Annual festival emphasizes music education and appreciation
As Stanford Jazz Festival founder Jim Nadel strutted onto the stage on Saturday morning, Dinkelspiel Auditorium fell silent – or as silent as a room of rowdy children can be.
“Is everyone here?” he asked playfully as the bass and drums rhythmically hummed in the background. “Raise your hand…if you’re not here!” The mostly five-year-old crowd laughed, and Nadel, the artistic and executive director of the Festival, began the Early Bird Jazz for Kids program, introducing the different instruments and jazz styles to the young audience.
The music education event was just one of many that make up the annual Stanford Jazz Festival, put on by the nonprofit Stanford Jazz Workshop. Kicking off its 39th season on June 25 with Grammy Award-winning vocalist Luciana Souza, this year’s Festival follows with six weeks of events featuring world-class jazz musicians. In total, 100 artists will perform at 32 events over the summer.
“Every year is better than before,” said Nadel, a lecturer in the music department. “There’s always a new and exciting combination of faculty and musicians. It makes the event very unique.”
‘Excitement in the building’
The campus festival is unique in its emphasis on jazz education and appreciation, as well as performance. The Workshop hosts summer jazz camps where musicians teach participating students workshop-style by day, then gather to perform by night.
“We take really great care of the musicians that come to Stanford,” Nadel said. “There’s that excitement in the building; the students are thrilled to learn from them. So after a week of being in this atmosphere at beautiful Stanford with a great community, we often get peak performances from these musicians.”
Some of the resident musicians, such as New York City saxophonist Patrick Wolff, actually attended the Workshop as teenagers.
“I grew up where there weren’t a whole lot of opportunities to see or play jazz,” Wolff said. “So when I came to the Jazz Workshop in 1993, it was the first time in my life I was able to be surrounded by so many jazz musicians. It basically got the ball rolling for me and got me excited about jazz.”
Wolff, in addition to helping with administration, will be teaching mainly woodwind classes, master classes, private lessons and coaching small ensembles at the Workshop. He has taught there for 10 years.
“The growing number of resources and books out there, in a way, is almost distracting people away from the way jazz was originally taught, which was through oral tradition,” Wolff said. “There aren’t that many places that have this focus anymore. But for us, traditional jazz education is essentially at the heart of our educational model.”
The one-week summer jazz camp is designed for participants ages 12-17, and accommodates students at any level of playing ability. Additional programs include the Jazz Residency, designed for adult musicians of all levels, and the Evening Summer Program, for musicians ages 12 and up.
“Regardless of what level you’re at, when you enter the Workshop, the focus is using your ears,” Wolff said. “It makes the most sense if you’re talking about jazz as being the musical language that it is.”
Continuing in its emphasis on jazz education, the Festival has dedicated key events to young children, including two “Early Bird Jazz for Kids” events.
“I think the study of music teaches kids, and adults, some life skills,” Nadel said. “It shows the value of perseverance, it shows that results come from dedicated practices, it teaches them about teamwork, supporting others, listening, patience and how to communicate with others.”
Behind the activity is a team of musically talented staff, who join to make the programs the enduring events they have become.
The summer he graduated from Stanford in 1972, Nadel started the Workshop, which at the time was a small, student-based organization. Its activities consisted of jam sessions at the old CoHo on Monday nights and Tuesday night discussion groups.
“The jam sessions had already been going on for some time, so the main difference, what truly made it the Stanford Jazz Workshop, were the discussion groups that we had,” Nadel said. “We got people who had heard us on Monday night jam sessions to join us the next day if they were interested in learning more about the music that we played, and that’s how it all grew.”
In 1982, American jazz saxophonist Stan Getz got involved with the Workshop, a newsworthy event because Getz hadn’t been available to teach until going to Stanford.
“The fact that Stan Getz was at Stanford to study with attracted people from all over the world,” Nadel said. “That put us on the map in a bigger way.”
Every year after that, the Workshop doubled until it reached its maximum capacity. A quality model for jazz education evolved, and Nadel and faculty set up a community where various ways of approaching jazz were represented.
“It was a good way of teaching jazz, because it is a music of self-expression and there is no one single way correct to do it,” Nadel said. “Students come and find things in every direction that work for them, which enables them to build their own style and approach. The community model has been a great way to immerse yourself to find your own voice.”
With the flow of musicians gathered on campus every summer for the Workshop, it was natural that they would play at night. So the Workshop began presenting concerts, and soon realized that the concerts were taking on a life of their own. People began going to Stanford just to hear musicians play, and the faculty branded it The Stanford Jazz Festival.
“The Stanford Jazz Festival and the Workshop are linked, they grew up together, but they’re separate entities,” Nadel said.
The SJF will continue through Aug. 7, concluding with homecoming pianist Taylor Eigsti, who will be celebrating his new Concord Jazz recording, Daylight at Midnight.
“I hope that more and more people will realize what a great experience it can be to listen to and play jazz,” Nadel said. “Playing music is good for you and good for the world. It’s a music of democracy, there is freedom but there is responsibility. I think that there are benefits for life on the planet for people listening to and playing this music.”
“I’m hoping what we do at Stanford will ripple out to other communities,” he added.