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Lessons from Camp

July, 2022 —  “You are already a jazz musician. There’s no barrier. You committed to being here to play jazz for a full week. This is a community. You have as much to say in the community as anyone else,” says Roxy Coss to a room full of students at Jazz Camp this summer.

In addition to a week full of peer music fans and instruction from many of the regions finest professional jazz instructors, we were joined for a day by DownBeat Magazine’s recently named “Rising Star”, renowned saxophonist Roxy Coss. She spent the first hour and a half pelted with questions, from the mundane to the deep, and responded to each with a lesson as much about life as about jazz.

She was asked about her favorite album she had produced, and responded “The most recent. I always want to be growing as a musician. I’m committed to being a lifelong student. So I hope this is worst record so far, because that means I am going to keep getting better.” She talked about being a good musician as a process, a journey to enjoy. “How boring would it be to have already achieved mastery.”

In response to why jazz, she shared “I love jazz because it celebrates everybody’s unique voices. There’s room for all of us to become our best selves.” Roxy later talked about learning from others, but also recognizing your strengths and not comparing yourself.

The students had viewed the film “Girls in the Band”, and experienced an eye-opening view of the impact of discrimination on jazz musicians historically, and what that infuses into the music and the industry. So, one student asked Roxy about how she handled that struggle. Roxy didn’t shy from the subject, but instead gave them their own useful insights and tools. “There is still a culture of racism and sexism. I am often the only person like me in the room. It can be stressful… Every person faces challenges. Surround yourself with people that support you and you can share with. Seek out role models that can give you a sense that you can do it. Remind yourself why you are doing what you are doing and continue to re-find your inspiration. Get help when you need it.”

The environment throughout the week was infused with peer-encouragement, offering each a safe space to try new things. The students at camp included instruments from saxophone to vibraphone to voice, from novice to award winning. They pushed themselves, worked hard, got creative and gelled in their ensembles.

With a week of intense practice, Roxy’s last words of advice truly encompassed the goal of a musician. “It does take thousands of hours of practice to become a good musician, to build the technique. But music is not about the number of hours you practice. Music isn’t in the practice room. If you are fluent in a language, you can speak. You need the words and vocabulary to make your point. But you can be fluent and have nothing to say. Music is life.”

From there, the students joined Roxy and their instructors on stage for one of the first-ever jam sessions, for some. In various groups, they played jazz, side by side with one of the nations most recognized jazz saxophonists, cheering each other on. A community of jazz musicians.

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