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SXU Holds Virtual Jazz Camp


Saint Xavier University (SXU) recently held its fifth annual SXU-Southside Summer Jazz Camp. In response to COVID-19, the camp was held virtually for the first time ever. Open to students in sixth through 12th grades, the camp provides students with an opportunity to work with an outstanding group of jazz educators to improve on their musical abilities. Though the event was nearly canceled, instructors banded together to plan a fully-online camp where youth would be able to learn about jazz, improve performance techniques on instruments and develop skills as improvisers.

The camp was led by Director of Jazz Studies Shawn Salmon, D.A.., and Michael Bielecki ’06, ’17, the Bloom-Trail High School band director. The instructors hosted the camp via Zoom and had 29 campers (known affectionately as the Jazz Cats) join for the weeklong camp, including many returning students and some new faces. Salmon created material for a series of stimulating virtual lessons that kept students engaged. Though the experience was certainly different, the camp's innovation allowed students to truly thrive.

"Our SXU Jazz Cats are amazing! I am so happy we were able to bring a little bit of joy through music to students during this time of uncertainty and unrest," said Salmon.

"The 2020 camp was a great success. Even though we met virtually, the entire staff worked at and succeeded in building strong, educational relationships with the students," added Bielecki.

The camp curriculum included discussions about jazz, instrument break-out rooms, lessons on recording and preparation for the final performance. The instructors created a video series with corresponding PDFs to help students develop rhythmic vocabulary for improvising. Salmon also created a series of play-along pieces for students to practice the topics discussed in lessons using Soundtrap, an online, cross-platform music studio. Students recorded themselves and shared the audio with instructors for feedback.

"So much of learning jazz is imitation and assimilation of traits and traditions from past masters. Even though we couldn't be with everyone, we gave them the best models to help guide them while they practiced at home."

The camp even had a special guest clinician join this year – Grammy-winning saxophonist, composer and educator Jeff Coffin, known for his work with the jazz group Bela Fleck and the Flecktones and the Dave Matthews Band. At the end of the week, instructors met individually with each student to listen to them play a piece and offer final advice and words of encouragement.

"There were a lot of smiles, laughter and endearing moments all week. All the students did a fantastic job. They're so talented," said Salmon.

Though instructors anticipate returning to in-person instruction in the future, they now know that they can give students the best learning experience possible -- even remotely.

 "We can’t wait to see our students in person again soon," said Bielecki.

"Jazz continues to celebrate freedom, creativity and bringing out the best in each other, even over Zoom," added Salmon.