By Anthony Aquadro
Anthony is the 2019 marketing and development intern for the Northampton Jazz Festival. A rising senior at Connecticut College, Anthony is a psychology and economics major and is interested in advertising and media buying.
Camille Thurman started playing the saxophone when she was 15, but it wasn’t until she was in her 20’s that Camille began adding jazz singing to her talents. Initially she started working with various bands in New York City and eventually earned the saxophone chair, working regularly with several notable band leaders and projects in New York (Nicholas Payton, Charlie Persip, Valerie Ponomarev).
Over time, she started her own band along with drummer Darrell Green. One day while touring in Africa with American Music Abroad, a program of the United States Department of State, she received a phone call at 3 o’clock in the morning from the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra inviting her to play with them.
Initially shocked that they called her, Camille knew she had a life-changing decision to make. She discussed the offer with her mentors who urged her to take the gig.
Camille has not only worked with the Jazz at Lincoln Center orchestra but has also worked with many jazz and R&B icons, including Wynton Marsalis, George Coleman, and Alicia Keys. Downbeat Magazine has named her a “rising star,” and her rich sound on tenor sax has led others to compare her to greats such as Joe Henderson and Dexter Gordon.
Camille now lives in the New York City area and plays across the globe, continuing to amaze audiences with her vocal and saxophone performances. On May 20, her audience was students at John F. Kennedy Middle School in Northampton; she offered them her skill and knowledge and a performance.
Camille’s visit came as part of the Jazz Artists in the Schools program. For the past year, the Northampton Jazz Festival has been working with Northampton public schools to bring professional jazz musicians in to workshops and clinics. Leaders of the program say it gives young musicians a unique opportunity to learn from and work with acclaimed professionals.
After listening to Camille perform for five to 10 minutes, the students erupted in applause. They then showcased their own talents, performing “Route 66” for her. For the remainder of the 75 minutes they had together, Camille eagerly reinforced that students should focus on three things while playing: the director, the rhythm, and tonal changes. She broke the band into three groups according to the instrument each played—the rhythm and horn sections, and the male vocalist—in order to focus on the improvements needed in each.
Camille explained to the rhythm section—two bass guitarists, a pianist, and a drummer—that in order to be the backbone of the band, they have to consistently keep time together while also watching the director for changes in the song. She directed the trumpet and saxophone players to emphasize dynamics and articulation. She added, “When the singer finishes his or her part in the song, you have to play the shout course as if it is the band’s turn to have their moment in the arrangement.”
“What does the singer do?” Camille asked the class. She then explained that the singer tells the story, and that each section tells the story in a different way. Camille encouraged the school band’s vocalist to add his own flair in telling the story of “Route 66.”
Camille led the group with seeming ease, quickly forming a good rapport with the students. As she worked with each section of the band, the other young musicians listened attentively, nodding their heads in agreement when Camille spoke to them. It was clear she commanded their respect.
The Jazz program at JFK Middle School has grown considerably under the direction of Claire-anne Williams. Starting with 15 students when it was created 13 years ago, the program now consists of 50 students and two separate bands under Williams’ direction.
Camille is the last guest artist the students will work with through the Jazz Artists in the Schools program until mid November at JFK and then at Northampton High School on December 2-3 with trombonist and educator Steve Davis.
For more information or to make a donation to the Jazz Artists in the Schools program, visit northamptonjazzfest.org.