Out In the Woods

Summer camp is a great way to get the kids out of the house so that mom and dad can have a little quality time together. It’s also a great way for the little ones to see the world from a different perspective than the one they’d get if they went camping with mom and dad, something that could prove helpful in future forays in the “real” world.

My own experience with summer camp took two forms: (1) a one-week excursion as a boy scout at Camp Royeneh (pronounced “roy-en-ay”) and (2) five one-month long stays at the University of the Pacific’s music camp held on their Stockton, California, campus. While the music camp, with its orchestra, concert band, choir, jazz band, and composition classes, stimulated my interest in what I knew was going to be my life-long passion and career, its institutional setting in the auditoriums, class rooms, and dormitories of the university was slightly at odds with the idea of “camp.” I found myself wondering why something like UOP’s music camp couldn’t occur in the great outdoors. Of course, there were examples of music camps taking place in bucolic settings (Tanglewood, Lexington School of Jazz in the Berkshires), but I wasn’t yet aware of them.

I first heard about the Cazadero Music Camp in 1969 through a high school friend, bassist and composer Joey Holiday, but was never able to attend any of its sessions. The camp, a part of the Cazadero Family Camp network, is held in the redwoods in Northern California, not far from Camp Royeneh. The camp offers instruction in orchestral, concert band, and jazz band performance, conducting, composition, and theory training, as well as piano and guitar instruction. At one time adult and children divisions were available during the last week of its month-long session, but these fell by the wayside due to attrition (although the children’s program has been reinstated as part of a public school outreach effort). Holiday was exuberant in his description of the camp and how it had a jazz, as well as a traditional classical, component—like UOP, only out in the woods. I spent the rest of my time in high-school wondering about whether I should try to switch my music camp affiliation to Cazadero or continue with UOP, which offered me work scholarships every year. But I never did the switch, so, when I was asked to teach at the 29th session of Jazz Camp West, I jumped at the prospect. Imagine my surprise when I found out that JCW rose from the embers of the defunct Cazadero adult/children’s camp!

Dancer, visual artist, psychologist, and arts organizer Stacy Hoffman was an adult Cazadero camper who went there for jazz dance classes and, after hearing the music, became a jazz aficionado. When the adult program at Cazadero bellied up, she took action and, together with pianist/composer/educator Ellen Hoffman (no relation) and drummer Eddie Marshall and his wife, Sue Trupin, founded JCW near Santa Cruz, California. Marshall (who passed away last year) was well respected in the jazz community and was able to enlist stellar jazz artists and educators to join JCW’s rotating faculty. This year the roster has 50 instructors, which includes Stacy Hoffman, who teaches a class on performance anxiety, and JCW’s co-director, vocalist Madeline Eastman. Hoffman and Eastman have been working together on the current version of JCW for at least 18 years and have put together a fine curriculum to serve their campers. Each instructor is autonomous but well monitored by the camp’s directorship and its artist-in-residence. (This year’s is guitarist Bruce Forman.) The campers also assess their experience with instructors in end-of-camp evaluation forms. Beyond that, it’s up to the instructor to bring in something to show the campers, many of whom have been attending the camp for several years.

Because all of the camp instructors are also performers, or have performing experience, there are nightly concerts for the first four nights and student presentations for the last two. On the day between the last faculty concert and the first student presentation, there is an all-camp outing to a natural amphitheater called “Indian Bowl.” A special event is held there that includes a consecration of the site (this year by a representative of the Blackfoot nation), followed by music, theatrical presentations, and dancing. The emcee for the event, Brazilian-born pianist/composer Jovino Santos Neto, has been teaching at JCW for well over a decade. All of the music he introduced and performed at this event was programmatically, but sincerely, dedicated to the connection of humanity with the Earth. Even the comical “Trombonia,” a theatrical piece that has been evolving over the life of the camp, was based on the idea. I had requested a shot at presenting a bass trio comprised of myself and the other two bass instructors, Todd Sickafoos and Saúl Sierra, at one of the faculty concerts. I was told that all of the slots were filled, but that a bass trio performed at the Indian Bowl at JCW-28 and many of the campers and staff hoped it would become a tradition, so we performed “Witchi Tai To” by the Native American saxophonist Jim Pepper. It turned out that most of the people there knew the piece and we had a rather nice sing-along. At first I thought it was a little hokey, but something clicked the next day when one of the camp staging crew, who are also musicians and perform regularly at camp events, began to tell me about some of the history of the camp from a “hippie-dippy” humanist perspective. The gentleman is an excellent electric guitarist, playing mostly in the rock-n-roll idiom, but has been coming to JCW for the last ten years. He is currently earning his Ph.D. in physics, but intends to keep playing music as an integral part of his life after he receives the degree. He pointed out what has been staring me in the face since I arrived here; that this particular camp has a core group of campers that look at jazz, mambo, samba, funk, and spoken word music to be synonymous with living. Some of the campers I’ve spoken with are first-timers who want to learn how to perform better by taking classes with the skilled faculty. Some of them return to continue their studies, but some—the core groups—include this week as part of their reason to live. There are a few baby carriages going from class-to-class on the camp trails and at least one family has children who have spent 1/52nd of their lives at JCW. (And they play really good!)

Certainly, not all of the campers are proficient improvisers and performers. Some really need to take the classes offered, but some are very good performers who are here to gain a deeper understanding of what music, especially jazz, means to our species and how to best go about keeping the meaning of music in line with a good life. This part of JCW seems to be infectious and keeps the faculty coming back. Last year’s artist-in-residence, Allison Miller, has returned as a regular faculty member. Like Miller, many of the faculty and crew are from the East Coast and, for them, the air fare eats up far more than half of their stipend. Some of the faculty based on the West Coast, such as pianist Art Lande, trombonist Wayne Wallace, and percussionist John Santos, have been here since the camp’s inception. Others have taught at JCW a few times before, while others, like pianist Peggy Stern, guitarist Bruce Forman, bassist Todd Sickafoos, and myself, are here for the first time and hope to return as part of the camp’s rotating core faculty.

The guitarist from the crew I spoke with explained that the camp’s non-institutional environment and the lack of age limitations are what make the camp unique in this way. I would add that the lack of emphasis on jazz vs. funk vs. mambo vs. samba vs. hip-hop is a contributing factor. But probably the single most important factor in fostering this sense of community among the campers and faculty is the lack of cell phone service and difficulty in accessing the internet. We’re living in a world that, technologically speaking, lacks the most ubiquitous advances in communications in the last 25 years. If one wants to make a phone call, there are two pay phones one can walk to. I can’t even say what the stroke of luck is that allowed me an opportunity to send this entry, but I can’t send any photos or clips until I get back to “civilization,” which I enquote not to express myself as a Luddite, but to admit that I’ve found that talking to someone without having a cell phone to respond to is a bit more civil than the constant checking for messages and emails that typifies my social interactions at home.

As I mentioned last week, I’ve been teaching three courses and they’re going swimmingly well, although I was a little surprised to find myself with 10 students ranging in ages from 17 to 68! I was also surprised to see these students disappear from the class after a day or two and be replaced by new students. At first I was a little concerned, but have found out that this is the norm here. Students find what resonates with their interests and adjust their schedules accordingly. It is worth noting that the administrative staff takes special care to make sure that the course offerings are scheduled to optimize the campers’ chances.

I’m not trying to lessen the experience of summer camps like UOP or Cazadero. Their 28-day goal-oriented immersion programs centered around a schedule of rehearsal, practice, and study that could take up ten or more hours of the camper’s day (except on Sundays, when concerts took place). I wouldn’t trade a single day of my UOP experience and recommend the camp highly to anyone between the ages of 12 and 18 who has an aptitude for and an interest in pursuing the discipline of music. But Jazz Camp West has come upon a way of running a music camp that caters to learning jazz by listening to and playing jazz rather than taking classes. Jam sessions are held in two official camp locations every night and there are several “private” sessions held by campers around the site. I can’t go into too much detail about these sessions, except to say that music is made until well into the wee hours of the morning, which is what time it is now. My slot for sending this off is going to close soon, so until next week…

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4 thoughts on “Out In the Woods

  1. Ellen Rosenthal

    Nice blog, Ratzo. I’m impressed at your ability to write something so cogent and complete given the late hour!

    I really appreciated your teaching and meeting you.
    best,
    Ellen Rosenthal

    Reply
  2. Rosaura

    Thank you so much for coming to Jazz Camp West and sharing your time, talent, smile and laugh with us! Enjoyed reading your perspective on our beloved Jazz Camp West! And hope you can join us again and again! ~rosaura aka rosie :)

    Reply
  3. DJ Hamouris

    Ratzo — welcome to the Jazz Camp West family! I loved hearing your classes outside the camp store window. Looking forward to having you come back, soon.
    DJ

    Reply
  4. jeffrey burr

    right on Ratzo, I’m glad you were there! Thanks to you and Lorca for doing my little faculty showcase dealy.

    Reply

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