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Artist Stories

Collegiate-Level Instruction for Young Budding Musicians

August 2021  —   JazzArts Charlotte Academy programs aim to help students with musicality, self-expression, discipline, confidence, and more. With just one week of camp this past July, students and parents both noted an improvement in all of those skills. Both also noted over and over where they believe that experience came from: the instructors.

“All the instructors do a great job of making learning fun, and encouraging the kids to reach for the next level in their skills (and best of all, make that next level seem achievable).” one parent, responding to the most valuable part of camp.

“Being around great teachers that had an answer to every question that I asked.” one student, responding to their favorite part of camp.

Several of the instructors at this year’s camp have been a part of JazzArts Academy for many years. Their approach represents a key ingredient that turns jazz education into a lifechanging experience for some.

“I love this community. It’s more than just teaching, it’s about sharing the language,” reflects instructor and jazz guitarist Troy Conn.

Troy describes his role teaching jazz to the next generation as an honor. “…but it’s more than that. I feel privileged to help expand the music in a way… It’s important to share jazz.”

Woodwind instructor Carl Ratliff spent time mentoring several students brand new to jazz this year. “I love seeing the young students light up when they attempt to play in the jazz style. Hearing them say ‘wow, I just did that!’ Seeing them connect with the music.” To him, it really doesn’t matter if they move to choose a career in it. Helping students discover the music of jazz is an opportunity “to honor the cultural past, to express the present, and to fuel the future.”

Brass instructor Mitch Butler emphasizes that distinction. “Jazz is art music. We shouldn’t shy away from it… in fact, we should be proud that a music based in America is an art music.”

It’s no surprise that this year in particular, many students noted how meaningful it was for them to be able to play with others again, learn together, and create music together. Community is an important aspect of music, and our instructors felt the same. Instructor and pianist Lovell Bradford noted at the final night’s performance, “This year’s camp rings so meaningful, simply because of what we’ve been through. My focus was less on the music itself and more about the experience together.”

Students commented on the unique dynamic of challenge and support they experienced in learning jazz at the hands of these instructors. Jazz, unlike most other forms of music, uses minimal sheet music as “guidelines”, creating a need to both listen carefully to how to fit into the musical conversation and to be ready to stand out in an improvised solo when it’s your turn. With only day three of working in the jazz style, students participated in a Jam Session where each was challenged to take the stage in a new group. A few needed extra coaxing from their peers, and were supported and cheered as they tested themselves. The instructors spent the week overflowing the students with new musical tools accompanied by a healthy dose of encouragement to push their limits.

As a recent graduate in jazz studies, instructor and vocalist Lauren Muensterman noted the unique depth of this camp experience: “It’s amazing to see middle and high school students with access to a level of instruction that you don’t generally receive until college. At such a young age, working with world-class musicians who not only teach this specific music, but guide and mentor young students, is an invaluable experience.”

As a matter of fact, how often do students get to see their instructors in action? JazzArts camp instructors performed periodically across the week for students and parents, demonstrating those lessons.


JazzArts Charlotte was thrilled to have the support of the following musicians at this summer’s camp, representing over 100 years of teaching experience, and equally excited that many will be back to teach the Fall Youth Ensemble beginning September.

Lovell Bradford, piano
Currently an Adjunct Professor of Piano at Davidson College, where he also studied Music and Art. His performance history is extensive, performing with artists like Pharez Whitted, Slide Hampton, Wynton Marsalis, Branford Marsalis, and many others.

Mitch Butler, trombone
Received Doctor of Music Arts in Music Performance from University of Texas at Austin. Mitch Butler is currently the Associate Professor of Jazz Studies at University of Missouri, Kansas City. His extensive background includes his work with the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Curtis Fuller, Tia Fuller, Branford Marsalis, and many other jazz legends.

Troy Conn, guitar
Studied music at UNC Charlotte, as well as Berklee Guitar Sessions program under full scholarship. Troy has played with JazzArts Charlotte events on numerous occasions. He has received both national and international acclaim, performing with his own bands, local musicians, and artists on tour.

Lauren Muensterman, voice
A recent graduate of Liberty University and studied Commercial Music: Jazz Studies. New to the Charlotte-region, she has performed regularly for the past several years, performing with the Liberty University Jazz Ensemble, Joseph Henson Quintet, Redeemer in NYC, and many others.

Carl Ratliff, saxophone
Studied at Winthrop University for both undergrad and masters. Along with performing in the region, he is currently teaching band at South Charlotte Middle School. He has been awarded Teacher of the Year several times now.

Tim Scott Jr., drums
A long-time Charlotte resident, Tim Scott performs often in the region. He is currently the Artist-in-Residence at Charlotte Center City Partners and studied Jazz Studies at North Carolina Central.

Dave Vergato, bass
Charlotte-based music performer and educator, teaching in public and private schools for over ten years. His bands have earned superior and excellent ratings at concert band festivals. He is currently Adjunct Professor of Music at Winthrop University, and working towards a Doctorate in Music Education from Liberty University.

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