Saxophonist Jeff Antoniuk

Saxophonist Jeff Antoniuk Sparks New Service Industry in Music and Culture
by Paula Phillips | Music and Culture | Thursday, October 10, 2013

Saxophonist Jeff Antoniuk

The year 2013 marks the tenth anniversary of Jazz Band Masterclass, a unique jazz education program for adults launched by internationally respected saxophonist, composer and educator Jeff Antoniuk. The program has expanded steadily through economic ups and downs, creating a new service industry in the Mid-Atlantic region.

The inspiration that sparked the vision

As a university jazz professor, Antoniuk noticed a hole in adult jazz education. Learning chords and melodies and perfecting technique on an instrument are only the beginning of learning to play jazz. Those valuable skills could be learned in easily available private lessons. Outside of some summer jazz camps, there were few opportunities for grownups to learn to play and improvise in a combo - which is at the very heart of making jazz music! In combos, players learn to listen to each other and respond to visual and aural cues. They learn how a group shapes the dynamics of performance, turning the unexpected into something exciting. 

Antoniuk started "Jazz Band Masterclass" groups for adults, targeting gifted amateurs and semi-professional performers. The first location was the back room of 49 West Cafe. He began with four groups meeting twice monthly in two-hour sessions. Each group was set up like a regular jazz combo with drums, bass, piano, guitar and one or more horn players. Grouped by ability level, the combos gave members the feeling of being in a real band. 

Expanding the vision 

Before long, a second location was established at Mt. Vernon United Methodist Church in Washington, D.C. - a city known for its great love of jazz. In 2010, additional coaches were added: pianist Fred Hughes and bassist Amy Shook, both highly regarded American jazz performers and educators. Currently there are nine bands at the Annapolis location, and five in the District, and the program draws students from five surrounding states.

Repertoire focuses on The Great American Songbook as well as significant eras and styles of jazz such as Brazilian, swing, funk, and bebop. It covers seminal jazz composers such as Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Benny Golson, Chick Corea and John Scofield. Students are given tunes at a range of tempos, from slow ballads to moderate swing tunes to up-tempo. Advanced students sometimes bring in their own compositions and learn more about arranging and composition.

The program goal is to get students "out of the basement and onto the bandstand," and by all accounts, it is being met. Most students stay in the program for three years or more, handling increasingly more difficult music, improving their ensemble playing and contributing more to the group in terms of harmony and improvisation. When ready, they perform in pubic concerts, jazz clubs and festivals. 

'Jazz Band Masterclass' sparks a new service industry in music and culture

Five years into his 'Jazz Band Masterclass' program Antoniuk noticed other D.C. area jazz educators and institutions imitating his business model and starting their own adult combo classes and workshops. Antoniuk has gone beyond serving instrumentalists to coaching jazz vocalists, and with jazz promoter Paula Phillips, Antoniuk also launched related weekend workshops known as inDepth Jazz Clinics & Concerts.

In terms of sheer numbers, adult jazz education has a huge impact in the Washington, D.C. region. It employs teaching artists, is a boon to instrument and equipment suppliers, and raises the level of musicianship in the area. Some students have been empowered to launch recording and performing careers. The two programs described above serve about 500 students yearly, surpassing the number of students registered in half a dozen D.C. area university jazz programs.

While the key to the success of Antoniuk's programs is the focus on adults, talented young musicians such as bluegrass star Jordan Tice, sometimes enroll to have their mettle tested. When Tice attended, he was already competent on electric and acoustic guitars and had a recording contract lined up. He attended Jazz Band Masterclass to improve his ability to improvise in a group - a vital missing link in adult jazz education.

Photo credit: Amy Raab


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