Rutgers Summer Jazz Institute aims to create ‘improvisers for life’; scholarships available through 5/15

Mason Gross faculty member Conrad Herwig says he believes the school “has a responsibility to serve the New Jersey community and give opportunities to our young people.”

As a result, Herwig has served as director of the Mason Gross Extension Division’s Rutgers Summer Jazz Institute since 2009. Institute participants study with the esteemed Mason Gross jazz faculty, experiencing campus life and immersing themselves in the world of jazz. 

The week-long camp opens with a field trip to the Jazz Standard in New York City for barbecued food and a performance by the Grammy-winning Mingus Big Band.

“The student musicians are exposed to the electric atmosphere of the New York jazz scene,” Herwig says. “They see how cutting-edge jazz improvisers handle themselves on the bandstand.”

Herwig, a trombone player and a charter member of the Mingus legacy groups, says that “the Mingus Big Band musicians are energized and uplifted, as well. They have conveyed to me how gratifying it is to see young musicians so hungry to learn about jazz, soaking up the performance and information like sponges. The institute participants are able to ask questions and interact in a way that would not be possible in the traditional classroom.”

The young musicians spend an intense four days training with faculty before heading to yet another club, this time for a gig of their own, at Cecil’s Jazz Club in West Orange.

And on the institute’s final night, participants take the stage at Nicholas Music Center on the Douglass Campus for a collaboration with big bands and chamber ensembles.

“What is really amazing is to hear student musicians who had never improvised confidently take solos under the pressure of the concert spotlight,” he says of the final night’s concert. “...It's incredible how much musical growth and maturity develops in one short week.”

But for Herwig, the institute is about the quest to create what he calls “improvisers for life.” Herwig says he “hopes to instill and reinforce the creative spirit in all that they pursue. Jazz combines creativity, spontaneity, individual performance, teamwork, and nonlinear thinking; these components lead to success and innovation in life. And for those students who do go on to musical careers, we are offering a solid foundation and framework for them to build their artistic personalities and skills.”

Financial aid is available for the 2011 Rutgers Summer Jazz Institute. Full and partial scholarships will be awarded based on financial need and talent. These funds are made available through the generous support of the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation. Click here for the institute description and application details. Registration runs through June 1 for all Mason Gross Extension Division summer camps. Scholarship application deadline is May 15.

Watch a video performance of 2010 Rutgers Summer Jazz Institute participants in rehearsal.