Thursday, October 3, 2019

"Inspired to Reach for a Higher Level" - International Jazz Meeting, Zagreb 2019 - A Teacher's Perspectives

Alamo Colleges faculty member saxophonist Brian Christensen accompanied student Fernando Munoz to the annual international jazz meeting, the "pearl beyond price" that is the capstone event of the A-JAM mentorship program. The 2019 meeting was held in Zagreb, Croatia. 

Below, Brian shares his thoughts about the experience,  from which he returned "inspired to reach for a higher level of performance, not only as a jazz musician, but as a teacher as well." Auditions for the A-JAM program in 2020 are coming up in November 2019. Be sure to let your students and colleagues know about the program. It could be you taking part next year! 

The IASJ Jazz Meeting was an eye-opening experience for me. The meeting brought talented jazz students and faculty from music schools in the United States, Europe, and South America to Zagreb, Croatia for an intense week of jazz performance and discussion. While the players were from diverse locations, and while they may have spoken many different languages, all of them could get together and communicate using the language of jazz.

The morning of the first day of the meeting was full of student auditions. Students were called up on stage to perform with each other on a piece of their choosing. Based on these performances, students were put into six different combos that would perform on last two nights of the week. Interestingly, the combo selection wasn’t necessarily made based on who the strongest players were on each instrument. They were chosen based on who the faculty felt would play the best with each other. 

Once the combos were made, the students went off to different rooms to work on their music along with faculty members who would serve as coaches. They spent about three hours a day working on their material, most of which was original works composed by the students, in preparation for two nights of concerts at the end of the week.

While I had anticipated that the students would all be very good improvisers, the level of their composing skills was a bit surprising to me. There were several fantastic student compositions played on the last two nights of concerts.  A major difference between this conference and the music in the South Texas region is that there was more focus on playing with modal music with more open forms, and even free improvisation at this meeting. The South Texas jazz scene is more geared towards the performance of jazz standards from the first half of the twentieth century, and there are few places where you would hear modal music and free improvisation, so the focus of jazz education is usually on learning those standard jazz tunes. Hearing these young players who are already working on creating their own compositions makes me think that some of my jazz improvisation lessons should involve encouraging my students to start composing their own music as well.

The nightly jam sessions Zagreb’s Jazz and Cabaret Club allowed the students and teachers to interact by playing jazz standards as well as giving them the opportunity to talk and get to know one another.  In general, the players on stage were welcoming and open to each other, and the level of playing was very high with many great solos each night. There was also plenty of inspiring conversation that went late into the evening. Not surprisingly, we all had to be reminded to leave at “closing time” to allow the staff at the night club to go home. 

To me some of the most memorable parts of the meeting were the “Ongoing Dialogues” that were held each day.  There were interesting presentations on the musical history of Croatia and introducing Serbia-based jazz trumpet player and composer Dusko Goykovich. Two presentations were focused on jazz/rock fusion and improvisation in rock and roll, and these were followed by interesting discussions with Dave Liebman, who was intimately involved with jazz/rock fusion along with Miles Davis.  There was also a very informative presentation analyzing jazz “Real Books” to drive home the point that there are many inaccuracies in these fake books and that students and teachers should go to original sources, listen to recordings, and figure out what the correct changes and melodies are for each song. It’s ok for a performer to choose to play a piece in their own way, but they should at least be aware of the how the original music was played before they make the piece their own.

There was also plenty of discussion around the many issues that are being faced by jazz schools today.  It was interesting to hear that many of the issues facing larger and more prestigious jazz schools are similar to the ones faced by smaller schools.  Recognizing young players who may not have traditional musical skills but who have great musical talent and desire to learn and making sure they are included in the system is an issue that we all face. Many young players today are used to processing music differently from older performers, yet many institutions keep their focus on ways of performing that go back centuries. Hearing how other music schools are dealing with issues like the inability of many students to read music well made me aware of the fact that we need to adjust our expectations and change our approach to teaching students who are talented, but may be weak sight-readers or have no prior knowledge of music theory.

The morning masterclasses were a treat for me. Teachers and students spent some time working on being better performers on their own instruments, and for Fernando and me, our masterclass teacher was none other than Dave Liebman! We did lots of work on sound, breathing, and embouchure, and our last lesson was on time and rhythm. These are aspects that we can all continue to improve, and it was great to hear the information on sound and embouchure coming directly from a student of Joe Allard as well as thoughts from all of the other saxophonists in attendance.

 Another highlight for me was the teacher’s concert, which took place on the second night of the week. It was great to hear all of the teachers perform, and the combo that I played in chose to perform one of my original pieces! They played it so well that I wish there had been a recording of it. I won’t forget the feeling of having such a fantastic group performing one of my songs!

I would like to thank Dr Cartwright, Alamo Colleges, and the A-JAM Jazz Mentorship program for giving Fernando Munoz and me the incredible opportunity to attend the IASJ Jazz Meeting in Zagreb. The week was intense, with many great performances and discussions on jazz. After meeting, hearing, and playing with so many great jazz players, I have come back inspired to reach for a higher level of performance, not only as a jazz musician, but as a teacher as well. - Brian Christensen

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

A-JAM Combo 2019 to Perform at JazzSAlive

For the first time ever, our A-JAM Jazz Mentorship combo is to perform at the prestigious JazzSAlive festival. That's this weekend, Friday and Saturday September 20 and 21 at Travis Park. This is a huge honor. Kudos to all involved!

Congrats to A-JAM alumni Fernando Munoz Jr.Liam Dixon, and their bandmates! And congratulations to their teacher mentors, Brian Christensen and Joe Caploe. See you there! #alamocolleges #jazz #mentorship #sanantonio #festival

Monday, September 16, 2019

A-JAM Auditions, November 25, 2019!

November 25, 2019 - 5pm
Palmetto Center for the Arts Rehearsal Hall (Palmetto 152)
By Appointment Only
Open to All Alamo Colleges Students

A-JAM - Alamo Jazz Allstars Mentoship
Katchie Cartwright, PhD, Program Director / 210-486-4828
More information is at

Prepare 2 contrasting jazz pieces (of your choice)
Bring 3 copies of your written music
Scales/arpeggios: major and minor, all keys
Sight-reading: chordal (lead sheet), rhythmic, & melodic

Successful completion of basic course in improvisation
Bring transcripts, unofficial are fine

One lucky A-JAM student is invited to the annual meeting of the International Association of Schools of Jazz (IASJ) to perform with students and professional musicians from all over the world.

Featured in the photograph above is Fernando Muñoz, A-JAM allstar who represented Alamo Colleges at IASJ, Zagreb, Croatia. Read about his journey on the A-JAM blog.

Thursday, September 5, 2019

"I felt myself getting better" - Student's Perspective on the International Jazz Meeting in Zagreb

Read the thoughts and reflections of Fernando Munoz, our 2019 A-JAM student representative at the international jazz meeting, which was held in Croatia this year.  Watch for Nando on the San Antonio jazz scene, as he incorporates some of what he learned through A-JAM in his local musical practice.We are proud of his accomplishments and wish him the best in his future endeavors. Here's what he wrote...
"As a San Antonio musician, I saw A-JAM as an opportunity to test myself with the best young jazz musicians from around the world. Although it was humbling at times, that is exactly what I was able to do. Zagreb, Croatia is an amazing city with centuries-old buildings and historic cathedrals. At a first glance, Croatia, which was a part of the former Communist Yugoslavia, is the last place I’d expect to see a thriving jazz scene, but to my amazement the Zagreb nightlife is alive with music and culture, and the greatest American art form, JAZZ takes center stage. There are several nightclubs designed for jazz music and live performances. The people of Zagreb have a great appreciation of the art form. 

As for the International Association of Schools of Jazz (IASJ) conference, but for a very few, every student there was a great musician. They were all very passionate about jazz and enjoyed playing their instrument. Each musician seemed to be on the same page, each of us were there to learn and work to get better. The master classes with David Liebman were simply amazing. He has an extensive jazz background and he shared stories of his experiences on the road with Miles Davis. He taught us new techniques and shortcuts to use for practice. He explained the best and worst practice habits.  Individually, he taught some things I’ve never heard of before, but in using them, I’ve felt myself getting better.

The IASJ teaching staff was great as well. Each teacher was a great musician from all over the world. One of the greatest things about the conference was that the teachers hung out with the students at the end of each day. All of the staff spent time telling their stories about their musical journey and giving advice as well.

The conference started with a David Leibman concert and was followed by registration the next morning. The audition was on the afternoon of the second day, and it was used mostly to see how advanced each musician was. Almost all students were placed into talent-equal combos with as much diversity as possible. The combo I was placed in had students from Argentina, Finland, Germany, Israel, Italy, and America. The combo rehearsals were very good; each combo had its own teacher. The staff really emphasized that improvisation was a big part of every performance. We also had sectionals; Dave Leibman was a very vocal in the saxophone sectionals, giving amazing feedback, tips and asking questions of the students.

At the end of each day, many of the students attended the local jazz clubs to participate in the jam sessions. The jam sessions were cool as well. Many great tunes were called, and I knew most of them. However, there were some tunes called I hadn’t played before. As for the top ten list, only a few of those tunes were called out to play. What was really different about the Croatian jam sessions compared to the San Antonio jam sessions, were that many of the called songs featured vocalists, and the jazz vocalists there were extremely talented. Performing at the jam sessions was a fun and educational experience; the jazz club patrons loved the music and were very supportive.

As time neared for the combo concerts, students were practicing on their own, in small combos and together after hours. Each combo had their own originals and created their own takes on some of the standards. There were some really good originals, which definitely inspired me to start writing my own material.  The combo concerts were held on the last two nights of the week. Every student was excited to perform and show their skill to the teachers and classmates. The combo concerts were amazing, it was very inspiring to see students from different cultures and countries perform together. The concerts were intimidating, especially for the saxophonists with Dave Liebman sitting on stage directly behind you. This was the part of the show you could not practice for. You could practice your music, your horn lines, and the horn charts, but you could not get mentally ready for the pressure of that show. Some of the students who were amazing during the sectionals and practice didn’t perform as well as they could have at the combo concert and they were the first to admit it. I felt stressed, but not as pressured as some of the others. That was the moment I realized the importance of performing live and why attending jam sessions is so important. You get to play live in front of an audience, and with some amazing musicians most of the time. Playing alongside great musicians only helps you to develop your musical skills yourself and gives you valuable experience. This was good for me, because it was something I have been doing since I was 14.

David Liebman told us he started the IASJ to connect help young jazz musicians network with other young cats from other countries or states. That’s why the IASJ trip was so amazing for me, because that’s exactly what happened! I met and became friends with some great musicians from all over the world, and now whenever I’m in certain parts of the world or here in the United States, I know I can link up with the people I met and we can hang, jam, and maybe even work together on some gigs. This trip has definitely inspired me to work even harder, to travel more, and understand that there is so much more to the jazz universal language."

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

2019 A-JAM Student Honoree Announced!

Good news! Our distinguished judges have made their selection for 2019 A-JAM student honoree. Fernando Muñoz, Jr, a student of the late Morgan King and Brian Christensen, studies music at San Antonio College. Please join us in congratulating Fernando for receiving this honor and wishing him well as he begins work on his A-JAM mentorship.  Special thanks to our judges, Professor Gregory Gonzales of St. Philip's College and saxophonist Richard Oppenheim. Thanks also to Alamo Colleges instructors percussionist Joe Caploe (Palo Alto, Northwest Vista, and San Antonio Colleges; St. Mary's University) and pianist Dr. Aaron Prado (Northwest Vista College) for assisting with the audition process. All student applicants played well and we encourage them to stay with it and apply again next November! 

“I auditioned for the A-JAM honors program in hopes of having the opportunity to meet and collaborate with musicians of various styles and backgrounds. I believe that being a member of A-JAM will help me improve as a saxophonist and as a soloist. As a musician, I hope to use the opportunities provided by the A-JAM program to aid me in my search for my own sound. I am excited to work with and learn from my A-JAM mentors and to lead the A-JAM combo. I am proud to have been selected to represent San Antonio and the Alamo Community Colleges. I feel honored and blessed to be given this opportunity.” - Fernando Muñoz, Jr.

Fernando Muñoz, Jr. 
Fernando Muñoz's Background

Born and raised in the downtown area of San Antonio Texas, Fernando Muñoz, Jr. was immersed in the cultural music of the city at an early age. He would attend live music shows with his family, listening to all types of local music from San Antonio’s west side sound to Texas style blues and he has incorporated the sounds of this culture in his playing. Fernando started playing alto saxophone in the 6th grade as part of the Connell Middle School band program under the direction of Dr. George Hinojosa, who he credits with instilling in him the love of jazz improvisation. Fernando began to listen to and study the different styles of jazz music, gaining inspiration from Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, Michael Brecker, and Dexter Gordon. Fernando excelled in the jazz program at Thomas Jefferson High School under the direction of Mr. Jonathon Mireles earning numerous awards.

At the age of 15, Fernando switched to Tenor Saxophone and became a founding member of the St. Phillips College Academy of Fine Arts Jazz Ensemble under the direction of Mr. Albert Aguilar. It was during this time that Fernando began to attend jam sessions with his younger brother Isaac, an accomplished trombonist. These jam sessions were a major part of the learning process for Fernando. It wasn’t always easy to get into these jam sessions at such a young age; sometimes his parents had to escort him into the venues through the back door. While at the jam sessions, Fernando drew inspiration from established musicians, paying close attention to their styles and techniques and listening to the stories they would tell. These jam sessions provided a hands-on education and valuable experience. Soon Fernando began to be recognized for his musicianship and was asked to play with different bands at numerous venues. 
Fernando Muñoz, Jr. 

While in college, Fernando excelled under the tutelage of the late Mr. Morgan King, where he was introduced to the bebop style of improvisation and the technical studies used to become proficient in the genre. Currently, Fernando continues to work towards his degree in music education and is very proud of the opportunities music has afforded him, including performing at San Antonio’s Tobin Center and at Carnegie Hall in New York City. Fernando credits his parents for motivating him to continue to improve and instilling in him the love of music, the love of his faith, and the love of his family.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

"An Inspiring Experience" - International Jazz Meeting in Estonia

"I kept having to pinch myself...": Marco Salinas' Road to Estonia

My journey to Viljandi, Estonia for the A-JAM program has been a bag of good emotions. It certainly has pushed my level of playing drums. I first heard about A-JAM from my friend Francis Stromboe, who himself was a participant in this organization a couple years ago. He gave me a synopsis of the program. So, through Alamo Colleges you can audition through a program called A-JAM (Alamo Jazz All-Stars Mentorship), directed by Katchie Cartwright from Northwest Vista College, and the number one audition is then nominated to be selected for the IASJ (International Association Schools of Jazz) meeting

Once selected, there is a commitment to prepare and be prepared for different musical situations. I was very fortunate to have Joe Caploe, my drum instructor, to guide me along the way. 

A-JAM "creates opportunities for San Antonio students to succeed both locally and internationally in the intercultural collaborative field of jazz." Locally you participate in jam sessions around town, and play specialty events. Also, this past June I got the opportunity to record at KRTU Jazz 91.7 FM for the annual A-JAM performance in the studios at Trinity University. I had the privilege to be interviewed by J.J. Lopez, station manager there. 

The grand prize of the program is attending the International Association of Schools of Jazz (IASJ) meeting. Every year it is held at a different location around the world. This year the meeting was held in Viljandi, Estonia. The experience I had that week (July 2-7), was life changing! The meeting was hosted by Inaki Sandoval, Director and Headmaster, at the University of Tartu Viljandi Culture Academy. 

During the week we would meet to have special guest speakers discuss areas of jazz, for example, such topics as "Brazilian Jazz in Modern Large Jazz Ensembles" or "Influences of Impressionism in Jazz Harmony." 

Every day we would have rehearsals with our combo ensembles to prepare for our concert at the end of the week. Every night there would be a jam session, where students and teachers get together and jam to jazz standards. 

The music created that week was incredible! I kept having to pinch myself, to make sure I was not dreaming. I couldn't believe I was performing with people from all over the world. I had the privilege to perform with students at the concert from Sweden, Latvia, Greece, Germany, Netherlands, and Argentina! I also met other students from other countries, such as France and Portugal. These students were representing some of the finest schools in the world, like the Royal Academy of Music in London, and the Paris Conservatory just to name a few. It was an amazing week of jazz music. Met some great people which I know will turn into lifelong friendships. 

I have to thank Jeff "Siege" Siegel, from New York, and Joana Bettencourt, from Portugal, for guiding us during rehearsals. Thank you guys for your advice and encouraging us. Also, thanks to Nick Smart, artistic director, and Wouter Turkenburg, executive director, for running the IASJ in Viljandi. I can't forget about the ladies! Thank you Tuulike Kivestu, head organizer of the IASJ meeting, and her lovely assistants Kristi Oolo, Mari-Liis Pulder, and Liina Junolaine.  This experience was life changing. Jazz is in good hands!

"A very important program": Notes from A-JAM faculty representative Joe Caploe

As a representative of the A-JAM Jazz Mentorship Program I took Marco Salinas, a student at San Antonio College, to the 2018 International Schools of Jazz (IASJ) meeting in Viljandi, Estonia. The conference features six student combos comprised of talented jazz students and a faculty of jazz artists and educators from around the world. Marco had the opportunity to play in one of the combos on drums. 

I coached one of the combos and it was an inspiring experience helping to get the students ready for the Friday evening concert. All the combos played primarily original music they had composed before arriving at the conference. Although Marco was thrown into the most challenging musical situation he has ever been in he did very well and had a great attitude about the experience. He stayed late and practiced every night and really pulled it together for the concert. 

One great aspect of the A-JAM program is that, whichever student is selected to participate, it is a life changing experience where the student can really see where their contemporaries are at and in turn where they are at. The IASJ Conference serves as a catalyst for musical growth and is therefore a very important program. One a personal note it was inspiring to know that jazz music is in good hands with these talented students. Not to mention the special camaraderie and friendship that is formed during the week of the conference. 

It was an honor to serve as the representative of the A-JAM program and help my student Marco to gain a life changing musical experience that he will use to propel his music career. I'd like to thank Katchie Cartwright for leading the A-JAM jazz mentorship program and Alamo Colleges for the opportunity to participate in this prestigious conference.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

SAVE THE DATE! A-JAM Auditions, Mon & Tues of Thanksgiving Week, November 19 & 20, 2018

AUDITION to become part of this year's A-JAM program! Make your appointment today. Auditions are the Monday and Tuesday of Thanksgiving week. That's Nov 19-20, 2018. Contact Program Director Dr. Katchie Cartwright at 210-486-4828 for more information and to schedule your audition. Check our Facebook page and the Palmetto Arts calendar for breaking news...
Liam Dixon with students and faculty in Siena

Auditions are open to all fulltime students at any of the five Alamo Colleges and Trinity University.

PREREQUISITE: Successful completion of a college-level course in improvisation. You can be taking one this term, provided you pass the course. :-) If you're not currently enrolled, try to enroll in MUAP 1185: Private Improvisation for Flex II. There are multiple instructors for this course on multiple campuses within the Alamo Colleges system. Contact your music department chair or discipline coordinator for more information.

Francis Stromboe at Berklee in Boston
This year's IASJ international jazz meeting will be hosted by the Učilište za popularnu i jazz glazbu (Music School Ladislav Račić) in Zagreb, Croatia. One lucky student will get to participate in this life-changing intercultural experience. It could be you this year!
Jea Lorr and the great Brazilian composer-guitarist Guinga in Sao Paulo

PREPARE: 2 contrasting jazz pieces of your choice

BRING: 3 copies of your music (lead sheets, C-concert)

SCALES/ARPEGGIOS: Major and minor, all keys

SIGHTREADING: chordal (lead sheet), rhythmic, and melodic


Auditions for the A-JAM program are held annually--the week before Thanksgiving--by appointment only. To join A-JAM in the spring term, you must have successfully completed a basic course in improvisation, which is offered in the fall semester. Contact Dr. Cartwright at 210-486-4828 to schedule your audition.