MSJ in the News

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Challenging Chops
Maryland Summer Jazz sharpens pitches and students

by Topher Forhecz, Staff Writer

Jazz is a "trial by fire" style of music. A student can be taught to have a discerning ear, to understand improvisation and to switch between keys. But the only way to master the skills is through playing with others. With its summer program of camps and performances led by seasoned professionals, Maryland Summer Jazz (MSJ) offers both new and experienced players means to avoid the burn.

"One of the main tenets of jazz teaching is we kind of put them [students] in the deep water, we give them the tools that they need, put them in the deep water [and tell them] 'now swim,'" vocalist Alison Crockett says.

Now in its seventh year, MSJ camps run today through July 22 and then again from July 27 to 29 at Saint Mark Presbyterian Church in Rockville. Sponsored by Chuck Levin's Washington Muisc Center, Roland and the Legacy Hotel, the camp's faculty covers instruments from horns to drums.

Crockett, who moved to the area five years ago from New York City, has taught at MSJ for more than three years. An adjunct professor of voice at George Washington University, she has performed with acid jazz groups like Us3 as well as recorded her own material, including "On Becoming a Woman" in 2004. Currently, she is working on an album with her brother, who is her producer.

Maryland Summer Jazz FestivalCourtesy Maryland Summer Jazz Jeff Antoniuk helped create Maryland Summer Jazz as a way for adult players to sharpen their skills and find fellow musicians. MSJ is now in its seventh year.

When Crockett teaches MSJ workshops, she will do it in a style akin to master classes. In the beginning, students will review voice concepts. She selects pieces that illuminate various facets of jazz music. From there, students will perform individually, with both Crockett and the workshop members offering critiques. Crockett says these can range from trying to help a performer feel comfortable on stage to working on advanced phrasing.

In any case, it is a learning experience for everyone involved.

"Sometimes at a private lesson, you don't get the opportunity to have the feedback from other people, and so [here] the other participants will comment and their comments on that individual's singing will teach them because the student teaches the teacher," Crockett says. "You learn when you give comments to other people because you have to be able to verbalize it."

After the students have had their time working with professionals, they are invited to perform at Saint Mark's. Two MSJ shows, this Friday and next, start at 7 p.m. with a student concert, followed by the faculty performance at 8:15 p.m. On Friday, Crockett will play, along with guitarist Steve Rochinski and bassist Tom Baldwin. A third concert, featuring vocalist Felicia Carter and MSJ co-founder Jeff Antoniuk, will take place on July 26 at Bohemian Caverns in N.W. Washington, D.C.

Antoniuk, a saxophone player who tours with his group the Jazz Update, is no stranger to leading classes. He regularly teaches workshops for the Washington Performing Arts Society. Before he and co-founder Paula Phillips created MSJ, Antoniuk says that few options were available for older players.

"In a jazz improvising setting, there really was nothing I could refer them to. There wasn't anything set up for adults; it's [music camps] really set up for band camp for kids," he says.

Since MSJ's start seven years ago, Antoniuk says he has seen the program grow to the point that students from 16 states will attend. As he is a regular on the jazz scene, he has enlisted his friends including his fellow members of the Jazz Update to teach the classes. Many of the instructors are also accredited professors.

Antoniuk says some individuals register just days before the start, adding that interested parties shouldn't be intimated by higher skill levels.

"The great part about jazz is that we are improvising, which is the hallmark of jazz, absolutely," Antoniuk says. "We often have folks [students] who don't read music. It's fine, it's like you could teach poetry to someone who doesn't read or write."

The staff includes musicians such as trumpeter John D'earth, who has worked with musicians from Miles Davis to Dave Matthews. Saxophonist Fred Lipsius, originally of Blood, Sweat & Tears, also has played with Simon and Garfunkel and Thelonious Monk. He will teach an elective on understanding the piano.

"When we look historically back, he's [Lipsius] one of the most important people that sort of brought jazz and rock together," Antoniuk says. "When Jimi Hendrix and Miles Davis and all that stuff was brewing in the '60s and '70s, it was really that band [Blood, Sweat & Tears], and specifically Fred, that made those contributions."

Antoniuk says Lipsius believes that knowledge of the piano can inform musicians who play other instruments.

"The piano is such an important instrument because it's all laid out in front of you. When you play guitar or when you play saxophone, all the patterns are sort of in your head or in your fingers," Antoniuk says.

Trombonist Greg Boyer will teach an elective on shifting between keys. A Bryans Road native who currently resides in Columbia, he began playing professionally as a teenager before dropping out of college and performing with George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic in 1978. His ride with P-Funk continued until 1996. He also regularly performed with Maceo Parker, who introduced him to Prince and the New Power Generation Band, with whom he began working in 2002. He has contributed to albums such as "3121" as well as tours. Since Prince downsized, cutting out the horn section for the time being, Boyer has been performing with his own groups, the stripped down The Greg Boyer Peloton and the funkier, improvisitionally-driven Pocket Jazz. He also performs monthly with go-go godfather Chuck Brown.

Although this is Boyer's first time with MSJ, he has contributed to other camps.

"I actually just finished my second summer of the Capital Jazz camp for the 9- to 14-year-olds over in Georgetown," he says.

For his elective, Boyer will address the difficulties players run into when someone takes a song and shifts its key. Over the years, Boyer has developed a technique to adjust quickly.

"With each chord or each note in the scale, there's a number," he explains. "That's how you get flat sevens and minor thirds and stuff. It uses that same principle. You just figure out what the amount of transposition there is and figure that number out, say, if you're playing in C and you want to transpose to F, that's up a fourth, so basically use four as your basis. You just do everything with a four on it."

With MSJ, Antoniuk and faculty hope to sharpen students' minds and pitches, and entertain audiences as well.


Maryland Summer Jazz runs through July 29. Jazz camps run today through July 22 and July 27 through July 29 at Saint Mark Presbyterian Church, 10701 Old Georgetown Road, Rockville. Concerts are scheduled for this Friday and Friday, July 29 at Saint Mark Presbyterian Church. Both shows feature a student concert at 7 p.m. and all-stars concert at 8:15 p.m. Tickets are $20, $15 in advance, and $5 for children 12 and younger. An additional show is set for 8 p.m. and 10 p.m. July 26 at Bohemian Caverns, 2001 11th St., Washington, D.C., N.W. Tickets are $22, $18 in advance. For concert tickets go to Visit



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