Summer Jazz Camp, 2023, has been and gone. And what a camp it was! Simply making this one happen was something of a saga. Here’s the epic tale in our Jazz Camp wrap for 2023.
Midway through 2022, we got an email from our venue for the last forever years saying, essentially, “Sorry but we’re closing down and selling the land. Tomorrow. Thanks, and good luck”. Well, that wasn’t great. Anyone who’s run a largish event at one of these conference venues will know that you need to book a long way in advance to get in, often a year or two ahead. With only months to find a venue, what were we to do?
Naturally, after the shock had passed, we got down to hunting for a new home for Jazz Camp, even if only a short-term one. We tried the big, obvious place: “Sorry, we’re booked out”, or “yeah, you can have 120 beds, but we’ll only give you two rehearsal spaces with that. If you want more, you must book 10,000 beds”, or “yeah, we can fit you in the first week of January, so long as when you say ‘January’, you actually mean ‘March’”.
We looked at schools, universities, hotels, hostels, colleges, and various combinations of those. We came very, very close to running as a day camp in Sydney (it would have been a great venue, but very expensive accommodation for out-of-town campers).
Finding a Solution
Eventually we found a wonderful venue with plenty of beds and generous rehearsal spaces: KCC. The ‘K’ in KCC stands for Katoomba. Would that be a problem? Forever, Jazz Camp has been in Sydney. Many locals attend. But it is a residential camp, so why should the location matter that much? Katoomba is only a 90-minute drive from Sydney, and the first day at least would be a public holiday, so easy enough for parents to drive Sydney campers there. And for those flying from interstate or driving from regional towns, it shouldn’t make that much difference. So, we settled on our new venue, Stay KCC at Katoomba.
A venue for Jazz Camp
The camp was great, probably better than ever. Why that was is probably a combination of the venue, the staff, and the campers.
The venue, KCC, has two great things going for it. First, it has a lot of rehearsal space available. Best of all it has enough rooms large enough for us to run four, five, or more comfortable big band rehearsals simultaneously but with decent sound separation between rooms. We also had more than enough space to run nine combos at the same time, again with good sound separation. In this, KCC is excellent.
The second really important benefit of KCC is the food and catering. No other venue we’ve experienced comes close. The food was all fresh, cooked in-house, tasty and plentiful, even for people on special diets. It is served buffet-style and meals are fast. Everyone can eat their fill. The dining room staff were on-point and could answer every question about whether such-and-such an item is ok for this-or-that allergy. There were special meals provided for allergies, but those students were still able to eat from the main buffet any items safe for them too. Staff always made it clear.
Speaking of dining rooms, the venue is so large that we didn’t have to share a dining room with any other groups. There was at least one other camp happening at KCC while we were there, but we never saw them or had to share any facilities with them. That is also excellent.
If there’s one drawback to the new venue, and one that we can manage now we are familiar with the space, it is that it is very, very large. KCC is a lot more spread out than Naamaroo, our former home. The danger of that is that the camp can lose some kind of sense of focus or energy. At Naamaroo there was certainly a lot of energy and activity focused in a fairly small area. At KCC most music happened in one building, so that’s ok. But there were a couple of outliers where people had to walk a distance to a different building to rehearse. Anyway this can be managed with revised scheduling and, on balance, the extra space is a huge benefit.
The camp itself was terrific, as usual. We had a very engaged, motivated, musical, and cohesive body of campers. It seemed that everyone who came really was there for the music. Perhaps the slightly longer distance from Sydney discouraged parents whose main motivation is just getting rid of their kids for a week! Jokes aside, the campers were wonderful to work with.
One of the main points we emphasise to campers is that learning to play jazz is a process and every student who comes to camp is at a different point on their jazz-learning journey. Some are very experienced and have reached a high level, others have never learnt jazz before, and most are somewhere between those extremes. And it really doesn’t matter. The important thing is that each student works on the things they need to do now to advance in some way along that continuum of learning and playing.
It can be confronting to hear other students who have been learning and practicing jazz for a long time and newer players naturally tend to compare themselves to those advanced players. But comparisons don’t matter. At Jazz Camp, and in jazz education generally, what matters is each person working at the spot they are at on the ‘journey’ and making their own progress. At school Year 7’s don’t look at Year 12 HSC students and think “they’re so talented, I’ll never be doing Year 12 work”. They all know that, given time and working through the necessary material, they will reach that level too. In Jazz, individuals progress at their own pace, driven by their own motivation, work-levels, and assisted by different opportunities. Apart from that, however, it really is the same kind of thing.
The staff at Jazz Camp 2023 were first-class too. As a faculty they were caring, very hard-working, and genuinely interested in helping the students. Probably the most important staff were the team of counsellors, Adam Caton, Charlotte Wiltshire, and Matt Simmonds. Before, during, and after the camp, they ensure that everything is ready, happens as it should, that everyone is happy, healthy, and in the right place. As a team they were astonishingly good. The teachers, all outstanding, were: John Morrison (drums), Natalie Risby (bass), Tony Barnard (guitar), Barney Wakeford (piano), Jacki Cooper (voice), Jack Stoneham (sax), Eric Dunan (trumpet), Des Cannings (trombone), and Saul Richardson (guitar & electric bass).
We always end Jazz Camp with an end-of-camp festival, apart from two audience-free Covid years where we had to make do with videoed performances. The showcase concerts to end the camp are run in a festival format with multiple bands playing on multiple stages at the same time. We do this because, compared to a traditional linear concert, it means each band can play for longer yet the whole event takes less time. It is also fun and creates a good ‘vibe’ to end. And no one is trapped in an endless formal concert for hours.
We had to vacate KCC by noon on the final day because a gigantic group with a prior booking was moving in. That meant that, instead of having our festival at the camp venue, we had to move off site. We booked three halls on the main street of Katoomba, two in one building and a third a couple of minutes’ walk away. On paper our plan was solid but very tight. We had two hours to pack up all the JWA gear from KCC, load it into the truck, drive up to town, and set up backline (drums, amps, etc) in three venues. All while big band rehearsals were still going on back at KCC. What could possibly go wrong?
Well, some of the things included:
- The sheer distance between some of the rehearsal spaces, slowing down pack-up and loading
- Couldn’t find parking for the truck in town (someone, possibly Jazz Camp parents were in the loading zone in front of the venue!)
- We only had two people to do the setup
- It was unexpectedly challenging to find our way into, unlock, and un-alarm the venues
- At one point, after the truck ended up in the wrong dead end laneway, escape was delayed by an old man having a heated argument with an invisible person in the blind spot behind the truck. It took maybe five minutes for the dispute to move off to a safer location. As you can imagine, anyone in a truck’s blind spot is hard enough to see, let alone an invisible antagonist.
Anyway, it meant that two of the venues started at about the right time but the third, the Community Centre, started half an hour late. By the end, it was all pretty much ok, however. The community centre bands made up time, and a long-running big band in the Church meant that the venues became more synchronised. Now that we’ve done it, we could do it again more smoothly. However, we’d also look at running the festival earlier in the day at the KCC venue instead.
Musically, the bands all played very well, of course, and there was a great spirit. It was very rewarding to see the progress in music and confidence made by so many of the campers.
Jazz Camp 2023 ended up being one of the really good ones. Excellent new venue, great staff, terrific students, and lots of inspiring music. We’ll do it again next year in the same place, almost certainly the first week of January again (TBC ASAP – stand by). Thanks to the campers for being so good to work with, the teachers and counsellors mentioned previously, the KCC staff for being excellent and helpful, and the parents who sent their young musicians to Jazz Camp. Thanks also to the professional bands that played concerts for us during the week: Damon Poppleton Quartet, Peter Farrar & Ellen Kirkwood’s Truffle Boils, Michael Brown’s Mambo Brown Trio, and the Jazz Camp Faculty band.
As ever, updates about Summer Jazz Camp 2024 will be online, on Facebook, and on Instagram – keep an eye on those places. Winter Jazz Camp will be in July, and Sydney-based campers are of course encouraged to consider joining the ongoing jazz program at JWA in St Leonards. Have a good year and see you next time.