This video feature includes several stories and interviews with New York Jazz Academy students.
Bob C., tenor sax
Now I have an understanding of the insides of jazz.
Carmen T., tenor sax
My love for jazz comes from my father, a former jazz musician who did his best to brainwash his kids on the music. He always had a record playing. Mornings before school he would blast Gene Ammons and Coltrane records throughout the house explaining that it put us in the correct frame of mind for learning. When I was 9 i joined the school band, starting on clarinet then moving on to alto and tenor sax. (I remember trying to play Bari but I couldn't reach the low C. )But I quit the school band after 7th grade having lost interest. It wasn't what I heard at home and not knowing any better I told my teacher I was done.
A few years went by and I started listening to my fathers records on my own. Listening filled my head so much so that I asked my father if I could borrow his alto because I wanted to play again. I would put on any album with Bird, Sonny Stitt, or Jackie McLean and just try to imitate them. I had stopped reading music altogether and didn't realize until later but I was trying to transpose by ear. It was just fun and an outlet for relaxation, and If i wasn't playing I was listening to jazz 24/7.
This went on for almost 20 years while i went to college, became an engineer, got married, and started a family...until one day in 2009 I signed up for a workshop with NYJA. I had no idea what to expect, and I could barely read music, but I wanted to learn. What I found out was that the school was exactly as advertised: a place for like minded people to get together, in a relaxed environment, and learn and play jazz. REAL jazz.
Over the past 5 or 6 years I've learned so much having participated in workshops and ensembles led by some amazing people like Mike Webster, Tom Dempsey, David Englehard, and of course Javier. I've had the chance to play at jam sessions, in club performances, and Carnegie Hall (twice!). Talk about forward motion.
The school changed my life, no two ways about.
Cathy G., parent (to Sophia, alto sax, age 16)
NY Jazz academy I think we all agree is literally one of the best things to happen to her in her young life. We were blessed to happen upon your upstart in Mineola. I do believe she really blossomed through the experience. Built her confidence and helped to foster the love and talent. Thanks!
Colin H., piano
My experience at NYJA was a very enlightened one, in which I was encouraged by teachers and students to excel and try different things on the piano, which I'm doing as I practice on my keyboard. I enjoyed every class and I would recommend highly to my fellow musicians to take some classes, and it would enhance your playing immensely. I especially liked the fact that Javier remembered who I was. Thank you for making my music sound a whole lot better.
David, drums (age 17)
My talent and musicianship has increased to a greater level. While studying with NYJA, I had opportunities to gig with faculty and also perform concerts at Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, jazz clubs, private parties, and even met and played for NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
Greg G., piano
My experience with NYJA has been absolutely amazing. David Engelhard is a phenomenal teacher, and an even better person. Javier Arau, the founder of NYJA, has gone above and beyond to ensure that I found a NYJA program which was the correct fit for my musical goals. NYJA has an atmosphere of professionalism, equality, humility, and passion -- staying true to the roots of jazz music indeed. I haven’t experienced a 2 hour group/session that was more educational and inspirational in years. I’m humbled and thrilled to be a part of NYJA.
Holden N., parent (to Ethan, piano, age 11)
As a professional bassist who has developed a passion for jazz, it was important for me to introduce my 11 year old son to the art form early in his life not only for the cultural exposure, but also for the cognitive developmental advantage I believe studying improvisation at a young age provides.
We found NYJA, and he has been participating in one of their beginner jazz improvisation ensembles for the last year. We couldn't be happier with the experience! Although individual practicing is an important component of learning how to improvise, interacting with other musicians is essential in truly experiencing jazz, and he has really enjoyed playing with the group. It is providing an excellent balance that combines the learning of critical theoretical concepts with a safe and nurturing place to experiment with applying them.
How "Me? Playing Jazz?" Became Me Playing Jazz, by David B. Wilson (Jersey City, NJ, Sax/Flute, Compliance Officer)
Growing up in Queens in the '70s I was surrounded by many kinds of music, and I was lucky enough to get a year's worth of clarinet lessons (along with the rest of my fourth-grade class) in public school. Though I loved the fact that I could make musical sounds by simply pressing down some keys and blowing, I believed that true musicians had innate talent that the rest of us could never hope to acquire... I knew Mozart had composed his first opera at age 11, so when I got to be 12 without even a concerto to my name I figured there was no use. As my teens progressed and I started listening to jazz, I quickly decided that it was so difficult that even regular musicians couldn't play it, so I shouldn't even try. I kept looking for a pursuit that was so easy even I could excel at it, and the next thing I knew I was working as a computer programmer.
Over the following years my love of music expressed itself in different ways - I played guitar and sang in a small combo with my wife-to-be, I set up a record review website with a friend (http://www.warr.org) - but it wasn't until my forties I realized it didn't matter that I would never be Coltrane or Mozart: I love wind instruments and I love jazz, and that's all the reason I need to pursue them. I could enjoy the process rather than preemptively criticize the results. Pretty soon I was practicing flute and saxophone regularly and I was ready to start learning how jazz actually happens when somebody told me about the New York Jazz Academy. I couldn't believe there was a place where brilliant jazz musicians would sit down with a bunch of amateurs, work with each of us at our own level, and jump right into making music as a group. Since then, a lot of great things have come my way as a member of NYJA - club performances, jam sessions, a trip to the Havana International Jazz Festival - but the most magical is getting to come to ensemble each week, learn something new about this music, and sometimes even play a solo that makes me think "You know, that sounded okay."
Jack and Jack, vocals (age 17)
Grammy camp is a national honor given to only 8 vocalists nationwide, and little did Jack O'Connor and Jack VanGorden know, when they enrolled in New York Jazz Academy, that only a few months later, they'd be selected for the Grammy program. Jack and Jack will join 6 other high school students from across the United States have been selected for the 2016 GRAMMY Camp — Jazz Session. Their selection launches them into the spotlight surrounding the 58th Annual GRAMMY Awards, and provides them with opportunities to perform for some of music's biggest names. The students will travel to Los Angeles for a weeklong musical adventure under the direction of Justin DiCioccio of the Manhattan School of Music, Dr. Ron McCurdy of the University of Southern California Thornton School of Music and associate choral director Susanna Wegner of Kansas City, Mo.
While studying at the NYJA Summer Jazz Intensives in July 2015, they worked intimately with a host of faculty members, including vocalist Tammy Scheffer, who helped them hone their craft and artistry in preparation for their audition. NYJA Director Javier Arau is thrilled with their selection: "These two came in already with a deep understanding of vocal jazz style, sounding remarkably like a combination of Chet Baker and Mel Torme really, and we were able to help them take their understanding of jazz to the next level. I'm really proud of both of them."
Over the years, New York Jazz Academy has evolved into one of the most diverse musical communities in the world, comprising over 1,000 musicians of all kinds, from 33 states, and 35 countries. The NYJA Jazz Intensives programs run every summer in NYC, in addition to select weeks throughout the year, including throughout Spring break and Christmas vacation. Camps see students of all ages, including teens and adults, and courses include daily private lessons, masterclasses, harmony and composition classes, ensembles, improv workshops, concerts, and more. For more information about the NYJA Jazz Intensives program, click here.
Jakob Heinemann, bass/intern
My name is Jakob Heinemann and I interned at the New Jazz Academy for all of their nine week long Summer Jazz Intensives. I had many duties at the camp, mainly functioning as an equipment manager and general organizer to help things run smoothly. Additionally, I filled in on bass, helped run student ensembles, and assisted with classes and lessons occasionally. I learned quickly, having some of the best teachers in New York City to follow as examples. People like Mike Webster, Pete Zimmer, and Tammy Scheffer served as constant sources of inspiration, and though I worked at the camp as staff, I can say with certainty that I learned as much as any student simply watching these amazing musicians work. Javier has really assembled a team of incredible individuals, who not only are unbelievable players but engaging, caring teachers as well. After finishing up the last week, I was definitely sad to leave New York and all of the great people I had met at the NYJA Intensives. The kindness exhibited by everyone there created an amazing community in which everyone was learning from everyone else, and though I am no longer a part of the NYJA, the experience I gained from spending a summer with it continues to influence me as a musician, teacher, and student.
Jane U., violin
I came here from Colorado for two months of intensive study, it’s really exceeded my expectations.
Jeffrey N., parent (to Sam, piano)
The New York Jazz Academy provides a unique and important service to the entire cultural and artistic community in New York City and the metropolitan area. I have been involved in a multitude of their services both as the father of a jazz pianist and as a participating musician myself. My son, who has autism, has been embraced by NYJA Director, Javier Arau, as well as by the faculty. They have developed various individualized approaches while continuing to provide him with an excellent and challenging jazz education. The NYJA provides jazz instruction, both theoretical as well as hands-on performance, that is on par with a first-rate college or conservatory program, employing many of the finest jazz musicians on the scene today. What is perhaps most important, is that they provide those services to many musicians who are not in a position to engage in a full-time college program, thus filling a great educational and artistic need.
Joel L., bass
I thought that the New York Jazz Academy would be the same as other programs I’ve encountered in the past, and it’s not. It’s way better.
John P., drums
I am an amateur drummer in Brooklyn who has been involved with the NYJA since 2010. I don’t have a deep background in music. I took a few drum lessons as a boy and played (badly) in some rock bands after college, but then stopped altogether. For some reason I got the bug to pick up the sticks again after I turned 50. I had sense enough to find a good teacher and learn to read. I started to play in a blues band, and then a rock band, and eventually I began to try my hand at jazz in a workshop setting. One day I got a call from a pianist friend telling me about auditions being held for a big band workshop in Manhattan through the New York Jazz Academy and suggesting that I give it a try. Frankly, I thought he was crazy since I had never played with a big band, but my teacher convinced me to go for it and somehow I got accepted into the program.
For the past five years I’ve been exposed to a world of music I was barely aware of and enjoyed the most challenging and valuable musical experience of my life. There’s a wonderful collaborative spirit that infuses everything about the big band and it has motivated me to work harder than ever to improve. When it all comes together, it is enormously gratifying. In fact, for me, it’s the most fun you can have with your clothes on.
I’ve used this analogy before, but my time with the NYJA Big Band program parallels that old Master Card ad:
The cost of an 8-week workshop - $300
Gas and parking - $7.50
The opportunity to play under the direction of world-class artists such as Javier, Mike, Ron, David, Dan, JC, et al – Priceless!
Krin Gabbard, trumpet
I played cornet as a child but quit when I went off to college. Thirty-eight years later I bought myself a Bach Stradivarius trumpet, hired a teacher, and tried to get back where I was when I was 18. It took me at least four years to get that far, and now, ten years after I began playing again, I think I may even be better than I was in 1966. After looking around for a band that would have me, I was delighted to discover the New York Jazz Academy. Their staff is devoted to giving less-than-professional musicians a place to play as well as to giving them useful instructions during the practice sessions. Playing with the NYJA big band on Saturday afternoons is the one thing I look forward to every week. Meanwhile, my book on Charles Mingus will be published in February, 2016, and I teach courses on jazz and American culture at Columbia University. Check out my website at http://www.kringabbard.com.
Marcela Peñalva, guitar
New York Jazz Academy has become my music home. I arrived here having no clue whatsoever about music. Almost an absolute beginner with big dreams. I've been through several programs in the past 3 years, mostly playing. After sticking long enough with NYJA, if you have determination and love of music this can be a very solid foundation. Stick around long enough and you can truly get anywhere you want.
I have dreamed of being a musician for long. I did not take the college route and did not start on my teens I started on my 20's, so my confidence and foundation needed some work. It was through this experiences with the school that I finally started believing and doing. I recently partnered with Eliane Delage, a wonderful Brazilian guitarist. We are now performing as a duo "Christmas On Brazilian Guitar", Eliane's new CD in the NYC music scene. Gigs are rolling and things are happening! We are already learning new material and have plans of recording an album in 2016 (this would be my debut album and 3rd album for Eliane).
The way the program is designed is definitely a part of it, but to be honest what I love the most about learning in this environment is the provided atmosphere. Welcoming and supportive regardless of your age, status or background combine that with world class, passionate educators, that is what NYJA is.
Mark Lubin, guitar
I have been playing jazz guitar for decades, and have had the privilege of studying music, jazz and guitar with some extraordinary musicians and educators. As an enthusiastic amateur, I have often found it challenging to find well-matched musicians on other instruments, and playing opportunities that would provide good bandstand experience. A few years ago, I became acquainted with Javier and his staff at NYJA. It was just what I needed, and it has helped take my playing, performing and arranging to a much higher level.
At Javier’s suggestion, I started with one of the ensembles. The format was semi-instructional; we were given room to stretch out under instructors’ watchful eyes; then given feedback to help build on our strengths and fix the rough spots. Usually we were able to immediately apply and reinforce what we had just learned. Javier made it a point to rotate the instructors, and that provided us with different and often complementary perspectives. There were also playing opportunities at community gatherings and in the jazz club setting.
After a while I was invited to join the big band. (Nothing like being the sole guitarist in a 20+ piece band barreling along at 220+ bpm to bring up one’s chops and sense of rhythm!) Fast or slow, the arrangements were meticulous, and it was remarkable how quickly smooth, precise, coordinated playing emerged. A high point of that experience was playing at Carnegie Hall. After doing that, it’s hard to imagine being intimidated by another venue.
This past year, I hit the studio and created a series of recordings that was recently released as a CD. A couple of the tunes were original, and I did all the arranging. The skills and perspectives gained through NYJA played a big part in enabling that project to succeed. Based on that result, and my experiences with the ensembles and big band (plus one life-altering night at Carnegie Hall) I am happy to recommend THE Jazz Academy as a terrific resource to help enthusiasts like me improve our playing and turn musical aspirations into reality.
Marlin W., drums
(NYJA) is a really great family and put their heart and soul into the music.
Matias O., drums (Chile)
The year was 2013. It was my first (not last) time with NYJA and actually my first time in New York, too. I had just turned 21 years old, so naturally, as a music addict, I had to get to the city where jazz flourished and became what it is now, so I flew all the way from Chile directly to the Big City just to hear and play the music that I was looking for all my life.
My experience with NYJA was personally one of a kind, I just immediately fell in love with the sounds that came out of the rooms of that ancient church where the academy is located.
The acoustics of the main room, where the priest used to give his sermons, is just fascinating, something that not even the best studios with the best engineers can translate to a classic album to this day.
My experience as a musician was super intense as it was rewarding.
I actually felt like I was in a movie, I just could not believe that I was playing every day for a whole week with so many talented players and good educators in the Big Apple.
As a jazz drummer, things can get pretty hard to handle from time to time, but with the experience and knowledge of the other players and mentors, I always managed to pull it off, and by the end of the session I just felt blessed.
I want to end this testimony by saying that NYJA is one of the few places in the world that actually knows what music means, they know that music is not fame and money, is not something that you fit in some category created by journalists, and definitely is not letting other people tell you what is right or wrong, they know that music is actually a set of parts that can create emotion that allows the player and the audience to feel some kind of mood that brings life to their lives.
Monique A., vocals
All of the instructors are so generous and highly skilled.
More NYJA Press Stories
For more NYJA stories in DownBeat Magazine, Jazz Times, Village Voice, and other publications, visit the NYJA Press Page.
Morris H., piano
When I was a kid growing up in Milwaukee during the 1950s, I was pretty serious about playing jazz piano and vibes. I took lessons from a wonderful local teacher (Tommy Sheridan) and worked with a piano-guitar-bass-drums quartet to perform at parties and dances. But when the members of our group attended the Lenox School of Jazz in the summer of 1960, faculty members such as John Lewis and Gunther Schuller helped me realize that I was not cut out for a career as a professional jazz musician. Through college, I kept playing for fun, and – after I moved to New York in 1965 – I found myself co-leading a group that played for jazz-rock services at All Angels Church (81st & West End). That – along with work as a doctoral student in marketing – kept me busy during the early 1970s. But, gradually, my subsequent duties as a teacher of marketing and consumer behavior at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Business took over and crowded out my time for practicing and playing. For way too many years (from about 1975 to about 2000), I shamefully neglected my musical interests, though I was able to put quite a bit of my sublimated artistic energy into the research I did on consumer behavior – focusing mostly on audiences for the arts and entertainment. Late in my teaching career (2000 – 2009) and after retirement (2009 – the present), I have returned to a more serious pursuit of jazz piano – especially with the help of the New York Jazz Academy, where I have been working on the skills needed to play nicely with others. I have found a NYJA jazz-ensemble class that meets a short distance from our home at the Church of St. Paul & St. Andrew (86th & West End) and have hugely enjoyed the opportunity to play with some wonderful classmates under the guidance of some excellent teachers – Pete Zimmer (drums), Michael Feinberg (bass), Ron McClure (bass), and Ron Horton (trumpet). We have been working with Ron Horton for over two years now, and he has shown the greatest kindness and patience in leading us toward the light. I have learned a lot, but – for me – the greatest reward has been the fun of playing in a supportive and challenging setting with like-minded classmates who have now become good friends. I salute and thank Javier Arau for putting together a terrific program of instruction and celebration of the music that we all love so much.
NBC 4 "Today in New York"
NYJA was featured on NBC 4's "Today in New York". This video includes several stories and interviews with students and faculty of New York Jazz Academy.
NBC Nightly News
Key Change: American Jazz Musicians Witness History in Cuba
by JACOB RASCON
HAVANA — Along Cuba's coastal highway, the Malecón, the rumblings of automobiles older than the American embargo are sometimes interrupted by beautiful music. Usually it's Cuban, but this weekend, it was also American Jazz.
Members of the New York Jazz Academy were in Havana all week on an educational trip when they witnessed arguably the most historic moment on the island in a half century.
"It was quite surreal. We were visiting a recording studio," Dan Blankiniship, an instructor with the academy, said.
"All of a sudden, she [a studio employee] opens the door and says, 'Come here! Come here! Come here! Come here!" said Shoshana Baars-Stanton, another member of the group.
In the next room, the Americans heard the voices of President Obama and Raul Castro.
"I just saw crowds of people just around these TV sets," said one of the students, William Linster, the youngest of the academy at 17. "Not only were the Americans in the studio watching, but the Cubans, also, together, watching this historic moment."
Some Cubans in the room were in tears and embraced each other. Others embraced the Americans.
Blankinship said they were "obviously happy, but also overwhelmed - and also just hopeful. Overwhelmed and hopeful about what this might mean for the future."
"This has been an entirely enchanted week, unbelievable on so many levels!" the academy's founder and director, Javier Arau said. "I have no hesitation to come back here, and I think we'll be back more often at this rate."
And maybe someday, at this rate, Arau said, Cuban musicians will bring their beautiful music from the Malecón to Manhattan, and across the United States.
This video feature includes several stories and interviews with New York Jazz Academy students.
NYJA Young Artists, "In Their Own Words"
This video feature includes several stories and interviews with New York Jazz Academy students.
Oleg Ostapchuk, tenor sax (Russia)
My name is Oleg Ostapchuk. I live in the capital of Russia, Moscow. My main instrument is tenor saxophone. I also specialize in jazz composition and arrangement. I am currently taking part in several musical projects, successfully performing in Russia and abroad.
After graduating from Berklee College in 2011, I moved to New York. My main goal was to find lots of new friends in the jazz community. I dreamed of a successful career as a jazz musician in New York-a place crowded by talented people. I used every chance to play, whether it was a gig in the restaurant or a night jam session in a New York club.
One day, while looking over the internet for any possible gig, I've found a post from New York Jazz Academy. It was about a position of a tenor saxophonist in the jazz orchestra. I immediately replied to this post. In the letter I wrote about myself and offered my candidacy. I was invited to the first rehearsal, where I met with the guys from the band and conductor Javier Arau. Thus began my partnership with the New York Jazz Academy.
We met every weekend in a stunning hall of St. Peter's Church. I still remember how great the orchestra sounded in the room.
Every rehearsal I had an opportunity to play new music and to improve myself as a soloist. The orchestra had a lot of talented guys, and it was an honor for me to play with them.
Unfortunately, the circumstances were such that soon after moving to New York, I suddenly had to leave America and my collaboration with Javier and his orchestra interrupted. Currently, I am doing everything possible to come back to the US and continue my music career there. I hope to play with Javier's band again.
pianist Bunny Beck
Before joining NYJA's Big Band, the last time I played with large ensembles was as a violist in my High School of Music and Art (La Guardia) orchestras!
As a professional jazz pianist, composer, recording artist and teacher, my performance experience has been as a soloist, as well as playing with ensembles smaller than a big band. Since reading big band charts are a different experience than reading lead sheets, I wanted to develop that skill.
Being part of the NYJA's Big Band has given me chart reading and performing opportunities. I am really pleased that I have gained this knowledge as well as experiencing the role of the pianist in a big band. My experience with the Band began October 2015. The musicians are great! The band produces fabulous sounds and our members are friendly and welcoming. Javier, David and the other band conductors are excellent mentors, and rehearsals are fun.
Although living elsewhere at various times in my life, as a native New Yorker I'm back here again. My website is www.bunnybeck.com.
Sam, trumpet (age 16)
New York Jazz Academy was wonderful for many reasons. One, it was a great test of my skill and knowledge. I came into the ensemble I was put in and immediately did not know any of the songs. But, with the help of the instructors I was able to decipher the chord changes and form of the songs and I got it in no time. Two, those people I studied with in the ensembles were unbelievable artists, all in their own different way, and really provided me with a new way of looking at jazz music. Three, the master classes and studies that I took part in were all very informational and analytic, which is something that I personally love to do. Analyzing the chords and rhythms of songs with jazz professionals was a great way for me to learn and become more knowledgeable. Four, the individuals who gave the private lessons during the classes helped me develop a lot of things about my playing that I hadn’t really looked at before. Studying under Ron Horton for a week sure helped my playing a lot. Another opportunity that was offered at the camps was to go and play at jazz clubs like Smalls in the Village. I personally got myself up there in front of everyone, and while nerve-wracking, had one of the greatest times playing the trumpet I have ever had. All of these wonderful things culminate at New York Jazz Academy, and provided me with a great experience in New York!
Susan S., drums
As a psychotherapist I try to provide my patients with a safe environment for self expression. As a student of jazz drumming I have found this same safe haven in the musical realm at New York Jazz Academy. Having been in small ensemble classes for several years, I remember starting out with low confidence and high performance anxiety. Gradually, thanks to our conductor Javier Arau, and instructors including Mike Webster and Dave Engelhard, I have discovered the joy and freedom that come with playing with others and daring to express myself rhythmically in performance. Classmates have become friends, and NYJA has become my musical home.
Tom M., drums
When I first began attending NYJA sessions I was at a point in my life where my relationship with music had grown somewhat estranged. This was a big shift for me as I had studied classical music in college and was very accustomed to being immersed in a musical environment. Everything from master classes, lectures, lessons, concerts to attend and perform in, and especially, being surrounded by other hungry musicians; however, through the growing pains of life the daily abundance of music became a 9-5 job, bills, debt, and essentially, working to live. As a result of this radical shift I had felt more lonely and withdrawn than ever before and understood that one of the most important steps to remedy the feelings of loneliness and depression was to find my way back to music.
NYJA has afforded me this opportunity in the way of providing world class instruction and inspiration, in addition to providing a safe, challenging, and encouraging environment to develop as a musician on the drums. But, perhaps my favorite aspect of the NYJA is the opportunity to fortify new bonds with other like-minded and aspiring musicians. The people I've met, who started as strangers, from all different walks of life and different parts of the world, ultimately became friends, through our shared curiosity, exploration, and discovery of music.