Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Jazz impresario Jeff Antoniuk returns to Bowie with Jazz Band Masterclass

Program allows adults to rekindle love of music

by Kirsty Groff Staff writer

Learning a new instrument at any age is hard enough, but taking up a former musical hobby can be seemingly impossible to balance with work, family and other responsibilities.

For nearly a decade, Jeff Antoniuk’s Jazz Band Masterclass has provided the means for adult jazz students to move beyond one-on-one instruction and perform in a group setting, both in regular classes and in public performances, such as the upcoming concert at Jazzy’s Lounge in Bowie on April 24.

After he began teaching private saxophone lessons, Antoniuk noticed many of his students were regular adults with day jobs, not just children and teenagers hoping to hone their craft. As his pupils improved and began to ask him where they could play in a group, he found very few options in place.

“I really love working with that population,” Antoniuk said. “It’s so important to people that, in the middle of their busy lives, they are setting aside the time to play music. There are plenty of outreach programs for talented high school to college students, but nothing that fit well for adults.”

Antoniuk assembled a small group of six or seven students in Annapolis; in 10 years, the Jazz Band Masterclass endeavor has expanded to nine groups in Annapolis, five in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area, a summer camp and a jazz choir, all serving skilled amateurs alongside semi-professionals who are looking for a place to develop their talent.

Jazz Band Masterclass

When: 7:30-10:30 p.m. Thursday, April 24?

Where: Jazzy’s Lounge, 15200-B Fairwood Parkway, Bowie

Tickets: $15

For information: 240-245-3429;

Playing and improvising in a group setting is key to performing jazz music. Assembling a group of amateur players can become a “rudderless ship” without a director, said Antoniuk, and finding gigs can prove difficult without organization. By supplementing frequent classes led by a professional with two to three concerts annually for each group, Antoniuk can teach his students more than just music technique.

“In ensembles, you get to work on not only music but the human aspect of group dynamics,” he said. “It’s really a conversation. I enjoy facilitating, letting these musicians know how to talk to each other. There’s almost a group therapy going into how we function as a team.”

In addition to working on technique and group skills, the Jazz Band Masterclass groups go into the tradition of jazz as a whole. The century-old genre has strong ties with the oral arts as well as improvisation. Performing for an audience is important both to the development of these students’ skills and jazz itself.

By filling the rehearsal year with approximately a dozen concerts, at which several groups come together to perform at each, Antoniuk gives every student the chance to experience playing live in front of friends and family.

“Beyond just learning a skill and getting better at their instruments, [the students] have to look ahead to the fact that they’ll be playing a handful of songs at a club,” he said. “It puts a little extra energy behind what they’re doing, those good nerves and anxiety really help focus and make those folks get a little bit better a little bit quicker.”

On average, each person stays in the group for four to six years; however, while some students leave after only a few months, others have continued to come back since the inaugural class. Many go on to perform occasional gigs at weddings, restaurants and museums, but some have become professional musicians thanks to their participation in the program.

“I think they find it such an important part of their lives, it’s just something they can’t find elsewhere,” Antoniuk said. “They keep coming back, they see themselves growing, they hear themselves playing better, and they don’t have to do the organizing or choose the music. They can just show up and do their thing.”

Approximately 125 people were in the program last year, and the number remains close to that today. Those students have chosen to take a step in reconnecting with their past, an undertaking that can be difficult after leaving any hobby behind for a period of time. Whether it’s sports, writing or music, taking former passions and fitting them back into a busy schedule sometimes requires the right nudge.

“These are people who loved music as a kid — and so many of us do, and we move on to our busy lives and making money and paying mortgages, and sometimes those important loves and dreams get set aside,” Antoniuk said. “I’m so inspired by anyone that goes back and reconnects with something they loved earlier in life.”

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