Forty years ago, a group of dedicated music educators at UMass Amherstt developed a program that connects students learning jazz with the country’s top jazz artists and educators. The two-week, intensive program is called Jazz in July and provides an in-depth study in the art of improvisation. 

Producer Dave Fraser spent a day on campus in Amherst to learn more about the program. 

Learn more about the history of the Jazz in July experience in a digital exclusive segment. 

Read the full transcription:

Zydalis Bauer, Connecting Point: Forty years ago, a group of dedicated music educators at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst developed a program that connects students learning jazz with the country’s top jazz artists and educators for an intensive two-week study in improvisation.

They called the program Jazz in July, and producer Dave Fraser spent a day on the university’s campus this past summer to find out more.

Dave Fraser, Connecting Point: For two weeks this summer, the halls and auditoriums at the UMass Fine Arts Center were filled with rhythms, harmonies, and vocal inflections. Each room had its own jam session as students took part in group clinics, jazz theory, improvisation training, and ensemble coaching.

Jeff Holmes, Jazz in July: There are a number of musicians here that have a passion for the music, and they cannot get that out of them.

Dave Fraser: Jeff Holmes is the artistic director of the Jazz in July program.

He, along with other faculty, play an integral part by providing feedback and sharing their experiences with those in attendance.

Jeff Holmes, Artistic Director: We’re not expecting them to be necessarily at a particular rung – what it is, is to show them what they can do to go — go take that next step up.

And you see the development through the one week, if they only come for one week, but you especially see it if they stay for the two weeks.

Dave Fraser: The program dates back to the early 1980s when, during his nearly 20-year leadership of the Fine Arts Center at UMass, Director Emeritus Dr. Frederick C. Tillis, along with other great musicians, wanted to ensure that jazz music had a place of prominence on campus, along with making it the center home to regular performances by world class musicians.

Jeff Holmes: Jazz is, as Dr. Fredrick Tillis used to say, is America’s classical music, because it really it has its roots in the musicians that founded that language here.

So, it’s — it felt as though it was a perfect fit.

Dave Fraser: The students, who are primarily high school and college age, get paired into small instrumental ensembles. Here, they work on pieces of music that they will perform at the end of the week.

Weldon Hendricks lives in Athol.

Weldon Hendricks, Jazz in July Student: I’m a master electrician — I have owned my own company, and after a career doing that, I decided to take this guitar plan as far as I could get it.

You don’t walk away with anything — it’s not magic. You don’t come here and become a jazz –jazz cat. They give you the — the ammunition.

Dave Fraser: Susie Johnson is from Lunenburg, and this was her third year attending.

Susie Johnson, Jazz in July Student: As far as just playing with people itself, like during like the combo rehearsals and big band rehearsals, I just love that, like, I’m just so like in the moment and just enjoying myself and just love playing music.

Dave Fraser: The Vocal Jazz Soloist program offers singers a supportive environment to explore concepts of jazz phrasing and rhythms, as well as vocal improvisation and scat singing. Vocal participants rehearse and perform with a faculty trio.

Beatrice Cody discovered her love of singing just recently.

Beatrice Cody, Jazz in July Student: I discovered my passion for singing in 2017, which was rather late. I’m 50 now, so that was late in my life. Discovering singing really aligned me as a human being. I discovered my voice in many areas. I suddenly found that I was able to express myself where I was afraid to speak up at other times in my life before I discovered singing.

So, in an interesting way, it kind of was the missing piece for me.

Jeff Holmes: To watch a person who had very little language skills as far as Improvisation was concerned on a Monday get up there on Friday and step forward and confidently take a solo — to watch that energy happen, watch the individual be able to take those steps forward, it’s quite an accomplishment. That’s the reward for me most — most of the time is just to see how much they grow and how much it becomes their own individual story for us to listen to and share.