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Palo Alto Weekly

Arts & Entertainment - June 19, 2009

Summertime swing

The Stanford Jazz Workshop — its concerts and camps — is a family affair for local household

by Rebecca Wallace

Many jazz aficionados would love to see more young people getting into the art form. The Rubin family could give them cause for optimism.

On a recent afternoon, drumsticks thump, strings get strummed and a lot of chatter scatters through the big Rubin house just uphill from Stanford University. The family of seven is gathering downstairs with a collection of instruments under the guidance of a Weekly photographer, looking like they're getting ready to go on tour.

Summer, the high season for the Stanford Jazz Festival and Workshop, is just around the corner, which means that Rubins will regularly be heading down to campus for concerts and camp.

While fans of Stanford Jazz congregate in performance halls to watch the big names, they don't always see the young players who are studying at Stanford's jazz camps, working with pro musicians, teachers and other young players. The kids perform with their own camp combos at the end of the sessions — and sometimes end up in the big halls themselves in a few years.

The jazz festival has its roots in education; the concerts grew out of the nonprofit workshop, which was created in 1972 to boost education and appreciation for the art form. Workshop founder Jim Nadel still makes sure to give newer musicians their time on stage with veterans.

At the Rubin household, three of the five kids went to Stanford's jazz camp last summer, and two will go again this year: guitarist Rainier, 14, and saxophonist Elka, 13.

Giulianna, also 13 (she, Elka and Magellan are triplets), played viola last year at camp. She was a fan of her teacher Victor Lin, a pianist and violinist who will emcee the festival's "1959 Revisited" concert this summer. But Giulianna had a tough time swinging jazz on the viola, playing in a different clef than the violinists around her. She's now "transitioning" to piano, which she started playing as a child.

Meanwhile, Griffin is too young for camp but is already anxious to get started on the drum set he got recently for his 9th birthday. And while his brother Magellan claims not to be a musician, he's got a guitar in his hands this afternoon and can't seem to stop plucking away at it.

"It's infectious," says his father, Geoff. "You put something in your hands and you have to play it."

He should know. Geoff, who is currently holding a snazzy-looking electric upright bass, plays in the Latin jazz band El Dopa with a group of fellow physicians. Besides Geoff's bass sounds, the band features piano, sax and drums. There's a bit of bebop thrown in, too.

Geoff's enthusiasm for jazz has helped create a steady soundtrack of music at home. Family matriarch Rhesa, a lawyer, says she's the only true non-musician in the family but that her husband has gotten her to love jazz. The two took a Stanford Continuing Studies class about Miles Davis; the house has a wealth of jazz books and music; and Geoff and Rhesa try to attend all the Stanford festival concerts every summer, kids in tow.

"It's just extraordinary to be able to walk down the street and see a concert," Rhesa says.

Geoff says it's a pleasure to have the kids enjoying a world of music that has meant so much to him. He sees them getting more confident through performing and improvisation. Whereas the kids were used to being presented with notes on a page in classical and other types of music, now they're following their own creativity.

"It's a different language. The only way to do it is to do it," he says.

Elka studies in both worlds, playing the alto sax in the Terman Middle School jazz band and the baritone sax in "the regular band." She likes the alto sax "because it often gets the melody" and says her favorite thing about Stanford Jazz camp last year was at the end, playing on stage with her camp combo.

Rainier says performing was also a highlight of last summer, along with meeting interesting people from other states and countries, including "one cool kid from Madrid who played the drums."

While Rainier also has two acoustic guitars, today he's fooling around on his electric guitar,playing bits of a Rage Against the Machine song. He's also a fan of rock and metal, much the same way his dad has mixed his love of jazz with other styles. Geoff played rock and New Wave professionally before going to medical school, touring in the early '80s.

When Rainier is asked why he favors his electric guitar, he grins. "It's electric. You can play as loud as you want and annoy everyone."

Meanwhile, Griffin watches his older siblings as he clutches drumsticks in his small hands, absently tapping on a drum and cymbal. He'll soon start formal drum lessons.

"He's been chomping at the bit for about a year and a half to play," Geoff says.

Griffin often watches his dad's band rehearse. "I'm a huge fan," he says. One of the highlights of last summer was seeing the venerable drummer Albert "Tootie" Heath play at Stanford Jazz. Heath will be back on stage at Stanford this year with his brother Jimmy, a tenor saxophonist.

"Did you get up and dance?" a reporter teases Griffin, but the budding musician takes the question very seriously.

He thinks about it, then shakes his head. "As much as I wanted to, I didn't want to get kicked out."

Info: Stanford's Jazz Camps for various levels of musicians ages 12 through 17 run July 19-24 and July 26-31. Camp participants put on free concerts on July 24 and July 31 at 7 p.m., at Dinkelspiel Auditorium, Campbell Recital Hall and Braun Rehearsal Hall on campus.

A jazz residency for adult musicians, emerging professionals and music educators runs Aug. 2-7, with free performances set for Aug. 6 at 7:15 p.m. in the same three concert halls.

Space is still available for many instruments in both programs; go to www.stanfordjazz.org/education or call 650-736-0324, ext. 303.

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