As a university jazz professor, Antoniuk noticed a hole in adult jazz education. Learning chords and melodies and perfecting technique on an instrument are only the beginning of learning to play jazz. Those valuable skills could be learned in easily available private lessons.
But there were no opportunities for guided learning in how to play and improvise in a combo - which is the very heart of jazz. In combos, players learn to listen to each other and respond to visual and aural cues. They learn how a group shapes the dynamics of performance, turning the unexpected into something exciting.
So Antoniuk started his Jazz Band Masterclass groups for adults, targeting gifted amateurs and semi-professional performers. While the key to the success of Antoniuk’s programs is the focus on adults, sometimes talented youth musicians also enroll to have their mettle tested. Antoniuk began with four groups meeting twice monthly in two-hour sessions. Each group was set up like a regular jazz combo with drums, bass, piano, guitar and one or more horn players. Grouped by ability level, the combos gave members the feeling of being in a real band.
Before long, a second location was established at Mt. Vernon United Methodist Church in Washington, D.C. — a city known for its great love of jazz. In 2010, additional coaches were added: pianist Fred Hughes and bassist Amy Shook, both highly regarded American jazz performers and educators. Currently there are nine bands at the Annapolis location, and five in the District, and the program draws students from five surrounding states.
Repertoire focuses on The Great American Songbook as well as significant eras and styles of jazz such as Brazilian, swing, funk, and bebop. It covers seminal jazz composers such as Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Benny Golson, Chick Corea and John Scofield. Students are given tunes at a range of tempos, from slow ballads to moderate swing tunes to up-tempo bebop classics. Advanced students sometimes bring in their own compositions and learn more about arranging and composition.
Five years into his Jazz Band Masterclass program, Antoniuk noticed that other area jazz educators and institutions were imitating his business model and starting their own adult combo classes and workshops. (Virginia guitarist Paul Pieper is the most successful of his competitors.) Both educators have gone beyond serving instrumentalists, adding workshops for jazz vocalists.
In terms of sheer numbers, adult jazz education has a huge impact in the region. The two programs described above serve about 500 students yearly, rivaling the number of students registered in area university jazz programs. Jazz Band Masterclass employs teaching artists, is a boon to instrument and equipment suppliers, and raises the level of musicianship in the area.
The program goal is to get students “out of the basement and onto the bandstand,” and by all accounts, this goal is being met. Most students stay in the program for three years or more, handling increasingly more difficult music, improving their ensemble playing and contributing more to the group in terms of harmony and improvisation. Some Jazz Band Masterclass students have gone on to build their own careers as jazz performers and recording artists.
But all participants have the opportunity, when they are ready, to participate in public performances. Several past performances have taken place at Twins Jazz, one of DC's premier jazz clubs on the famed U" Street corridor. One performance is happening on Saturday March 29, from 1:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. at 49 West Coffeehouse in Annapolis. Three different masterclass groups will perform swing, bop, fusion, and a few originals by students. The cover charge is $10. Reservations are made by telephone only. Call 410-626-9796. Another performance is being given Thursday April 24 at Jazzy’s Lounge (240-245-3429) at 15200-B Fairwood Parkway, Bowie, MD 20720. Admission is $15