The Conservatory Jazz Showcase: A Partnership of Professional & Student Musicians

The Conservatory, a music & community arts school, based in Doylestown, Bucks County, presents a concert celebrating the many and varied styles of Jazz. A band comprised of both professional jazz performers and student musicians takes the stage at The Underground, on Saturday evening, September 15, 2018. The styles represented will include Jazz Standards, Broadway Show Tunes, Bebop, Latin, and West Coast Jazz.

The event has been organized by Bill Gottshall, a Conservatory faculty member and frequent performer at The Underground. The students involved in the show are all members of one (or both) of the two Jazz Ensembles he directs at The Conservatory. While those two student bands have performed in recital halls in the past, including on the stage of the Kimmel Center’s Perelman Theater, in Philadelphia, this will be the first time the students will be playing jazz in an actual night club. “While performing in an auditorium or theater is a thrilling experience, I feel it’s important that young musicians get the chance to play popular music in a club setting. The feedback from the audience is much different than what you’ll find in a concert hall. There’s no waiting until the end of the song for the crowd’s reaction to your playing, it’s instant and spontaneous. One of my proudest moments as a performer came here, at The Underground, performing alongside jazz drummer Tommy Campbell. After an inspired burst of Trading Fours (short solos which are passed back-and-forth between jazz musicians), an audience member who was sitting close to me, shouted out, ‘What a band!’ You don’t get that type of affirmation in a recital hall.”

The set-up for the Jazz Showcase band will provide a unique type of mentoring for the student musicians. Every so often, an adult pro musician will take a seat and a young protégé will take over his/her place on stage, but at least half of the band will still be manned by adult pro musicians. This provides support for the young musicians while letting them experience the interplay of improvisation that takes place in a jazz band. “Learning how to improvise is always the biggest hurdle for the young jazz musician,” says Gottshall. “Improv is the lifeblood of Jazz, but it takes a very long time to feel comfortable doing it. There’s always the fear of losing your place in the music. When it’s an all-student band, kids will feel worried and nervous; they’ll hold back and play it safe. This way, the adults always have their back!”

The idea for this particular type of jazz mentoring came to Gottshall a few years ago. “Every summer, my wife and I would host a huge picnic for all of my musician friends and their families. At first, it was just a few dozen folks gathered in our backyard. We’d rotate band members on and off the bandstand, jamming all day and well into the night (I have very understanding neighbors, thankfully). Whenever someone got hungry, thirsty or tired, he’d call out for someone to replace him in the band and then he’d become an audience member. After a couple of years, I started inviting my students and their families as well. I told them to bring along their instruments and join in on the jam session. That first year, I looked over my shoulder and observed Ed Etkins, who had once been my high school jazz band instructor, coaching one of my own student musicians. The circle was now complete! My former instructor was now showing one of my students how to be a jazz musician. I soon noticed how much better my students performed at these summer jam sessions, standing alongside veteran jazz pros. That convinced me to formalize this mentoring process.”

The Jazz Showcase begins at 8:00 pm. Beforehand, there will be a private concert for participants in the Kindred Arts program. Kindred Arts is a cultural equity initiative conceiving of and executing community arts programming in public spaces. The organization is the non-profit subsidiary of Musical Directions, based in Harlem, New York. The Conservatory has partnered with Kindred Arts to serve our local community.