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The Kids Are Alright

A Summer Camp Inspires Many to Find Their Own Beat



Saxophone player Mike Casey, who attended the Litchfield Jazz Camp as a teen, currently has songs featured on Spotify.

Photo by Airen Miller Photography

In 1981, Vita Muir founded Litchfield Performing Arts. Today the organization is not only a fixture in the international jazz scene but has been producing promising young jazz musicians since 1997. 

Litchfield Jazz Festival is known for bringing jazz legends like Ray Charles and Dave Brubeck to Litchfield County. The festival also features up and coming young musicians including Cecile McLorin Salvant and the Michael Mayo Quintet. 

In 1997 Litchfield Performing Arts added to its repertoire a camp aimed at youth with serious interest in jazz. Every summer the camp draws between 350 and 400 jazz students. This year camp will be held at The Gunnery school in Washington.

The camp combines education with experience. One of the keynote events for campers is attendance at the two day Litchfield Jazz Festival where they listen to jazz greats and have the opportunity to perform on the secondary stage in front of festival crowds. Many campers come full circle, eventually appearing on the mainstage as their careers progress. 

Three camp alumni making waves in the jazz scene today are saxophone player Mike Casey, bassist Matt Dwonszyk, who also teaches at the summer camp, and drummer Corey Garcia. Together they are the Mike Casey Trio and they are changing the game when it comes to record production for young jazz musicians. 

Eschewing the traditional path of finding a record label to represent them, Mike Casey self-produced and promoted their latest album, something practically unheard of in the young jazz scene. The plan worked, earning them hundreds of thousands of streams on Spotify. Their rendition of Norwegian Wood currently streams on the “State of Jazz” playlist and is their third song to be featured on Spotify. 

Their next album, Stay Surprising: Live at The Side Door is due out this spring to be followed by a tour. They will be in Litchfield April 28 at Tavern off The Green for an album release show. (For tickets click here)

Mike Casey is the first to admit that jazz can be a difficult genre for both audience and performers alike.

“Jazz has become this eat your vegetables kind of music in a way, and yes it is incredibly deep music, complex at times,” he says, “but it is there for enjoyment just like any other music.” 

Finding balance between music appreciation and simple enjoyment is key when it comes to educating young music students in order to avoid frustration and dispel stigma. 

“Litchfield Jazz Camp does a great job balancing those two things,” says Casey. “I’m a teaching artist as well, and when you’re teaching jazz it is so complex that students can get easily discouraged. The Festival and camp take a balanced approach to presenting the music, giving equal value to both sides.”

It is in part this balanced approach that makes Litchfield Jazz Camp unique in the world of music education programs. Muir and her team assemble the best of the best to instruct campers. Student testimonials describe the educational experience of a lifetime, a place where many learn more in a single summer than they have in every hour of music instruction they’ve had up to that moment. 

In as much as Litchfield Jazz Festival is a fixture in the jazz scene, Vita Muir’s commitment to the art is helping shape the next generation of jazz musicians right here in our own backyard. The 2018 Litchfield Jazz Festival is slated for July 28 to 29 at the Goshen Fair Grounds.

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