On my last day in San Diego before returning to a frozen Indiana, I have a few minutes to reflect on the Jazz Education Network Conference that I was able to be a part of this weekend. I’ve been a member of the board for four years now and was able to help grow the organization and create a research track for the conference. This year was the 6th annual conference held over the course of four days at the Manchester Grand Hyatt in San Diego. Of course, being in San Diego in January while the Midwest was under one of the Arctic Blast spells was a big advantage. But in addition, being among over 3,500 musicians, educators, professionals, and anything else related to jazz is an even bigger blast. There are too many things to see with three to four events usually going on simultaneously, so my perspective is only a small snippet of what was offered, but I’m sure there are plenty of pictures and posts under the hashtag #JEN15 out there for more info and impressions.
Here are some of my highlights:
1. Herbie Hancock provided a powerful keynote address on how our education system is broken in terms of delivery means from top to bottom. We have to find new ways to share and create information that include everyone and help everyone to learn in a creative way – yes, Herbie!
2. Jazz Research – yes, that’s right jazz research – I was able to bring in about 30 presentations on a wide variety of research topis and also present some discussion panels on resources and best practices. The information that is gathered helps us further this art form in a more directed way, set goals, find new audiences and directions, and is crucial for moving all directions of jazz into the future. It was fantastic to see the interest and the great work that’s being done – more to come!
3. The JENerations Jazz Festival – school groups come in to perform for clinicians and get feedback on their performance and directions to improve their skills. I got to be a clinician for one of the groups and help shape some of their improvisational language. They already played on a high level with sophisticated music and it is wonderful to see more and more get involved and excited about performing and sharing jazz.
4. The Jam Sessions – every night I helped lead the jam session gatherings in the lobby bar. These jam sessions are usually quite different from club sessions as there are thousands of professional jazz musicians gathered in one place and everyone who sits in is of the highest caliber. I got to play with Gene Perla, Brad Goode, Brian Lynch, Sherry Luchette – to name just a few. And everyone came in with great camaraderie, happy to share and make music – even if it’s tough to keep going early the next morning.
5. The Performances and Clinics – too many to name, but two that stood out specifically for me was the solo piano performance by Michael Abene who displayed a high level of concentration and improvisation close to a Keith Jarrett concert and of course Trio Collective – with our own Bloomington talents Evan Main, Stefan Lenthe, and Chris Parker. I introduced them to each other in 6th grade and they have been performing together ever since winning the Down Beat Award for best High School Combo this year.
It’s an exhausting weekend and it’s a labor-intensive event to put together. JEN is an all-volunteer driven organization and it is mind-boggling how much work these volunteers put into making the conference run smoothly. Is it worth it? Yes, every minute – and many new initiatives are in the making for everyone – hope you can join us in 2016 in Louisville, January 5-9, see you there!