“It’s a small camp by design,” says Dan Atkinson, founder of the UCSD Jazz Camp, an annual workshop open to students aged 14 and up. “We can take a maximum of about 55 students — mostly because we want to put everyone into a small ensemble and give them a chance to solo and really play this music. Every student gets placed into one of eight bands that is directed by a different faculty member throughout the week. So we can only accept eight of certain instruments, like the rhythm sections, especially. We can take more horns, though.”
It’s the faculty that draws students to the camp from all over.
“We have people who are the masters of bebop and straight-ahead playing, like Charles McPherson and Mike Wofford,” Atkinson relates from his office phone. “Then we’ve had the UCSD people, which in the beginning included George Lewis, Anthony Davis, David Borgo, and Mark Dresser. I wanted to do something that would reflect the full spectrum of what this community has to offer. None of the other programs out there try to cover the span of music that we do.”
The camp, which runs a week starting on June 22 (placement auditions are held on June 20 and 21), is filling — gradually. “We want to get people in line and signed up by May 25, which is the registration deadline, and we’re a little slow. Every year is a new year, and we have to find our constituency — we do get people who return four and five years in a row, but most of the people are brand new for that year.”
One thing puzzles Atkinson about the applicants so far. “I’m kind of surprised that we don’t have any pianists signed up because the piano faculty is like a dream team [Wofford, Davis, Geoffrey Keezer, and Joshua White], especially now that we’ve added Myra Melford — any pianist should be jumping to get into this particular edition because of that combination of people.”
The camp is open to adult students, who can make up 20 percent of the student body. “Sometimes the 14-year-olds can just blow everyone out of the water,” Atkinson said. “But they get seasoning and experience from the older players.”