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When the Stars Align: Summer Jazz Camp

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This year, the U of M Summer Jazz Camp turns twenty, and the stars are aligning in celebration of that milestone! As well as our all-star Winnipeggers—Will Bonness, Derrick Gardner, Quincy Davis, Larry Roy, and Steve and Anna-Lisa Kirby—the camp welcomes three special guests to this year’s faculty.

Saxophonists Jon Gordon and Steve Wilson and trombonist Wycliffe Gordon are among the top players in the jazz world. All have serious performing and recording credits, and all are passionate educators. The Jazz Camp has helped create a vital community of young musicians in this city through its combination of inspiration and supported learning. Kids at every level get exposed to the very highest level of performance, and have ample opportunities to engage with these professional musicians both musically and socially.

The whole community has a chance to soak up the energy as well. This year, the Jazz Camp will host three jam sessions—the Cool Wednesday Night Hang happens every weeknight but Wednesday, so you can drop in at the Orbit Room on Pembina to hear faculty and young musicians on Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday of Jazz Camp week. Expect standing room only!

On Wednesday, August 21, the all-star faculty ensemble will raise the roof at the Muriel Richardson Auditorium at the Winnipeg Art Gallery. (Weather and space have persuaded the organizers to head indoors.) This annual concert is always an inspiration, and a perfect way to spice up a late-summer evening. Tickets are only $25, and the show almost always sells out, so don’t delay.

Of course, parents and friends—and curious jazz lovers—are welcome to troop down to the U of M campus to watch all the young musicians perform on the final Saturday afternoon. It’s incredible how much those kids learn in a single week…

Jon Gordon

by Steve Kirby

I’ve known Jon Gordon since the late 80s when we were both at the Manhattan School of Music. He was probably the first alto player I heard where I truly loved the sound—it’s like liquid gold, fluid and warm.

Jon started playing saxophone when he was about ten, and got into jazz when he heard a Phil Woods recording as a teenager. It wasn’t long til he actually was studying with Woods—who is on record saying Jon is “one of the greatest alto players ever.”

By the time we were at MSM, Jon was one of those players everybody wanted to work with. It was partly that sound and his rhythmic language, but also his friendly, let’s-get-to-it attitude. The list of people he’s performed with goes on for pages, but Maria Schneider is definitely one of his more significant influences. He had a chance to watch the growth and flourishing of one of today’s greatest arranger/composers. Jon’s like a protégé of hers, she speaks very highly of him.

Jon Gordon has received a great deal of critical attention and many awards. In 1996, he won the prestigious Thelonious Monk International Jazz Saxophone Competition, impressing all-star judges Wayne Shorter, Jackie McLean, Joe Lovano, Jimmy Heath, and Joshua Redman. That’s an impressive feat in itself!

He has played all over the world, has five recordings as a leader, and many others as a sideman. He is both a traditionalist and an experimenter, so his language is modern but deep-rooted. Wayne Shorter credits the way he has “embraced the history of his instrument, carrying with it the ability to extend music as a universal language.”

I’m so happy that Jon Gordon will be one of our special faculty members at this year’s Summer Jazz Camp. He will inspire, challenge, and encourage—in just the right measure. I know I’m going to learn a lot, and I can’t wait to see what kind of feats he will perform with all our aspiring young musicians!

Wycliffe Gordon

by Aaron Sabasch

Trombonist Wycliffe Gordon is no stranger to the city of Winnipeg. When he comes in August to teach at the University of Manitoba’s annual Jazz Camp, it will be his third visit since Steve Kirby’s arrival almost 10 years ago.

Born in Waynesboro, Georgia in 1967, Gordon has amassed a very impressive resume throughout his professional career. Cutting his teeth in the Wynton Marsalis Septet and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, he has seventeen CDs as leader, as well as commissioned works by the Apollo Theater in Harlem and the city of Columbus, Ohio, and nine Jazz Journalists awards.

These accolades don’t even begin to scratch the surface of his accomplishments. Aside from his work as a musician and composer, he is also a dedicated and distinguished jazz educator. He’s a member of the Jazz Faculty at the Manhattan School of Music as well as the Band Director’s Academy out of Jazz at Lincoln Center. He’s preparing to release his first method book.

I have had the good fortune of meeting and hearing Gordon play several times, most recently at the 2012 Port Townsend Jazz Workshop in Washington state. I echo Steve Kirby who calls him “the most naturally gifted human being I have ever met.” Gordon is not only a master trombone player but also an incredible trumpeter and vocalist. He also plays piano, bass, drums and a number of woodwind instruments. His technical facility on the trombone is as good as it gets. If you’ve never heard him, you will most certainly be blown away.

As technically proficient as he is, much of his power comes from the feeling he exudes on the bandstand—he embodies what it means to be soulful and swingin’. There’s a certain feeling that jazz musicians from New Orleans and the southern United States bring to their music—they have a very personal relationship with the blues and gospel music. Wycliffe Gordon is no exception and these elements are a big part of his music.

In the masterclasses I’ve attended, I’ve been impressed with the warmth and generosity he brings to the classroom. He is a great teacher who really knows how to deliver information in a succinct and effective way!

Steve Wilson

by Charlene Diehl

Saxophonist Steve Wilson has spent some time in Winnipeg—he’s been on the Asper Jazz Performances stage a few times, including a recent concert with Christian McBride’s Inside Straight band last fall, and he’s shared his gifts as a teacher with students in both the Jazz Studies program and the Summer Jazz Camp at the
U of M.

When Steve picks up his saxophone, you can hear everything that makes him memorable as a person. Wit, curiosity, intelligence, humility, warmth—they’re all on full display, no matter what he’s playing or who he’s playing with. He’s got tremendous facility and a beautiful sound on both the alto and soprano, but it’s his musicality that grabs a listener and won’t let go. Steve Kirby mused once that he’s “more magician than musician”—that seems exactly right.

Steve Wilson established himself as a first-call player in the 80s, and went on to do sustained work with Dave Holland, Chick Corea, and many others. He has recorded several CDs as a leader, many of which feature his own compositions, and performed on hundreds of other recordings as a sideman. His current projects—a quartet (Wilsonian’s Grain), a trio, and three duos, all featuring heavy-hitters, as well as membership in ensembles led by Christian McBride, Maria Schneider, Buster Williams, Mulgrew Miller, and more—show the range of his musical appetite and aptitude, as well as the high regard the jazz community has for him.

Steve is a sought-after teacher and clinician, and has won awards as an educator. That’s not surprising to me. He’s one of those genuine people who listens well and respects everyone, regardless of where they are on a learning path. I have no doubt he will inspire this year’s Jazz Camp attendees with his brilliant playing, and he will encourage them to surpass their own goals with his patient, astute advice. Our next generation of jazz musicians is in good hands!


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