Artistry in Jazz Education

by Terry Vosbein

from the Tantara CD
Horns of Plenty, Volume 3

Jazz Camps

For his entire career Stan Kenton looked toward the future. In the late 1950s it became apparent that the survival of jazz was in jeopardy. The changing musical industry provided no training ground for young musicians. If teenage musicians were to embrace modern jazz and carry the torch forward then they must be given a proper education. The complexities of contemporary jazz required that students be trained in classical and jazz techniques. Yet there was no place for students to find this type of instruction.

In 1959 the first Stan Kenton Jazz Camp was held at Indiana University under the auspices of the National Stage Band Camp. Student musicians from all over the country gathered to attend workshops and lectures on performance, improvisation and arranging. Professional jazz educators, performers and composers disseminated information in formal lectures and casual mealtime encounters. As Kenton would say, the students would take a “bath in jazz.”

After the first two summers additional camps were added at Michigan State University and Southern Methodist University. Early clinicians included Leon Breeden, Clem DeRosa, Sam Donahue, John LaPorta, Johnny Richards, Eddie Safranski and Sal Salvador. Clinicians, Kenton included, received no salary, only room and board. In the beginning the Kenton Band would play dances and concerts in the nearby area each night of the clinic. By the late 60s the band members themselves became a more integral part of the day to day experience of the clinics.

The year 1967 saw the formation of the Stan Kenton Clinics, as Kenton separated his activities from the National Stage Band Camp. The first clinics (the word camp was abandoned as being not academic enough) were held at Redlands University and San Jose State University and featured such outstanding faculty as Henry Mancini, Shelly Manne, Pete Rugolo, Bill Holman, Bill Perkins and Bud Shank. In the 1970s Hank Levy, Ken Hanna, Lou Marini, Tom Ferguson and Dan Haerle were amongst the talented faculty who inspired students.

A week long Orchestra in Residence would begin with an evening concert by the Kenton band. Individual placement auditions took place the first day and students were assigned to various big bands, each conducted by a resident artist. The following days were comprised of morning classes and afternoon rehearsals. Meals were all taken together in a college dining hall, students and clinicians sharing morning coffee and mid-day sandwiches, questions from students never ceasing. Each evening concluded with the Kenton band playing a short concert. After announcements were made everyone scattered, jazz education continuing into the wee hours in more informal settings around campus.

When Friday rolled around the student bands performed throughout the early evening. One band after another conducted by Bob Curnow, Ken Hanna, Jim Widner, Hank Levy and others came on stage to blow as parents and friends shouted calls of support from the audience. And the week ended as it began with the Kenton band having the last word. With the final strains of Artistry in Rhythm still in their ears the students helped the Kenton musicians pack up, grabbing one more moment of that excitement they had been living all week.

The next morning they would go their separate ways as the band bus drove off to the next gig and the students returned home. But all were changed. Not a single person who spent a week in this magical musical place went home untouched. They lived on that energy, thrived on it, until the following summer when they would return and re-ignite their dreams.

For many of the students this would mark a turning point in their lives. Several young musicians sat wide eyed at those clinics only to later tour with the band they idolized. And every student sitting out there, with their instruments in cool gig bags over their shoulders, knew this. These new friends may one day be band mates if they are talented and lucky enough to make that leap.

Peter Erskine attended his first Kenton camp in 1961 at the age of seven. Fellow students that year included Randy Brecker, David Sanborn and Keith Jarrett. Over a decade later Erskine would be a favorite of students when appearing as clinician and Kenton drummer par excellence.


In 1958 Stan Kenton, along with Billy Taylor, was invited to address the Music Educators National Conference (MENC) on the possibility of teaching jazz in an academic environment. This began a decade of formal and informal discussions. In their 1968 conference in Seattle MENC devoted an entire evening to jazz and jazz education. Performing on the evening concert was Leon Breeden’s 1:00 Lab Band from NTSU followed by the South California Collegiate Neophonic Orchestra under the direction of Jack Wheaton. Stan Kenton was the MC and host. During the conference Kenton met with Breeden, Wheaton and others to discuss the urgent need for a national organization to represent and support jazz education.

A follow-up meeting in Denver, hosted by John Roberts, gave birth to the National Association of Jazz Educators (NAJE). Matt Betton, co-founder of the National Stage Band Camps, was also at that Denver meeting and became the first executive director of the fledgling organization. The first year the membership was less than one hundred. Today the number stands at over 8,000 with the name transformed to reflect the changing times: the International Association for Jazz Education.

During their first conference, held in Chicago in 1973, Kenton left his band on the road under the direction of a sideman in order to assist in the organizational process. Although Kenton’s involvement in the creation of NAJE was strictly informal, he was the first band leader to directly support NAJE and was always an active member. His tireless campaigning on behalf of jazz education helped establish the credibility of the Association.

For the last 40 years of the twentieth century jazz education’s most important figure has been Stan Kenton. Even in the years since his 1979 passing his influence remains strong. Jazz camps have spread throughout the world since that first Kenton Camp in 1959. Many former clinicians and Kenton sidemen are continuing the tradition by hosting jazz clinics that follow the model created by Kenton. And virtually every high school and college in this country hosts a student jazz ensemble. His legacy lives on with each of these bands. Artistry in jazz education. Thank you, Stanley.