Jazz Camp West. It’s almost impossible to explain it to somebody who hasn’t been before. Watching the video above might give you a taste. (And you may recognize the first speaker.)
More than a month has gone by since those blissful days in the Santa Cruz mountains. It feels as if it were only a dream.
Here’s what happens:
You drive up a windy road into the mountains, through canopies of redwoods, and for 8 days you are removed from normal life entirely. Your world becomes music, dance, nature, and human connection. Every day is an adventure in letting go, creating, improvising, learning, pushing the envelope, pushing your mind, pushing your body.
You maintain your still-relatively-new, 10-minute sitting meditation practice in the mornings (right after trudging back to the cabin from the restroom/bath house and layering on the day’s clothes, cross-legged on the bottom bed of your bunk, where you sleep at night in a cocoon of draperies improvised from sheets, towels, and your long, down winter coat, a soft cave to retreat to, the only real private spot outside of the bath house).
This is the only ritual/routine you bring with you from the outside world. Instead of sitting in front of a monitor and behind the wheel of a car, you walk through redwoods every day, several times a day:
…to and from the restroom/bath house, to the dining hall for breakfast,
…to your first period class (Beginning Improvisation, which you’ve taken before as a vocalist, but are doing this time with your ukulele), to your second period class (Trombones and Other Cool Instruments, which is really mostly a theory class, but has the added benefit of earning you honorary membership in the trombone section at Indian Bowl on Wednesday night [it’s a Jazz Camp thing… hard to explain if you haven’t been there…]),
…to your third period class (your one vocal class this year, an incredible adventure with the amazing Rhiannon, Spontaneous Composition, which you find yourself referring to as Spontaneous Combustion, because it feels like that, in the best sense of the phrase),
…then back to the dining hall for lunch,
…then to your fourth period class (in which you, with your ukulele, actually play with a jazz combo, though really it’s mostly a theory class),
…to your fifth period practice spot (having wisely figured out — finally, after six years of this — that taking a class all six periods is TOTAL OVERLOAD and doesn’t allow any time for integration or practice),
…to your sixth period Dance Improvisation class (heaven!),
…to Open Mic (Open Mike?), where 8 campers are chosen by lottery to perform every night during the hour before dinner,
…back to the dining hall for dinner,
…all the way across the gully back to your cabin to gear up in your warmest winter clothing for the evening concert in the outdoor amphitheater, where the California summer gets down into the low 40s, Fahrenheit,
…and finally back to the cabin and restroom/bath house for bed.
Sometimes with an extra trip to the dining hall where there’s company, jam sessions, and dessert (of which you wisely do not partake — yay you!)
The days are highly ritualized — a veritable treasure trove of what Jonathan Fields calls “certainty anchors” — which no doubt helps you “lean into” uncertainty in class and on stage. It’s a beautiful thing. No phone calls or email poking at you, making demands. You get to focus 100% on learning and having fun.
And the community is beyond supportive. Family, in all the good senses of that word (plus, because it’s only eight days, there’s not enough time for people to really start to get on each other’s nerves…)
And you wonder why it’s hard to come home?
It’s surprisingly hard to remember how much you love your amazing and wonderful regular life, and truly you wish you could live in a setting like Jazz Camp all. year. long.
But of course you can’t. Reality bites, as it is wont to do, and at the end of eight days, you load up your car with your gear (much dustier than when you arrived) and, bleary-eyed, rather wistfully make the drive home.
In fact, you come home to a jumble of mad scrambling to get just enough of a handle on everything so that you can leave again for the World Domination Summit just four days later.
Which is hard, because for some reason coming home from Jazz Camp feels a lot like flying home from Europe, complete with jet-lag-that-isn’t-really-jet-lag for close to a week. (You’re learning to build in some downtime, setting autoresponders and voicemail to say you’re away from the computer and phone, even when you’re not, but WDS throws a wrench into the works. And saying no to that just isn’t an option at this juncture.)
So you come home, needing a vacation from your vacation. Wrung out, yet energized. Physically drained, yet inspired. And longing desperately to return.
Only 357 more days to go…
Here’s the truth:
There’s nothing like getting away from home for a week to focus on your creative spirit in community. We need these kinds of recharges. That’s why I’m co-leading a creativity workshop/creative immersion vacation this fall, in one of the most inspirational cities in the world: Istanbul! (Note: Playing Around Istanbul is not a music camp — we’ll be writing and painting and doing other kinds of creative play — but I will have my ukulele with me! ;)) We’ve still got some spaces available. Click here to join me!
PS — Pssst! Know someone who might benefit from seeing this today? Pass it on!