MSJ in the News

Wednesday, July 16, 2008
by Chris Slattery | Staff Writer

Hot jazz at cool summer camp is fun for grownups

Jeff teaches a groupWhen it comes to summer camp, why should kids have all the fun? That seems to be the philosophy behind the fourth annual Maryland Summer Jazz Festival, a series of workshops and jams for grown-up musicians featuring a pair of faculty-student concerts at St. Mark’s in Rockville.

‘‘I had heard about ‘fantasy camps,’” says Jeff Antoniuk, the program’s artistic director. ‘‘Like, fantasy baseball camps, where you get to play and talk about baseball all day, and the pros are there and you get to hang out with the players, have lunch with them.

‘‘It’s the same format. We have a top-level faculty that includes Grammy-winning artists.”

Antoniuk, a Towson University music professor, is a saxophonist and composer who found that his private music students were, almost always, adults.

‘I ended up having a lot of professionals — lawyers, teachers – who were chasing a dream,” he explains. ‘‘Some of them got pretty good, too; they wanted to play with a band, sit in at a club.”

But the schedule of a jazz musician tends to be pretty erratic, and that wasn’t a good fit for most of Antoniuk’s students.

‘‘Tuesday at midnight, down on U Street – that didn’t really work for them with their careers and their families,” he says. ‘‘So I started a jazz band master class, which grew into eight different groups that met regularly.”

When he learned that some of the master class musicians were ‘‘flying across the country” to attend jazz camps in other states, Antoniuk decided to start a camp of his own.

The camp – there are two three-day sessions – is capped off with a concert that’s open to the public, one on Friday at 7 p.m. and one next Friday, July 25, at the same time.

‘‘We coach combos and play in the jazz combos with the students,” says Steve Herberman, who lives in Chevy Chase. ‘‘The concert is a really good listening experience with a lot of good music to be heard.

‘‘They’ve been working on these songs all week; by the end, they’re pretty good.”

Herberman is a jazz guitarist, a performer and private instructor who, like Antoniuk, is on the Towson faculty. He also teaches online, with a popular 90-minute jazz guitar download.

‘‘It’s a niche thing,” he explains. ‘‘With the online people, I can get into advanced material.”

At the Maryland Summer Jazz Festival, though, it’s a bit more complicated.

‘‘We have an array of talent and ability,” says Herberman. ‘‘It’s a particular challenge.”

Meeting that challenge means providing a variety of instructors. Antoniuk has a staff of 10, including bassist Pepe Gonzalez, a specialist in Afro-Caribbean and Brazilian jazz, and trumpet player Alex Norris, who has toured with Steve Winwood and Miami Sound Machine. ‘‘The first year we had 36 people attending. This year, there will be 110. We’ve almost tripled in size,” the artistic director says. ‘‘For years, vocalists have been asking
to attend, and this year, we’ll have 16 vocal students.”  Antoniuk thinks jazz vocalists are especially eager to come because, when it comes to music as a hobby, singing is particularly low maintenance.

‘‘Everybody can open their mouths and sing; not everybody has a $5,000 saxophone in their basement.

‘‘People who sing in the car and sing in the shower, this is the next step for them. And it’s fun for us to add this angle.”

Instructing those vocalists will be Allison Crockett, a Montgomery County native who lived for years in Brooklyn and signed on to teach after playing a gig with Antoniuk.

‘‘I had just moved back into the area,” says the vocalist, who settled in Potomac earlier this year. ‘‘Right now, I’m primarily a mom and an educator, but I still put out records.”

She puts out a lot of records – the next one drops in the fall – but the pianist-vocalist settles into teaching while the Maryland Summer Jazz Festival is in session.

‘‘I’ve worked with pretty much all ages,” says Crockett, a Sidwell Friends alumna with a bachelor of music degree from Temple University and a master’s from the Manhattan School of Music. ‘‘I was a teaching artist in the New York City public schools for years, so I had to learn about a whole bunch of different types of music.

‘‘I always brought in jazz, though.”

And European classical, rhythm and blues, world music, even hip-hop. Crockett favors an eclectic style, and she’ll bring that sense of ‘‘the bigger picture” to her students.

‘‘Everything that I do informs everything else,” says the jazz singer. ‘‘The understanding of music in depth is something I’m a big proponent of — not just coming in to play around, but having the background as well.”

When it comes to performing, though, Crockett says she’s ‘‘a very off-the-cuff kind of person.

‘‘I’ll have in mind what I’m going to do, but I consider who’s in front of me, the energy of the audience.”

And, in Maryland Summer Jazz Festival tradition, she’s a proponent of having fun.

‘‘Which is the essential element of making music,” she observes. ‘‘If it ain’t fun, why do it?”

Maryland Summer Jazz Festival will hold concerts at 7 p.m. on Fridays, July 18 and 25, in Saint Mark Presbyterian Church, 10701 Old Georgetown Road, Rockville. Tickets are $20, $15 in advance, $5 for children 12 and younger. Call 410-349-1082 or

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