Recent high school grad, Wesley Yellis wanted to take full advantage of his summer before coming to North Central College to study jazz.
“I heard about the vocal jazz camp and of course I had to come and get a head start for when I come in the fall,” said Yellis.
Yellis is one of 30 singers, ranging from high school students to adults, enrolled in the Janice Borla Vocal Jazz Camp at North Central College.
Borla, a professional Jazz singer and professor at the college, is in her 25th year of directing the camp where students hone their skills in small sessions led by professional singers.
“Unlike classical music where you can pick up a score and it tells you exactly what you need to know, jazz is a folk art,” explained Borla. “Even though we have all these sophisticated educational programs, it’s really something you pick up by ear from one artist to another.”
The skills the students learn during the day can be seen in action at night, when Madden Theatre is turned into a jazz club, featuring their professors.
“The camp without the concert series would be like teaching chemistry without a lab,” said Jack Mouse a member of the camp rhythm ensemble, and Borla’s husband. “You can read all the books, listen to all the records and watch all the YouTube you want, but live jazz is something you have to hear it, see it, smell it, and feel it. You have to be in the moment with it.”
All three teachers perform for the students and the public over five nights. This helps the campers see how no two jazz performances are alike.
The camp culminates with the professors turning the microphone over to the students for a final night to showcase what they have learned.
Jay Clayton, who has taught at the camp for most of the 25 years, loves seeing her students discover and begin to love jazz just as she did.
“It’s just the more experience passing it on,” said Clayton. “We’re just passing on the music.”
“We’re hoping to carry on the tradition and pass it on to the next generation,” said Borla. “Because it’s a folk art, it really needs that nurturing, or else it will die on the vine.”
Mayor George Pradel proclaimed July 21 through July 27 “Vocal Jazz Week” in honor of the camp.
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