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."

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