A UNC Summer Gem: Exploring the Intersection of Jazz and Journalism
The soothing sound of jazz chords and spontaneous melodies accompanied by the rhythmic tapping of fingers typing on laptops resonated throughout the corridors of Kenan Music Building during the UNC Summer Jazz Workshop. For one week in June, students of all ages came together for a unique five-day, high-paced, immersive jazz program.
Choose your own adventure
Founded by Professor of Music and Director of Jazz Studies Dr. Stephen Anderson, the workshop, now in its 13th year, continues to find ways to include participants of all types. Students have the option to pursue three different paths in this workshop: as a performer in the community jazz workshop,
as a performer in the summer jazz workshop, or as a student in the music journalism and jazz history non-performance track.
While the workshop was originally for performers only, Anderson was approached by many of his “Introduction to Jazz” students about their hopes of participating in workshop as non-performers. So as director of the workshop, Anderson worked with the Dean of UNC Summer School at the time, Jan Yopp, to find a meaningful way for these students to participate.
“Dean Yopp and I began to consider a line of courses that would cater to the interests and needs of other students across campus. Since Dean Yopp formerly taught in the School of Journalism, she suggested that we open a course for students to study journalism where they could interview the faculty and guest artists and write about the evening concerts,” noted Anderson.
At the end of the day, the nightly performances featuring guest artists and workshop faculty bring everyone in the workshop together. These free concerts are a great learning experience for students regardless of the track they have chosen. Aspiring student performers have the opportunity to learn from seasoned professionals while the journalism and history students can gain experience covering a concert in real time.
The immediacy of journalism and the joy of music
Students on the journalism and history track are mentored by faculty from the department of music and the UNC Hussman School of Journalism and Media. Jazz drumset Lecturer Dan Davis has been teaching the jazz history and basic music skills courses for eleven years. His expertise as a musician helps guide students who are coming to world of jazz for the first time.
While teaching students how to build jazz chords at the piano during the basic music skills class, Davis reminded students that “this class is for people who have never done this before – ever.”
UNC Hussman Associate Professor Andy Bechtel first heard about the program from Dean Yopp who told him that “it was a great way to collaborate with other units on campus.” Bechtel has continued teaching the journalism class at the workshop for eight years and it is something he looks forward to every summer.
Bechtel loves seeing how students progress during the week, quickly picking up new skills and putting those skills to practice. Given the short time they have together, his journalism class focuses on a few basic topics: interviewing, writing headlines and captions, working with WordPress and utilizing social media.
“Most of the students in the workshop have no journalism experience, so we start from there,” Bechtel explains. “Students learn how to interview a subject for a news story, how to write a review of a performance and how to write headlines and captions.”
All of Bechtel’s assignments offer students hands on experience to apply the skills they have learned in the classroom. Students are asked to interview a person involved in the workshop, write reflections on the performances and share takeaways from the camp which are then uploaded to a workshop specific WordPress site called Jazz Notes.
Kellie Finch ’25, who is pursuing a majoring in journalism with a minor in music, particularly enjoyed the profile assignment. “We had to pick a person, either performer or staff member, and got to talk to them about their experiences. I got to hear his growing up story and how he played jazz with [the Barber twins] when they were in middle school, which was really cool.”
One of Bechtel’s favorite assignments is asking students to use social media to cover an evening performance by the amazing musicians who come to the workshop. “The students and I use Instagram and Twitter to document what we see and hear in real time,” Bechtel explains. “This task blends the immediacy of journalism and the joy of music, so it’s a lot of fun.”
Henry Swift ’24 is an information science and psychology double major but has participated in various music department activities including the marching band, wind ensemble and symphony band. He was drawn to the workshop because he was eager to delve deeper into the world of jazz and journalism and understand the ways in which they intersect.
“I really liked the mix of learning about jazz history and journalism and then applying it when seeing the jazz ensembles and the performances.”
The workshop provides the journalism and history students with an opportunity to make connections between the various areas of the workshop as well as their own areas of study. It’s this unique combination that keeps students coming to the workshop.
Taylor Betts ’24 has attended this workshop twice and cites the live performances as his favorite part of the workshop. He adds that as a history major, he practices a very academic style of writing so learning about journalistic writing has been “different and refreshing in a way where I feel like I’m learning some unique writing skills that will help me later in life.”
All three students agreed that this experience is one they would recommend to anyone.
“Whoever reads this should definitely do it,” said Swift. “It’s really fun.”
By Catherine Zachary ‘10 and Crystal Wu ‘13