The Indianhead Arts Center (site of the old high school) in Shell Lake, Wisconsin

Report from the Shell Lake Jazz Camp '98
By Bob Patterson

This was my second time around as the guitar teacher at the Indianhead Arts Center Big Band and Combo Camp in Shell Lake, Wisconsin. As the year before, this was a lot of work and I was wiped out at the end of the three week stint. But I loved every minute of it.

The camp is broken into 3 week-long segments. Students can sign up for one, two or three weeks, staying on one instrument or switching from one week to another. They ranged from high school seniors down to 5th and 6th graders.

The curriculum is quite intensive considering the age of the students and compared with many other jazz camps in the country. The day starts at 8AM with instrumental masterclass, followed by morning theory, introductory listening or improvisation class and big band rehearsal. All this before lunch. In the afternoon is the advanced listening class (specializing in the music of Miles Davis), afternoon big band rehearsal and combo rehearsals. There will also be private lessons here and there with your teacher if time permits. After dinner the students assemble for an evening faculty concert. Many of the students meet to jam or rehearse in the evening to prepare for the next day.

The Jazz Guitar Ensemble after their first performance

One of the student combo concerts

At the end of each week we held a Student Combo concert and Big Band concert, where all the parents showed up to hear the results of the week of hard work. During the second week, we also held a Tribute to the Big Bands concert featuring the faculty big band and the UW Eau Claire alumni big band. It was quite a fun night.

I taught the guitar masterclass, one of the Improvisation classes and directed 3 combos. I also assisted in coaching the rhythm sections of all the big bands. On the last week of the camp I premiered the Jazz Guitar Ensemble with a 4 part arrangement of Seven Come Eleven that I wrote.

In the masterclass I covered several subjects, depending on the experience level of the students. Basic warmups, hand and finger independence, scales and arpeggios and using blues licks in the jazz setting constituted most of what we covered. One area of emphasis was in jazz chord voicings. I prepared handouts that showed 3 and 4 note chords for the basic food groups of chords: Major, Dorian and Mixolydian. Other chords that showed themselves in the big band and combo charts were covered as well.

My improvisation class was dedicated to learning the ii-V-I chord progression. I had all instruments in here, not just guitars. We drilled and drilled on scales and licks in all keys and by the end of the week, I had the students stand one at a time and blow a few choruses while their classmates played the changes. I was fortunate enough to see many students discover their musical voice in this class. For a music teacher, there can be no greater thrill.

A lot of the guitar students I had came from a rock background and these chords were new to many of them. They worked hard though, and by the end of the week were able to get through most of the charts they had to read. They also quickly picked up the idea of improvising in a jazz context and some of them played some great solos. There were a couple of the more advanced students that delivered come great playing in the concerts.

Obviously, not everyone improves at the same rate. Any guitar teacher knows that. The student has to bring some motivation and a willingness to work. But camps like these tend to weed out those who are just casually interested in their instrument. That saves time for the teachers and everyone else.

I should mention that the faculty at Shell Lake is composed of world class players, teachers, arrangers and band directors. There is way more "face time" here than any other jazz camp in the USA. Students come away from the Indianhead Arts Center with a high quality learning experience in their hip pockets.

Shell Lake and the surrounding area is also beautiful. The lake is crystal clear, the skies are -- well, not to sound like a travel brochure, but it's really pretty up there in the summer.

Some faculty and staff of the jazz camp

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