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Jam sessions, jazz greats at Stanford summer workshops
STANFORD -- Mellow gold slides from his alto sax, laying a luminescent web of harmonies in the empty, intimate Braun studio. Jim Nadel reaches deep into his shining Selmer and eases another haunting measure from its lowest registers, then pauses to enjoy the echoing refrain.
"Jazz is kind of like an open sky," he says quietly. "You can listen to it for your entire life and still keep hearing more."
As a lecturer in jazz theory in the music department, Nadel is a thoughtful spokesman for the indigenous American music that has embraced and been influenced by so many international styles. He speaks of the impact and the potential of jazz in almost reverential tones, as sweet as the notes he coaxes from his gleaming 25-year-old French instrument.
"Jazz is such a big, eclectic umbrella today, incorporating so many different cross-cultural ingredients, from swing, to Latin, to Afro-Cuban elements," he says. "In times like these, when cultural-racial tensions can be heated, I think it's really important that this music be supported and preserved."
For the past 22 years Nadel has been teaching instrumental conversation to students of all ages and abilities at Stanford's Jazz Workshop. The university is official host for the nonprofit organization that he founded in 1972 and that has earned a reputation for innovative excellence among professional jazz musicians who clamor to be invited to the campus as residential teachers each summer.
The 1995 season kicks off with a free Early Bird Jazz for Kids Concert at 1 p.m. Saturday, June 24, at Braun Music Center. In addition to 35 ticketed performances, there will be daily jam sessions at noon outside Tresidder Union, nightly gigs at the Coffee House, several student concerts and a concert featuring Nadel "and friends" at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, July 20, at Braun -- all free of charge.
The Jazz Residency programs have been a highlight of previous summer workshops, and two of the three recipients of this year's American Jazz Masters Fellowships awarded by the National Endowment for the Arts -- bassist Ray Brown and pianist Horace Silver -- are featured on the Stanford roster. Jazz greats Benny Green and Gregory Hutchinson, and members of the Turtle Island String Quartet also will teach master classes, and alto saxophonist Steve Coleman is bringing the New York-based Metrics to Stanford for a two-week community outreach program with youngsters from surrounding communities.
Jazz education has been the driving, rhythmic force behind the Jazz Workshop since its earliest days. In 1985, when he was looking for a top jazz artist to anchor the residential staff, Nadel approached -- and landed -- jazz legend Stan Getz.
"I was reading the Chronicle one day and realized that Stan was living in San Francisco," he says. "It was a piece about Stan taking a shower in his Nob Hill apartment when he heard his beloved dog barking outside. He ran down to the street, stark naked, to separate the fighting dogs, and that made Herb Caen's column."
Nadel says he put down the newspaper, dialed information, got Getz's listed number and called him on the spot.
"He was interested," says a still incredulous Nadel. "He told me he was at a point in his career where he'd been touring for 40 years and he wanted to give something back. He wanted to see what it would be like to be involved in jazz education."
The following year Getz brought Dizzy Gillespie on board, and the ripple effect has continued ever since, with Nadel constantly looking for ways to extend the reach of the Jazz Camp Program and the Adult Program. This year the camp for 12- to 17-year-olds has been expanded from one week to two weeks, and more than 450 students are expected to enroll in both programs. Benefit concerts enabled the Jazz Workshop to offer $20,000 in scholarships to local youngsters last year, and Nadel hopes that amount will continue to increase.
"We get a broad spectrum of abilities and experience," Nadel says of the musical campers. "Some kids may know virtually nothing about jazz, while others come with a good knowledge of theory and technique."
Students are evaluated when they arrive for ear training, instrumental facility and improvisational technique, and then placed with others of comparable experience. Each day they get a computer printout of the day's maze of classes.
"No two schedules are alike, but everybody gets to play in an ensemble, everybody has private lessons and everybody gets exposed to the jazz tradition," says Nadel.
Designated an official national treasure by Congress several years ago, jazz as Nadel teaches it is a demanding discipline that requires a grasp of sophisticated harmonies and a desire to engage in a kind of musical dialogue.
"My favorite kind of jazz is almost conversational," he says. "And the only way you can have people talking at the same time is if they're really listening hard. Then, when a rhythmic or melodic or harmonic motif is inspired and passes through the group, people can comment on it and it becomes an interactive art form."
Nadel says one of his all-time favorite afternoons at a jazz workshop was spent listening to a 12- year-old piano prodigy from Bozeman, Mont., jam with a 74- year-old saxophone player from the Bay Area.
"There they were in this studio together, playing side by side, and I kept asking myself, 'What is this about?'
"I'm no sociologist or psychologist, so all I could say was, 'It sure is a lot of fun.' "
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