Annual concert series, camp fills void in vocal jazz education
Janice Borla believes the heart and soul of jazz music is its improvisatory nature. Other musical forms, like pop, are rehearsed and run through to perfection before performances, but that's not the case with jazz.
"What each person plays could sound considerably different from what's on the album," Borla said.
If you go
What: Hot Jazz — 6 Cool Nites concert series
When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday, July 21, and Monday through Thursday, July 23 to 26; 7 p.m. Friday, July 27
Where: North Central College's Meiley-Swallow Hall, 31 S. Ellsworth St., Naperville
Cost: $20 for adults and $15 for students/senior citizens Saturday-Thursday; $10 for adults and $5 for students/senior citizens Friday; four-night passes $60 and $45
Info: (630) 637-SHOW or northcentralcollege.edu/show
The renowned jazz vocalist says the audience is a part of the process. Audience members know the musicians will be interacting, but other than that, they are witness to the music as it develops on the spot.
"They almost participate in the process," Borla said. "It's a very informal, very open-ended presentation."
Naperville audiences can share the experience during Borla's Hot Jazz — 6 Cool Nites concert series, which will run Saturday, July 21, and Monday through Thursday, July 23-26. Concerts begin at 7:30 p.m. at North Central College in Naperville.
Each evening of the series will play host to a different combination of artists and musical selections.
The concert series is in conjunction with the 24th annual Janice Borla Vocal Jazz Camp, which features a faculty of the concerts' eight jazz artists for a weeklong educational workshop.
The series will conclude with a concert at 7 p.m. Friday, July 27, featuring the camp's participants.
Tickets are $20 for adults and $15 for students and senior citizens. A four-night concert pass can also be purchased at $60 for adults and $45 for students and senior citizens. Tickets for the Friday student performance are $10 for adults and $5 for students and senior citizens. All tickets can be purchased at northcentralcollege.edu/show. Those interested in the camp can visit janiceborlavocaljazzcamp.org.
Borla started the concert series and educational camp to fill a void in jazz vocal education. Back then, high schools and colleges were getting on board with vocal education, but they were only equipped to deal with ensembles.
"Jazz is an expression of the individual voice," Borla said. "There wasn't a good way for folks to learn how to do that."
Up to three dozen vocalists can participate in the camp, ranging in age and experience. They come from all over the country and world, including Canada, Africa, Japan and Europe. Since the start, hundreds of students have gone through the program.
"We have alumni that are active in the business," Borla said. "Many will say it's a life-changing experience."
The camp and concert series has been recognized for presenting some of the most innovative vocalists in the contemporary jazz scene and has been featured on the national PBS program "The News Hour with Jim Lehrer," WGN-TV and WTTW Channel 11 Chicago.
Featured vocalists include Borla, Jay Clayton and Suzanne Pittson. Borla has been described as "a one-woman jazz tornado" and has been awarded best and No. 1 CD of the year by multiple media outlets.
Instrumentalists include trumpeter Art Davis, vibraphonist Brad Stirtz, pianist Dan Haerle, bassist Eric Hochberg and drummer Jack Mouse. Notably, Davis has recorded with the Ray Charles Orchestra, Dizzy Gillespie and Frank Sinatra.
These musicians are known in their fields as well as experienced in teaching jazz music, a credential Borla says is necessary to be a part of the concert series and education camp.
"They're recognized by their peers as significant contributors to the genre," Borla said.
Borla said it's important for their education that the students hear the music performed at the concerts.
"It was our belief that students learning to do this needed to see it demonstrated," she said. "It gives our students a chance to hear not only diverse vocal styles, but a real wide range of repertoire. There are various ways to present your music with instrumentation."
But the concerts are just as much for the public, Borla said.
"After all these years, the concert series really has developed its own scene," she said. "The audience is fully aware of what's going on and don't need to be a part of the workshop that one day."
It's important for audiences to see jazz music in person to fully appreciate it, Borla said.
"We're so electronically connected that sometimes it's easy to lose sight of the fact that jazz music is best appreciated live," she said.
Ultimately, the camp and concert series serve to perpetuate the art form that is a blend of African and European music traditions and remains one of the most original American contributions to culture.
"We're firmly committed to passing it on, to helping it continue. We're trying to develop and grow an audience for the future," Borla said. "If we don't keep feeding the meter, this could go away."
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