By Amy Wenk
Clark Hodges played a few notes on the baby grand piano, then with a careful ear mimicked the sounds on his shiny tenor saxophone. Hoping to nail the scales of the song “A Night in Tunisia,” the 16-year-old Sandy Springs resident repeated the process over and over until the harmony rang true.
Although he has played the saxophone since fourth grade, Hodges was eager to refine his talent this summer. He was one of 47 students from metro Atlanta who attended the Juilliard Summer Jazz Residency from June 16 to 20 at North Atlanta High School Center for the Arts on Northside Drive in Buckhead.
Even when other students were at lunch, the hopeful musician could be found in a practice room alone, honing his skills and applying the lessons he learned from some of the nation’s finest jazz instructors and performers during the summer music course.
“I wanted to get deeper into jazz conception and theory because it is so difficult to understand,” said Hodges, a rising junior at North Springs Charter School of the Arts and Sciences. “This program has been great. It has taught me more in a few days than you can learn from a textbook in a month.”
During the weeklong program, students were taught all about jazz improvisation, history, critique and music proficiency. Faculty and students from the Juilliard School — including drummer Carl Allen and bass player Ben Wolfe — led the instruction, which consisted of lessons in musicianship, listening sessions, individual, ensemble and big band practices, and jam sessions.
The Juilliard instructors “are all infinitely talented,” said participant Graham Ulicny, a Buckhead resident. “They understand everyone is on different skill levels, and they teach accordingly.”
Ulicny, a recent graduate of North Atlanta High School, was eager to attend the residency to refine his techniques on the guitar and bass. In the fall, the 18-year-old will study jazz at the University of North Carolina at Asheville. He said the summer program was a great opportunity to learn the more challenging aspects of jazz, especially improvising the rhythms and beats that are so crucial to the genre.
“Jazz is not an art form where you can just read it off a piece of paper. … You have to understand how to make it sound and feel good,” said Allen, artistic director of jazz studies at Juilliard. “It is a language.”
Although this is the first year the program has been offered, North Atlanta High School Center for the Arts coordinator Reginald Colbert has high hopes for the future.
“There are plans to expand this partnership,” said Colbert, who coordinated the Summer Jazz Residency. “I hope we are going to be able to offer the same kind of residency for visual arts, theater and dance with Juilliard and other high-powered schools.”
Students ranging in ages from 10 to 18 and hailing from five counties attended the Juilliard residency. The cost for the program was $300, and the children were required to receive recommendations from their teachers to register. Participants in the jazz program culminated their week of learning with a performance at North Atlanta High School on June 20.