Monday, June 13, 2011

Never too late to learn how to play music

New Orleans Traditional Jazz Camp lets music lovers learn new techniques, have a blast

All day, as computer consultant Dean Booth deals with manufacturers, he looks forward to heading down to his basement in Hudson, Mass., to practice his tuba. His wife watches TV in the room above, knowing he’s there because she sometimes feels the floor vibrate, he said.
Campers from New Orleans Traditional Jazz Camp second line throught French Quarter
EnlargeTED JACKSON / THE TIMES-PICAYUNE David Fleming of Pensacola takes a break at the first stop on the parade route at Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop as Sana Saeed, a visitor from Washington, DC looks. "When I heard the music, I changed tables so I could see," said Saeed. Campers from all around the world take part in what singer-organizer Banu Gibson described as a "sort of jazz fantasy camp" as they second line through the French Quarter, Tuesday, June 7, 2011. The campers of all skill levels got a chance to learn from and jam with some of the city's jazz legends.Campers from New Orleans Traditional Jazz Camp second line throught French Quarter gallery (7 photos)
“This is my escape from manufacturing companies,” said Booth, 55, as he wiped down his sousaphone on Tuesday after an afternoon rehearsal, part of this week’s New Orleans Traditional Jazz Camp.
The camp, in its second year, attracted 80 musicians ranging in age from 14 to 88, with an average age of 65. They traveled from Switzerland, Argentina, Canada and 18 American states, said the camp’s three founders: singer Banu Gibson, drummer Nita Hemeter and music educator Leslie Cooper.
For roughly half the group, it’s a fantasy camp of sorts.
But instead of driving race cars or playing one quarter with an NBA team, these fantasy campers learn at the feet of some of the city’s jazz legends. They jam in some of the city’s most hallowed traditional-jazz venues: Preservation Hall, Fritzel’s European Jazz Pub and the Palm Court Jazz Cafe. And they second-line through the French Quarter.
“The brain surgeon who wanted to play music but whose parents said, ‘No, you need a real job,’ can pick up his instrument again,” Gibson said. The camp also draws amateur musicians who want to improve and musicians from other genres who hope to learn traditional jazz.
Organizers also raised money for 12 scholarships that went to students from the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts.
“It’s a real cross-section of people who love Dixieland music: some bums like me, along with students, doctors and educated people,” said drummer Kemp Williams, 88, a retired businessman from Spartanburg, S.C.
During the day, the campers take master classes, practice in ensembles with people of all different skill levels and even learn some patented stage patter.
“Let’s play ‘Who’s Sorry Now,’ a number we like to play at weddings,” quipped the camp’s guitar instructor, Larry Scala.
Scala’s joke drew a laugh from clarinetist Tere Coats, a doctor of internal medicine from Austin and a return camper who said music forces her to use a different part of her brain.
Guitarist Gregg Molinario, a senior at NOCCA, said he has a new appreciation for the music as he learns techniques in the morning from Scala and then tries to apply them throughout the day. “I grew up with traditional jazz, but as a player, I’m kind of lousy at it,” he said.
“We almost take it for granted,” said trumpeter and recent NOCCA grad Doyle Campo.
NOCCA bassist Austin Clements, son of guitarist Cranston Clements, said he found himself introspective after a day spent at the camp. “I feel lucky that I’ve gotten the musical opportunities I’ve gotten,” he said.
Molinario nodded. “I’m really digging it,” he said.
At the other end of the age spectrum, some retirees got tearful as they talked about the camp and the way it has ushered music back into their lives.
Richard Eagan, 69, a retired cabinetmaker from Brooklyn, N.Y., picked up the banjo six months ago after not playing a note for years. In the process, he “opened up a place that’s been sealed up for years,” he said.
Trumpet instructor Connie Jones, 77, said that the camp’s older students had turned away from music to make a living. And while their synapses might be slower now, they’ve returned to jazz with a zeal that he, a lifelong musician, can appreciate.
After all, Jones said, “I’m in the twilight of a career that I was lucky enough to spend doing what I would have done for nothing.”
Katy Reckdahl can be reached at or 504.826.3396.

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