New Orleans offers its locals and visitors an incredible variety of live music nightly, but we never forget our roots. The city is the birthplace of jazz, or as author John McCusker says, the “Cradle of Jazz.” While jazz has evolved and grown since the early days in Faubourg Treme and Storyville, a group of local musicians have made it their mission to keep the flames of old-school, traditional jazz burning. They’ve found a great way to preserve and nurture traditional jazz, by holding a “band camp” for adults in the French Quarter.
The New Orleans Traditional Jazz Camp is the brainchild of three members of New Orleans Women in Music: Leslie Cooper, Banu Gibson, and Anita Hemeter. Their plan is to bring together musicians from around the world who are interested in learning to play “traditional” New Orleans jazz, or who want to continue to develop their skills. The campers stay for a week in town, working with some of the best jazz players around, spending evenings jamming, hitting the clubs, and having good times. Cap it all off with a concert to wrap up the week, and you’ve got a fantastic experience for all.
It all starts next Sunday, June 9, for the first session, and July 28 for the second session. The camp faculty jams while everyone gathers for a meet-and-greet cocktail party at camp HQ, the Bourbon Orleans Hotel. Each day begins with a hour-long breakfast meeting, where guest speakers address the campers. Individual and group music lessons are held until lunchtime at noon. Group ensembles gather after lunch, and work until dinnertime. Campers are on their own for dinner, so they can explore New Orleans’ dining scene based on their own taste buds. The group gathers back together after dinner for more music, and to go out later in the evening. The week wraps up with a public concert on Friday evening.
The faculty for the New Orleans Traditional Jazz Camp is an all-star group. Banu Gibson and Leah Chase cover vocals; Matt Perrine on bass and tuba; Kerry Lewis and James Singleton teach bass; David Sager does trombone; Otis Bazoon, Ray Moore and Dan Levinson cover reeds; David Boeddinghaus and Steve Pistorious on the piano; Katie Cavera teaches banjo/guitar; Connie Jones and Ed Polcer cover trumpet; and Gerald French on drums. Guest lecturers and speakers will include David Sager, John McCusker and John Joyce. The faculty put together lead sheets and albums of the music they’ll work on with the campers, and those are sent out about a month before the sessions begin.
Tuition for the 2013 sessions of the NOTJC is $1,750 per session. Discounts were offered for early payment-in-full, and those discounts will likely be offered again for the 2014 sessions. If you’re looking ahead to signing up next year, the first session will be held June 8-14, 2014. The camp is for adults only—you must be between the ages of 18 and 101 to attend.
It sounds so cliché to say that music is the “heart and soul of New Orleans,” but there are times when the cliché is spot-on accurate. Gibson, Cooper, and Hemeter are not only working hard to preserve the roots of jazz in New Orleans, they’re doing it in a way that is fun, exciting, and creates lasting memories.
Check out these new skills from one of the 2012 class’ final performance!
Edward Branley is the author of New Orleans: The Canal Streetcar Line, Brothers of the Sacred Heart in New Orleans, and Maison Blanche Department Stores, in Arcadia Publishing’s Images of America series. His latest book, Legendary Locals of New Orleans, is available at bookstores and online. He is owner of Yatmedia LLC (Social Media for Social Justice), and is @Yatpundit on Twitter.