Day of Jazz helps student musicians aspiring to turn pro

Roger Coda
bass player Joey Porth and percussionist Jared Reinhard, Music Performance major, Jazz

Joey Porth (left) and Jared Reinhard

An intensive jazz camp at SUNY Fredonia has become a sort of on-ramp in a journey that can place high school students on a road that can lead them to careers as professional musicians.

For a pair of Western New Yorkers, Joey Porth and Jared Reinard, their Day of Jazz experience in 2019 put them on a path to SUNY Fredonia’s School of Music. Today, they reflect on that day three years later as a key factor in helping them decide which college to attend and affirming their desire to pursue music careers.

Day of Jazz has provided opportunities for several dozen high school students to work closely with School of Music professors and gain a realistic understanding of what it’s like to study music at the college level.

“Being surrounded by accomplished professionals and my peers who had a lot of the same questions and doubts greatly improved my confidence, and was instrumental in my decision to study music at all.” – Jared Reinard

The camp, held each November, is designed for intermediate to advanced high school instrumentalists interested in jazz improvisation and is open to students nominated by their high school music teacher. Topics covered in the day-long program include jazz theory and improvisation, learning tunes and specialized techniques for piano, guitar, bass and drum set, among other areas. The next Day of Jazz will be held on Saturday. Nov. 12.

“The main takeaway (from Day of Jazz) for me was that pursuing music as a career was achievable,” Mr. Reinard explained. “Being surrounded by accomplished professionals and my peers who had a lot of the same questions and doubts greatly improved my confidence, and was instrumental in my decision to study music at all,” the Newfane High School graduate added.

Reinard, a sophomore majoring in Jazz Studies and Music Composition, was attracted by the reputation of the School of Music, as well as the availability of other academic programs at SUNY Fredonia – if music didn’t work out for him. Enrolling at other schools was also on the table.

Day of Jazz was the element “that tipped my decision” to SUNY Fredonia, but it wasn’t because of planned activities, Reinard explained. “Instead, it was getting to talk with faculty like Alec Dube and Kieran Hanlon about some of my concerns and what exactly to expect if I came to study here,” he said. And being somewhat familiar with the campus and having already met some School of Music faculty made the transition to college a lot less scary, Reinard added.

For Mr. Porth, “More than anything, that experience gave me a solid foundation for what the rest of my college experience was going to be here.” It also gave Porth, a junior majoring in Jazz and Percussion, the confidence to want to enroll in a jazz program like the one at Fredonia. “Day of Jazz showed me the motivation to connect with students and to make powerful music are there in the program.”

Porth, who began playing drums at age 5, was a member of jazz and concert bands at Lockport High School and participated in New York State School Music Association events.

Day of Jazz was established by Assistant Professor Nick Weiser, who heads the Jazz Studies program and directs two student ensembles – New Jazz Ensemble and Jazz Flextet. Both are recipients of prestigious DownBeat magazine awards.

“It’s such a wonderful opportunity for these prospective students to gain firsthand experience by spending time on our campus and working with our faculty. Their time with our current students also adds that unique perspective,” Dr. Weiser added.

Working with Weiser was an exciting experience, Porth said. “From the experiences and conversation that I had had with Dr. Weiser, I felt as though he was very motivated and ready to push the jazz program to new places,” he said.

“Getting to see the faculty combo perform was ‘super cool,’” Reinard remembers. “I had never actually seen a professional jazz ensemble play live before, and it was a dazzling experience.”

Tim Martin, Porth’s high school jazz teacher, recommended Day of Jazz to him. Working one-on-one with Weiser was an exciting experience, Porth recalled, “and hearing him play was incredible. I also got to work with Dr. John Bacon, the drum set professor at Fredonia, and though I had met him a few times prior to that, it was very cool to see him in a larger context teaching to many people, teaching much broader ideas.”

For Porth, the rhythm workshop, taught by Associate Professor Kieran Hanlon, Adjunct Lecturer Bacon and Weiser, proved to be the most enjoyable part of his Day of Jazz experience. “I felt it was very informative,” he said, and gave “the kind of information that you can only get from people who are very experienced in the field.”

Day of Jazz also helped prepare Porth to study music at SUNY Fredonia. “I think it helped me gain an understanding for the level of professionalism that is kind of expected at the school and the level of musicianship that’s expected at the school,” he said.

“The Day of Jazz program really just broadened my horizons about what a career in music could look like, and lent the idea some legitimacy in the eyes of my parents that led to them supporting me in pursuing it,” Reinard remarked.

The double bass became Reinard’s primary instrument during his sophomore year in high school, though he also plays electric bass, trumpet and tuba, and was a member of concert and jazz bands throughout middle school and high school.

Porth has also pursued extracurricular music opportunities at SUNY Fredonia, as a member of Beach Tower ­– an '80s indie rock band with fellow students Cascio Fonseca (vocals), Evan Donnelly (bass), Johnny Zareski (guitar) and Ryan Terry (lead guitar) – that plays local venues and in Buffalo.

Reinard’s career goals include performing jazz, composing concert music and music for film and games, and also teaching composition, music theory, aural skills and jazz at the college level.

Becoming a gig musician, of jazz or other forms of music, is the goal of Porth. “I’m taking jazz now to prepare myself for anything that could possibly be thrown at me.”

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