TRUCKEE, Calif. — To quote Jimi Hendrix, “Music is my religion.” And, like many Truckee residents, I am a “Bay Area Transplant.” My husband and I have always loved the cultural offerings of the city, but grew weary of its negatives — traffic, crime, etc.
We moved to Truckee 16 years ago because of the obvious — its scenic beauty, outdoor activities, and close-knit community. But, we still miss some of the positives of the San Francisco. Which is why when we find a place that reminds us of the city, it’s a huge score. Moody’s has always been one of those places for us. But, fairly recently, I discovered that Moody’s has even more to offer than just great music, ambiance, food and beverage — it offers an annual jazz camp for kids with instructors who are world-renowned musicians at no charge!
For the past 7 years, the host of this event, JJ Morgan, has assembled highly acclaimed jazz musicians to educate our children about jazz and promote a passion for making music. For five days, more than 50 kids ranging in age from 10-17 have the unbelievable opportunity to train with the best of the best. Each day they learn a new song, and every day they are taken on a different musical journey through the various jazz genres — from traditional jazz, to blues, funk, reggae/ska and New Orleans jazz. They begin each morning with an introductory lesson, then split up into breakout groups depending on which type of instrument they play — be it horns, strings or drums. They then come together at the end of the day to perform as a group. These talented instructors encourage the kids to improvise and take chances with solos — every solo ending in a supportive round of applause. On the last day, they parade through downtown Truckee “New Orleans” style and then march back to Moody’s for a final performance for the parents.
As a parent of two children (one of whom was old enough to participate this year), I was tremendously grateful. As a music lover, I was in heaven. Parents were invited to stay for the day, so every morning I made a point of hanging around for the introductory lesson and an “on the fly” performance by some of the most talented musicians I’ve ever had the pleasure of hearing. Not only is the camp an opportunity of a lifetime for the kids, but every night during the camp these extraordinarily talented musicians jam in the lounge at Moody’s and invite the students to jam with them — also, for free!
Most of the musicians have returned year after year for this event. Not for the money (of course) but for the love of teaching and sharing their extensive knowledge and passion for music with our children. The lineup included the leader of the group, Adam Theis, from San Francisco, amazing trombonist, composer, founding member of the Jazz Mafia and member of Shotgun Wedding Quintet; Deszon Claiborn, also from San Francisco on drums; Liberty Ellman from New York on guitar; composer Todd Sickafoose, also from New York on upright bass; Grammy nominated Peter Apfelbaum from New York on piano; Grammy nominated composer/producer Ben Wendel from New York on saxophone; and our own tremendously talented Brian Hess of Quartet Minus One on saxophone. I must give honorable mention to one of my favorite multi-year participants who couldn’t make it this year but very much wanted to, Dublin — rapper extraordinaire of Shotgun Wedding Quintet.
Planning, organizing, funding and hosting this event is, needless to say, no small feat, but is clearly a labor of love for JJ. This last year was particularly challenging due to the economy, but when asked if JJ would consider charging a fee for the camp, he unequivocally responds with a “No.” While he also appreciates everything the Truckee/Tahoe area has to offer in terms of its beauty, outdoor sports, etc., he recognizes the lack of support and funding for music and the arts. By providing the children of our community this opportunity (at no charge) to learn and be exposed to such talent and music of the highest quality, he is promoting an appreciation for music and all that it does for the minds, the hearts and the souls not only of our community’s children but the community as a whole.
Erin de Lafontaine is a Truckee resident.