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Improvisation leads to successful Summer Jazz Workshop

As the COVID-19 pandemic unfolded, faculty members in Carolina's music department had to do a new kind of musical improvisation: move the annual, in-person Summer Jazz Workshop for students and amateur musicians entirely online.

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Few things are more important in jazz than improvisation. Each musician’s ability to play on the fly is essential to maintain the energy of a performance.

So when the COVID-19 pandemic forced a major overhaul of Carolina’s annual Summer Jazz Workshop with little time to prepare, the College of Arts & Sciences music department faculty members who organize the program each year knew exactly how to respond.

“You get a little bolt of inspiration, and I just started to get ideas about how we could pull things together,” said Stephen Anderson, director of the UNC Summer Jazz Workshop and professor of composition and jazz studies.

The workshop, which was held from June 15-19, is typically conducted on Carolina’s campus and draws amateur jazz musicians of all ages.

This year’s conversion from an in-person event to an online format required recording dozens of music theory and jazz improvisation videos to create a new way to deliver instruction to the 77 participants. Throughout the week, the amateur musicians had access to the pre-recorded instructional videos, as well as twice-daily live sessions with faculty and professional musicians delivered through Zoom.

“It may be a five-day workshop, but honestly, you’re getting a lifetime’s worth of stuff out of it,” said Adam Doyle, an alto saxophone player and incoming Carolina first-year student from Greensboro, North Carolina. “We all do still need music in our lives, and being able to do this online and not letting the pandemic stop us is just absolutely amazing.”