MSJ in the News

   
 

June 2010

 

The Beat Goes On
by Kathryn McKay

Hilary Schwab

“You can practice in your basement until you’re blue in the face,” says Mike Montgomery, a bass player from Edgewater, “but that’s not a substitute for performing.”

And that’s where Maryland Summer Jazz comes in.

“Here, I meet and play with other musicians who are of the same mindset,” he says.

In July, more than 100 participants will gather at the unique adult-level jazz workshop in Rockville to learn from world-class musicians and then perform publicly with those same masters.

Now in its sixth year, Maryland Summer Jazz offers two three-day sessions. Most participants attend one session, but some attend both.

During the day, participants—from amateur musicians to semi-pros—enjoy a camp-like experience through which to hone their skills. The “campers” take over classrooms at St. Mark’s Presbyterian Church on Old Georgetown Road, where instructors lead groups of six or seven students organized by ability and experience.

“That is their band for the day, and they get a real sense of being part of a band,” says event co-founder Paula Phillips of the daily jam sessions.

In the evening, participants put their lessons into play by performing at local venues, including in Rockville Town Square and at a nightclub in Washington, DC. On the last night of both sessions, participants perform with their instructors, and then the teachers take to the stage for an “All-Star Concert” in the fellowship hall at St. Mark’s.

Maryland Summer Jazz is the brainchild of saxophonist and composer Jeff Antoniuk. A native of Canada who studied in the United States, Antoniuk moved to Maryland in 1996.
At first, “I couldn’t even find the state on a map,” he admits.

But the saxophonist, who settled in Annapolis, teaches at Towson University, and performs all over the world, is now putting Maryland on the map in the jazz world.

After participating in jazz festivals and camps in other places, Antoniuk knew he had a good idea: Why not here?  He partnered with arts promoter Phillips and recruited members of his band, Jazz Update, to teach at his camp.   “Just by luck, they’re all great educators, too,” says Antoniuk. “I needed artists who can teach.”

Maryland Summer Jazz was born in 2004. “The first year was scary,” admits Antoniuk. “We had to manage a venue and 50 people, but it was also thrilling. I couldn’t believe it!”

Today, the event draws jazz musicians and singers from all over Maryland, as well as from about a dozen other states. “Most of them are very educated, very high-powered people who are willing to put their egos aside and get better through playing,” says Antoniuk.

Many are also willing to repeat the experience: Between 15-30 percent of participants return the following year.

Away from the distractions of daily life, participants at Maryland Summer Jazz can devote their days and evenings to music.

When self-described “federal bureaucrat” Galen Tromble of Silver Spring heard about the event, he thought, “Of course, I’m going to do this. The instructors are absolutely fabulous.”

For the trumpet player, the best part of the experience is the opportunity to improvise with other musicians.

“It [is] the most liberating musical expression ever,” he says. “You can’t play anything wrong.” Even better, everything sounds good.

Adds singer Kelly Farrall of DC, “A lot of people believe you can just get up there and sing, [but] it’s not that simple. You have to be forceful and in command.”

As do others, Farrall finds that participating in the festival proves, “You really can do more than you thought you could. You’ve got to get in there and let go.”
And, of course, have a great time doing it.

As guitarist and Maryland Summer Jazz instructor Steve Herberman of Chevy Chase says, “For three days, the students live the jazz life.”
What’s not to love about that?

Maryland Summer Jazz runs July 21-23 and 28-30 in Rockville. For more information, visit www.marylandsummerjazz.com.