First Annual JEN Conference

Report from educational conference held in St. Louis, Mo.

John Clayton image 0

John Clayton

The first annual Jazz Education Network (JEN) Conference attracted more than 1,200 music students, educators, musicians and industry professionals to the campus of the University of Missouri St. Louis May 18-22, 2010. During three days of performances, workshops and seminars – and three nights of concerts and jam sessions – attendees were energized and upbeat about the opportunity to interact and communicate in a way that reminded many of the now defunct annual IAJE conference.

“When I think back on IAJE, I remember it as a family reunion of everyone who loves jazz,” commented noted jazz musician and educator David Baker, speaking at the Conference’s “JENeral session on Friday afternoon, “With this first JEN Conference, the phoenix has risen from the ashes.”

That feeling of “family reunion” seemed to permeate the entire JEN Conference. Seminars on topics such as “The Future of Online media in Jazz” and “marketing Jazz Programming in the 21st Century” generated interesting comments from industry professionals as well as musicians. Workshops and clinics led by Bob Mintzer (“The Saxophonist in the Rhythm Section”) and Ndugu Chandler (Finding the Time: From Swing to Salsa”) attracted crowds of students and educators.

And a panel discussion featuring Gerald Clayton, Don Braden, Stefon Harris and D.J. Trentino generated animated discussion about the current state of jazz education. Clayton, Harris and Trentino brought a Gen Y viewpoint, squaring off against Braden’s respect for tradition. Harris commented that it was imperative to give the young students coming into jazz a “sense of ownership” of the music. Clayton focused on an educational approach based on “a mindset of Positive, Provocative, open-mindededness.” Braden’s closing remarks suggested a respect for tradition “can coexist with more freedom” in education.

“It was high-spirited panel discussion, commented bassist John Clayton, Gerald Clayton’s father. Stefon, Gerald and D.J. accomplished going straight for the jugular but did it with respect and love. Don made excellent points. I learned a lot.”

Naturally, Music performances and concerts were the primary focus of the JEN Conference. Evening concerts at UMSL’s 1,600 seat Touhill Performing Arts Center were highlighted by outstanding performances by the Clayton Brothers, Rufus Reid’s “OUT FRONT” Trio, UMSL’s Big Band under the direction of Jim Widner, and the JEN All-Stars with a lineup that included Shelly Berg, Bill Mays, Terell Stafford and others.

University and high School bands performed through out the Conference – primarily in the UMSL Student Center. Marshall University’s and the University of northern Iowa’s Big Band turned in finely honed performances as did bands from Tinsley Park High in Illinois, Webster High in the St. Louis area and the Missouri All State Jazz Band.

“It was amazing for our kids to get a chance to perform at the conference,” commented Kevin Cole, the director of Webster High’s jazz program. “Just the chance for our students to work on a personal basis with heroes and mentors like Terell Stafford and Bob Mintzer was incredibly special. If you couldn’t get inspired by all the great music and interaction here, it’s just not going to ever be there for you musically.”

Some of the most special moments of the conference didn’t actually happen at UMSL, but in the lobby of the Hilton Airport Hotel, where informal jam sessions each evening drew standing room only crowds. The feeling of a genuine “hang” was very much in the air at every jam, and the energy and enthusiasm for jazz was apparent throughout the entire conference.

“The Conference was a great example of just how powerful and united the jazz community can be,” stated publicist and seminar presenter Cheryl Hughey. “It was an energizing experience and an honor to be able to meet so many inspiring jazz professionals at the JEN Conference.”

John Clayton summed up the prevailing attitude as the first JEN Conference concluded, and JEN prepared to reconvene in New Orleans Jan. 6-8, 2011.

“I hope that everyone is energized by the JEN conference about aspects of music they are familiar with and stimulated to expand their boundaries,” he stated. “Maybe even throw away a few pigeonhole titles they may have – grow, expand, stretch! I also hope people feel the need to be a part of the jazz community through this first Conference”