Elbphilharmonie Jazz Academy

Elbphilharmonie Jazz Academy

Learning from the big names of the jazz scene – the Elbphilharmonie Jazz Academy makes it possible. A look back.

Vacation courses for young musicians are good and useful, and they have been around for a pretty long time, in the jazz world too. They promise inspiration and lots of ideas for making progress in both artistic and technical terms. In addition, you get to know people who are just as off-the-wall as you are. People for whom music is the no. 1 priority, people who have already invested the first couple of thousand of the legendary minimum of 10,000 hours that anyone needs to become really good in any discipline.

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for the next edition of the Elbphilharmonie Jazz Academy in summer 2023

»This week probably taught me more than any other week of my life, both about jazz and about music in general.«

Jakob Bänsch

The Elbphilharmonie Jazz Academy :15 selected applicants meet a group of jazz stars

At the end of the summer, the Elbphilharmonie’s Education Department put on a week of this kind for the first time for 15 top young jazz musicians. Selected from 185 applicants, six women and nine men aged between 18 and 28 came together for the »Elbphilharmonie Jazz Academy«. The group consisted of three saxophonists, three pianists, three bass players, three percussionists, two trumpeters and one trombonist. They had six teachers at their side, all of them eminent authorities in their respective fields: Melissa Aldana (saxophone), Matt Brewer (bass), Theo Croker (trumpet/trombone), Julia Hülsmann (composition, arrangement), Ziv Ravitz (percussion) and Yaron Herman (piano and artistic direction).

Six days of intensive training

The learning curve was really steep: just six days lay between the very first get-together and a full-length concert given by the youngsters and their teachers in the Elbphilharmonie Grand Hall. Every member of the Academy brought along one or more of his or her own pieces, which were then tried out to see how well they worked. Starting right away on Monday morning, the musicians played all kinds of music together in various line-ups. And pieces still unfamiliar that had only just been rehearsed were presented to the others and the teachers in the Recital Hall. A bit like it used to be at school, except that there were six teachers sitting in the first row who all had plenty to say about what they had just heard.

Präsentation im Kleinen Saal Präsentation im Kleinen Saal © Daniel Dittus
Kritische Geister: Die Dozenten Theo Croker, Melissa Aldana, Matt Brewer, Yaron Herman, Julia Hülsmann und Ziv Ravitz Kritische Geister: Die Dozenten Theo Croker, Melissa Aldana, Matt Brewer, Yaron Herman, Julia Hülsmann und Ziv Ravitz © Daniel Dittus
Elbphilharmonie Jazz Academy Elbphilharmonie Jazz Academy © Daniel Dittus
Yaron Herman mit Teilnehmer:innen Yaron Herman mit Teilnehmer:innen © Daniel Dittus
Maxim Burtsev und Yaron Herman am Klavier Maxim Burtsev und Yaron Herman am Klavier © Daniel Dittus
Melissa Aldana Melissa Aldana © Daniel Dittus
Lauri Kadalipp Lauri Kadalipp © Daniel Dittus
Theo Croker Theo Croker © Daniel Dittus
Ziv Ravitz und Dominic Harrison Ziv Ravitz und Dominic Harrison © Daniel Dittus
Matt Brewer und die Kontrabass-Gruppe Matt Brewer und die Kontrabass-Gruppe © Daniel Dittus

This was an amazing amount of new input at one time: pretty confusing, pretty exciting and sometimes even unsettling. Even for these rehearsals, which involved sizing each other up at the outset and then soon began to take shape, master drummer Ziv Ravitz set a high standard from the word go. As he explained, one of his own teachers had impressed on him to never refer to the rehearsal room as a rehearsal room, but rather to see it as a stage, as an auditorium. »Every session of music-making,« his teacher went on, »should be an act where you reveal yourself totally, where you give your all from the first to the last note. If you make that philosophy your own, you’ll have a different attitude to your own playing. More respect, towards yourself as well.«

»The greatest and most concentrated inspiration for a long time!«

Lisa Wilhelm

And if that wasn’t enough input: pianist and composer Julia Hülsmann also quoted one of her teachers, the vibraphone player David Friedman, as saying that you just need to open the top of your skull at such jazz courses and let in as much as possible. And then ›close the lid‹ again as late as you can – everything you’ve taken in can be sorted through and arranged later on.

Julia Hülsmann Julia Hülsmann © Daniel Dittus
Julia Hülsmann / Elbphilharmonie Jazz Academy 2021 Julia Hülsmann / Elbphilharmonie Jazz Academy 2021 © Daniel Dittus
Elbphilharmonie Jazz Academy 2021 Elbphilharmonie Jazz Academy 2021 © Daniel Dittus
Melissa Aldana / Elbphilharmonie Jazz Academy 2021 Melissa Aldana / Elbphilharmonie Jazz Academy 2021 © Daniel Dittus
Theo Croker / Elbphilharmonie Jazz Academy 2021 Theo Croker / Elbphilharmonie Jazz Academy 2021 © Daniel Dittus
Matt Brewer / Elbphilharmonie Jazz Academy 2021 Matt Brewer / Elbphilharmonie Jazz Academy 2021
Ziv Ravitz / Elbphilharmonie Jazz Academy 2021 Ziv Ravitz / Elbphilharmonie Jazz Academy 2021 © Daniel Dittus
Elbphilharmonie Jazz Academy 2021 Elbphilharmonie Jazz Academy 2021 © Daniel Dittus
Elbphilharmonie Jazz Academy 2021 Elbphilharmonie Jazz Academy 2021 © Daniel Dittus

Rehearsals in every possible line-up

Every day the group rehearsed in ensembles from trio to quintet format. The Recital Hall remained the epicentre of events, while the Kaistudios turned into incubators where the pieces were nurtured at top speed. There was also individual training in the different instrument groups spread over four days. This was intense, exciting and instructive, and the teachers, all of whom threw themselves into the project with great commitment, became more approachable still.

Less pressure, more sound :Saxophonist Melissa Aldana

Saxophonist Melissa Aldana, for example, let the three Academy members who play the sax feel her cheeks, lower lip and stomach so that they could literally get a first-hand impression of how little physical pressure she needs to exert to produce such a fantastic sound on her instrument. Creating a lot of sound with comparatively little air pressure: that’s something you can train yourself to do, but it’s also the result of an inner attitude. Melissa has been playing the sax since she was six, and she practises for six hours every day. She is now 32, which means that even if this industrious player has sometimes spent an hour or two less with her instrument, the total practice time still adds up to at least 50,000 hours! And that’s not counting all the sessions and rehearsals and concerts with others.

»This experience was immensely enriching for me in many ways: the inspiring input, the opportunity to play with so many other super musicians in a building like this, and last but not least the truly positive and supportive atmosphere amongst the participants. These are things that will stay with me for a long time.«

Lucie Grähl

Four huge pairs of ears :The teachers’ jam session

You can’t make something out of nothing. That much was clear on the second evening, when Matt Brewer and Ziv Ravitz talked about how they practise and play, and then started to jam together in response to entreaties from the students. First of all, they let Melissa play on her own. Everything that singles her out was present from the word go: her powerful sound, her strong ideas and the physicality that marks her playing. At some point she was joined by trumpeter Theo Croker, then finally Ziv and Matt joined in too. It was obviously that none of this had been planned in advance, but at the same time these four improvisers produced an unchecked, collective, complex yet transparent flow of ideas that was nothing short of jaw-dropping. Power without end and four huge pairs of ears: pure magic.

Melissa Aldana Melissa Aldana © Daniel Dittus
Theo Croker Theo Croker © Daniel Dittus
Matt Brewer / Elbphilharmonie Jazz Academy 2021 Matt Brewer / Elbphilharmonie Jazz Academy 2021 © Daniel Dittus
Ziv Ravitz / Elbphilharmonie Jazz Academy 2021 Ziv Ravitz / Elbphilharmonie Jazz Academy 2021 © Daniel Dittus
Yaron Herman / Elbphilharmonie Jazz Academy 2021 Yaron Herman / Elbphilharmonie Jazz Academy 2021 © Daniel Dittus
Julia Hülsmann / Elbphilharmonie Jazz Academy 2021 Julia Hülsmann / Elbphilharmonie Jazz Academy 2021 © Daniel Dittus

Final spurt before the big concert

The programme now started to come together, slowly but surely. The group of musicians spent the remaining days constantly polishing it up: line-ups were changed, pieces shortened, the order of the solos altered. Learning and planning were parallel processes, and Yaron Herman, with a baseball cap back-to-front on his smart head, soon got a picture of the finale. The TV crew appeared on Thursday to film a short piece about the »Jazz Academy«, eliciting another major outburst of keen commitment from the teachers.

On Friday evening it was then time to give the concert in the Jazz Hall, the new concert hall for jazz at the Hochschule für Musik und Theater. This was half a guest appearance, and half a final rehearsal for the closing concert. The pieces had been agreed on, the line-ups likewise, and some of the teachers joined in as well for two numbers. Five of them even contributed an extended sample of their collective improvisation skills at the showdown. And the music played by the members of the Academy sounded pretty good too. Everyone realised where there was room for improvement and what changes could be made in time for the final concert the next day. This was jazz, after all:  an art form where no two performances are ever the same. Good jazz is an original every time.

»This was an experience that really changed my life, and I had the opportunity to share it with the most inspired people I’ve ever met.«

Mateusz Szewczyk

Elbphilharmonie Jazz Academy 2021 Elbphilharmonie Jazz Academy 2021 © Daniel Dittus
Elbphilharmonie Jazz Academy 2021 Elbphilharmonie Jazz Academy 2021 © Daniel Dittus
Elbphilharmonie Jazz Academy 2021 Elbphilharmonie Jazz Academy 2021 © Daniel Dittus
Elbphilharmonie Jazz Academy 2021 Elbphilharmonie Jazz Academy 2021 © Daniel Dittus
Elbphilharmonie Jazz Academy 2021 Elbphilharmonie Jazz Academy 2021 © Daniel Dittus
Elbphilharmonie Jazz Academy 2021 Elbphilharmonie Jazz Academy 2021 © Daniel Dittus
Elbphilharmonie Jazz Academy 2021 Elbphilharmonie Jazz Academy 2021 © Daniel Dittus
Elbphilharmonie Jazz Academy 2021 Elbphilharmonie Jazz Academy 2021 © Daniel Dittus
Elbphilharmonie Jazz Academy 2021 Elbphilharmonie Jazz Academy 2021 © Daniel Dittus
Elbphilharmonie Jazz Academy 2021 Elbphilharmonie Jazz Academy 2021 © Daniel Dittus
Elbphilharmonie Jazz Academy 2021 Elbphilharmonie Jazz Academy 2021 © Daniel Dittus
Elbphilharmonie Jazz Academy 2021 Elbphilharmonie Jazz Academy 2021 © Daniel Dittus
Elbphilharmonie Jazz Academy 2021 Elbphilharmonie Jazz Academy 2021 © Daniel Dittus
Elbphilharmonie Jazz Academy 2021 Elbphilharmonie Jazz Academy 2021 © Daniel Dittus

No skating display :The closing concert

Saturday, 17.50, Elbphilharmonie, 12th floor, backstage in the Grand Hall. the first of the two closing concerts is due to start in ten minutes. The adrenalin runs through the veins of 15 young people like CO2 through a champagne glass. The Academy musicians form a circle as if they were preparing to run out on to the football ground for the Champions League final.

The trainers of the teachers’ team also take their place in the circle. One last moment of team-building. Yaron, Julia, and Ziv recite a couple more motivation slogans, culminating in the exhortation to concentrate on stage, but above all to make sure and have fun out there. »Don’t get angry over any mistakes you make! Be sure to listen to one another!« Then everyone goes out into the auditorium. The concert platform is furnished with sofas, armchairs and standard lamps, with seating for the teachers at the back. The message is clear: this is no skating display here, we’re all in this together.

And then it’s time for the 15 young musicians to show what they can do. Nervousness and a sense of anticipation mingle with the waves of solidarity emanating from the audience. The magical atmosphere of the Grand Hall makes its own contribution. Everyone knows that a second concert is scheduled for 21.00, but nobody holds anything back here. Some of the players that seemed to be over-cautious up to now suddenly blossom under the stage lighting like flowers in the midday sun – as if they had just been waiting for this moment. The audience is great: they list attentively, and applaud enthusiastically after every number.

The evening’s second show at 9 o’clock is a repeat of the first, but even better. The pieces played already sound different from the first time round, even though we just heard them once. You really want to send the entire group out on tour, then hear them again in four weeks’ time to find out how they sound, how some of the stuff that has been maturing in their heads since the awesome »Jazz Academy« in August has now been sorted through and arranged…

 

Text: Tom R. Schulz, last updated: 10 Nov 2022

English translation: Clive Williams

Abschlusskonzert Elbphilharmonie Jazz Academy 2021 Abschlusskonzert Elbphilharmonie Jazz Academy 2021 © Daniel Dittus
Yaron Herman / Elbphilharmonie Jazz Academy 2021 Yaron Herman / Elbphilharmonie Jazz Academy 2021 © Daniel Dittus
Abschlusskonzert / Elbphilharmonie Jazz Academy 2021 Abschlusskonzert / Elbphilharmonie Jazz Academy 2021 © Daniel Dittus
Julia Hülsmann / Elbphilharmonie Jazz Academy 2021 Julia Hülsmann / Elbphilharmonie Jazz Academy 2021 © Daniel Dittus
Abschlusskonzert Elbphilharmonie Jazz Academy 2021 Abschlusskonzert Elbphilharmonie Jazz Academy 2021 © Daniel Dittus
Abschlusskonzert Elbphilharmonie Jazz Academy 2021 Abschlusskonzert Elbphilharmonie Jazz Academy 2021 © Daniel Dittus
Abschlusskonzert Elbphilharmonie Jazz Academy 2021 Abschlusskonzert Elbphilharmonie Jazz Academy 2021 © Daniel Dittus

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