie Maricle. Known among her peers as one of the foremost women in jazz, she received an invitation from Antoniuk after taking part in one of his clinics.

"I was so impressed with him and his organization and the way the workshop flowed and what the goals were," says Maricle. "I thought, ‘Wow, this is such a unique and interesting experience.' I thought [the camps] would really be an excellent thing to be involved with."

For 15 years, Maricle taught percussion at New York University, where she also earned a doctorate in composition and jazz performance. The academic setting instilled a passion for education. That commitment may be strong, but Maricle and the other instructors face a challenge in cramming a huge amount of knowledge into just a few sessions.

"Doing a workshop like this that's very intense and compact is reflective of what it means to be a professional musician," she says.

One of Maricle's most visible appointments is leader of the all-female Diva Orchestra that she founded. The outfit specializes in big band arrangements and boasts a diversity of both ages and ethnicities. Although Maricle isn't on a feminist crusade for gender equality in an industry dominated by men, she is proud of the impact the group has made.

"Diva has been instrumental in changing worldwide perception of women in jazz on a massive scale because of the quality of the band," says Maricle. "Now, suddenly, they see 15 women altogether, and I think it makes a good impression."

Faculty member Walt Weiskopf is no stranger to high profile gigs, either. For the last four summers, the tenor saxophonist has hit the road with Steely Dan. In August, he'll join the band's Donald Fagan for several dates on a tour that also includes Boz Scaggs and Michael McDonald.

For Weiskopf, teaching is not a lifelong passion. The 50-year-old did not begin passing down his knowledge until his mid-30s. He will commute from his home in New Jersey to teach part-time at Philadelphia's Temple University in the fall. The job requires a much shorter commute than his previous position at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York.

"[Teaching] forces you to understand what you're talking about, which really helps my playing" he observes. "I do find it's more challenging to teach someone who's more set in their ways."

The national acts are impressive additions, but Antoniuk loves to invite local talent as well. This year's Beltway musicians include Antoniuk and bassist Tom Baldwin. Kenny Rittenhouse, who resides in Washington, D.C., has been a member of the U.S. Army Blues Jazz Ensemble for 19 years. He made it through boot camp like everyone else who joins the military, but isn't danger of shipping out of the area.

"It's a really cool gig, because all we do is play and rehearse," he says. "We do concerts, ceremonies and go on tour a little bit."

When he's not performing with the Army band, Rittenhouse enjoys shaping young players at Virginia's George Mason University and Fairfax High School. Classes may be out, but the 43-year is not slowing down. In addition to Maryland Summer Jazz, the horn player has scheduled appearances at Shenandoah University and the Washington Performing Arts Society's Capitol Jazz Project.

"This is the busiest summer I've ever had," he says, "I have a 9-month-old baby at home and I've got more work outside. Instinctively, I want to do as much as I can 24/7."

Rittenhouse's motivation for attending the camp and concerts is simple.

"Anytime I get a chance to work with students or adults learning jazz at whatever level, I jump at it."

Check out the "Double Dose of Jazz" concerts on Fridays, July 23 and 30 at Saint Mark Presbyterian Church, 10701 Old Georgetown Road, Rockville. The student concerts begin at 7 p.m. and the pros take the stage at 8:15 p.m. Tickets are $15 in advance and $20 at the door. Children, 12 and younger, are admitted for $5. Call 443-702-7016 or visit www.marylandsummerjazz.com.


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