by Emma Simpson
Saxophonist, educator, and Program Director of New York Jazz Academy Javier Arau puts Duke’s Place on over the speakers in Stage 1. As students and enter the room, he welcomes each one to the space by name. He stops the song, cleans his glasses and poses the question: “How do we listen to music?”
Rachel Valenich starts off the conversation, “I’m always seeking inspiration which is why I am drawn to jazz. I’m so insanely inspired by people’s ability to be free, to play, to just have fun.”
“I’m listening for what makes me feel something,” sax student Carlo Patella adds. Pianist Shai Chiappetta explains, “I’m listening to stuff that’s going to hit differently, I’m in the mood to hear things I’ve never heard before.”
Guitarist George Engelhard describes his daily music flow: in the morning he listens to Japanese harp and flute. Then he listens to the songs he’s practicing; the listening becomes more focused. After lunch: Chet Baker and Art Pepper. At the end of the day, he listens to the Blues. He says, “It structures my day and follows my emotions. I’m listening to different versions of songs and showing my grandsons classical music!”
Over the next hour they’re going to listen to the three songs they’re learning this week, starting with Duke’s Place. Javier instructs them to, “exist with the music. Ask questions. Be curious,” then hits play.
As they listen, feet count beats. Students close their eyes. Some tap their hands on their legs, some take notes. They grunt when they hear something that hits them emotionally. The song plays just until Ella Fitzgerald comes in with “an almost heavy metal scream” (Javier). Then Javier opens up the floor. “What did you hear?”
Rachel says Ella is “imitating the trumpets that come before her.” The group talks about when the tom drums come in, how the trumpets enter, and how long it takes them to actually get to playing the melody of the tune. It’s clear how important listening is to playing.
Javier closes the master class by saying, “We put jazz into a box but jazz never puts itself into a box, so you are free to play how you want and have fun with it. Music knows no boundaries.” They break for 15 minutes and get ready to practice the songs they’ve been listening to.
Educator David Engelhard leads the rehearsal with joy and a wide smile. They’re practicing improvisation! Vocalists trade verses, guitars and pianos trade comping, drummers trade between the set, congas, and vibes. I can hear how they’re imitating what they heard earlier and trying to combine it with what’s in their hearts. After rehearsal I talked with one of the drummers in the ensemble to learn more about him.
Camillo Aristizabal is going into his senior year of highschool. He sits behind the drum kit and takes the cymbals off one by one. To Camillo, playing jazz started out as “just something to do. I started listening and was like ‘there’s this whole world’! I truly like to play.”
When he gets older, Camillo wants to be a music teacher. His favorite part of camp? Meeting new players! The most challenging thing about camp? Maintaining proper posture and technique. The biggest thing he’s learned? “It’s about listening as much as it is about playing, if not more.”
Being with New York Jazz Academy reminded me why music is so important to human beings: it shapes our days, fills our hearts, and gives meaning to our lives. It was a privilege to be with the instructors and students. Find out more about New York Jazz Academy and their next available intensives here!