A Story from the Jazz Education Network (JEN) Conference

Earlier this month I attended the 2014 JEN (Jazz Education Network) Conference in Dallas, TX. I often get asked why I attend and what makes me go back year after year. There are many reasons. But instead of listing all the wonderful things about the JEN Conference (I’ll save that for another post), I’m going to share with you a story that I believe displays why JEN is so great.

I love people. Let’s start with that. I have no problem talking to people I don’t know, or approaching someone out of the blue. I love connecting with people and hearing their “story”.  The JEN Conference is a really great place to meet and connect with people in the jazz field. I always meet new people there and reconnect with old friends. I enjoy finding out what it’s like in other places around the world and gaining insight from their experiences. Being an outgoing person certainly helps at conferences like this. But onto the story…

The Conference runs from Wednesday evening through late Saturday night and there’s something happening from 9 AM until the bar closes at 1:30 AM.  Thursday evening the Exhibitors open up. I was lucky enough to have Capital University (where I’m working on my Masters right now) pay for my conference registration and so I made an larger effort this year to be down there during that time. At one point, I was milling around and I stumbled across the Indiana University booth and Tom Walsh (one of my favorite jazz saxophone players and educators.) With him was some other faculty from Indiana, including Dave Stryker.  When I met him, I knew he looked familiar and I had heard him name before, but it wasn’t until I’d walked away that it clicked in my just who he was… And I was so excited to have met him.

Friday I was walking around and I saw Corey Christiansen, another guitar player who I met at the Aebersold Camp in 2010, and went over to say hello.  Well, Dave was there too. So I got to talk to him some more, not to mention  hear some crazy stories from Corey. (By the way, Corey’s Lone Prairie Band played late Saturday and was incredibly interesting. The band does jazz interpretations of western frontier music. I highly recommend checking it out.)

Stryker, Mintzer, Erskine, Clayton at JEN14

Then came the Friday night performance, one that I was really looking forward to. Playing that evening was a rediculous quartet: Peter Erskine (drums), John Clayton (bass), Dave Stryker (guitar), and Bob Mintzer (tenor sax). They opened with I’m Falling in Love With Love and afterwards, Mintzer said “I think I’m falling in love with this quartet and we’ve been a quartet for all of about 8 minutes.”  I’ll tell you, I was in love with the quartet too. I tweeted this: “Quartet of Dave Stryker, Bob Mintzer, Peter Erskine, and John Clayton… Just killin’ it! I’m sitting in the front row, starstruck! #jen14 ” I sat on the edge of my seat, blown away, hanging on every note. They ended their short set (only 50 minutes – I could have listened all night!) with a Dave Stryker original composition that really connected with me. As I sat there listening, I got a vision of my group Doublers Collective playing an arrangement of it. It was perfect for us. I thought, I’ve got to find Dave and ask him about it. (What did I have to lose? Worst thing he would say was no, right?)

So after their set ended, I got up to walk around a little and ran into Dave in the lobby. He gave me a big hug (we’re old pals by this point) and I told him that I loved the set and asked him about the tune he wrote. Then I told him that briefly about Doublers Collective and how I’d love to write an arrangement of his tune for the group. He immediately offered me the lead sheet. The next day I dropped him an e-mail and he replied back right away with the lead sheet and a demo recording. I was (still am) so excited about it. I can’t wait to try and get what I heard down on paper and for Doublers Collective to try it.

This is just one of the many stories that I have about the JEN conferences I have attended. Huge thanks to Dave for being so incredibly cool and generous. You can check out his website here and find out more about him:  http://davestryker.com/

Anyone else out there attended? What’s a great story you have from one of the conferences? Share in the comments below!

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