The Best Jazz Summer Programs for High School Students

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As someone who was a high school student only a few short years ago, I can completely empathize with the way some of you may be feeling right now. You know, that “why am I spending 8 hours a day learning how protons work and what x equals when I could be PLAYING” feeling. It can be really frustrating to be a serious musician in high school; to know exactly what you want to do, but you just can’t do it yet! This is why I decided to compile a list of some of the best summer programs for serious high school jazz players around the country.

Summers were my savior in high school, and saying that choosing a new summer program to attend each year was something I looked forward to would be a major understatement. It’s your chance to get outside of your comfort zone, learn from incredible musicians, meet other high school-aged players that love jazz as much as you do (you thought you were the only one!), to travel to a new place, and of course, to play! For any of you cats that aren’t sure if you want to spend the money, make the trip, aren’t sure if it’s worth it, or if you’re a little intimidated, I really want to encourage you to just DO IT. I am the queen of being introverted, and every time I was on my way to a summer program, I was paralyzed with fear. But every single time I left, I was completely devastated to leave and each experience was unique and worthwhile. Not only do you make amazing contacts in the scene and learn a ton, but many of these programs are also recognized by colleges and will look really great on your resume.

Here’s a list of some of the favorite programs that I have attended, have always wanted to attend, or have friends who have attended and loved them! I tried to include programs from each end of the spectrum; from very intense and selective programs to more relaxed programs open to all levels of players. I also included some helpful tips and tricks that that I learned from my years of attending summer programs. So check some of these out my friends!


Berklee College of Music 5-Week Summer Performance Program
July 7 – August 10
Berklee College of Music, Boston, MA

Well, of course I had to plug my own school! But really, this program is excellent, and tons of the students that attend end up not only going to Berklee for college, but receiving scholarships. I myself didn’t attend this particular program (I attended another Berklee summer program in LA), but I have many friends who did and absolutely loved it. You have a choice of studying jazz, pop/rock, funk/fusion, or pop/r&b (only for vocalists). If Berklee is the college you want to or think you might want to attend, you should definitely consider this program. You make connections with Berklee faculty, future Berklee students, and you learn the ropes of Berklee and get a head start on full-time studies. You will learn about how to apply to the college successfully in a way high schoolers at home can’t, and you have a chance at earning a scholarship to the college! You have private lessons, ensembles, instrumental labs, musicianship, improvisation, and reading classes, performances during the final week, and lectures by faculty and visiting artists. Some past visiting artists have included The Bad Plus, Terence Blanchard, Terri Lyne Carrington, Ron Carter, Lalah Hathaway, Wyclef Jean, Christian McBride, John Scofield, Susan Tedeschi, and many more. It’s essentially a taste of what we do at Berklee as full time students! It’s largely high school students, but there are always a few college-aged kids from other schools and even some adults. To live in the dorms (which you will probably want to do unless you live in Boston) you must be 15 years or older. There isn’t always enough room in the dorms for every student, but if you have medical issues or are a student with a disability you will more than likely be accommodated. There is an application fee of $50, the tuition is $4,595, and the housing fee is $3,070, which includes your meal plan. They do offer a limited amount of scholarships based on merit, and the info for that is found here.


NYU Steinhardt Summer Jazz Improv Workshop
NYU University, NYC (Greenwich Village)
June 25 – July 13, 2012

For those of you looking for a longer summer program, this is a great option. This program is for 18 years and older, although like most programs, students under 18 will be accepted based on talent. It is an audition only program, and you must fill out a general application as well as submit a DVD or video online of three contrasting standards with a live rhythm section of piano or guitar, bass, and drums. This program is mostly tailored to intermediate and advanced players, and goes deep into theory, improvisation, and rhythm through master classes, workshops, and ensembles. The faculty is composed of NYU Steinhardt’s faculty as well as guest master class teachers. Last year’s master class artists included Joe Lovano, Dave Liebman, Elliot Mason, Stefon Harris, Drew Gress, Kenny Werner, Dafnis Prieto, Sam Newsome, Wayne Krantz, Randy Johnston, Chris Potter, Billy Drummond, Jack Wilkins, and Peter Bernstein. The tuition is $1,800 for the program, plus a $50 application fee (you must apply by June 1st!) and an extra $987 for housing and meal plan. The price is a little steep, but keep in mind it is 3 weeks long, and because of where you’re studying, the price will go up. If you are looking for a shorter program and/or cheaper program, NYU also offers the Dave Liebman Saxophone Master Class from July 30th- August 3 and the School for Improvisational Music Summer Intensive from July 16th- July 27th which you can check out on the Summer page of NYU Steinhardt’s website.

Perks: air conditioning in the dorms (something that I can assure you, you will really want in the summer in New York City), dorms are in a prime location – right next to the very cool Washington Square Park, campus is in Greenwich Village, only steps away from some of the most famous jazz clubs in the world (Village Vanguard, Blue Note, etc.)

Improv Workshop page:


Jazz Camp West
June 23 – June 30th 2012
La Honda, California

This is definitely a fun jazz camp. If you’re still relatively new to the jazz world or are feeling a little intimidated by some of the more intense programs, this would be a great program for you. It’s very laidback, and they even offer a class called Overcoming Stage Fright! It’s for students 15 and up, which means that there are also adults of varying ages at this program. That can be really fun, but a lot of times the adults have their “day jobs” or careers and just do jazz on the side for fun. Although the camp is great for beginners, there is also a lot offered for more seasoned players. Each class description specifies beginner, intermediate, or advanced, and there are several excellent ear training courses and certain ensembles that require an audition to ensure a certain level of playing. There are approximately 250 students each year, and 45 faculty members, which include the fabulous Randy Porter and Madeline Eastman.  They have also hosted Bobby McFerrin, Ray Drummond, George Cables, Rufus Reid, John Handy, Benny Green, Buddy Collette, Andy Narell, Buddy Montgomery, Mark Murphy, Mississippi Johnny Waters, Nancy King, Eddie Marshall, and Bobby Hutcherson in the past, just to name a few. This is a very vocalist-friendly camp, which can sometimes be hard to find. Tuition ranges between $1,065 (for commuters) and $1,250 depending on which type of dorm you live in. This includes all of the food, and vegetarian meals are available which isn’t always the case! The price is definitely a little steep considering that you share a dorm with around 6 people and only certain dorms have private bathrooms. For all of you outdoorsy types, they also offer onsite camping, which can reduce the price. There are scholarships available, and any scholarship recipients will be required to perform work-study jobs for around an hour a day. This would include clean up, moving equipment, etc.

Perks: an abundance of dance classes, morning yoga (bring your own mat), and a beautiful setting!

Scholarship info:
Mock daily schedule:
Class descriptions:

Not only do you make amazing contacts in the scene and learn a ton, but many of these programs are also recognized by colleges and will look really great on your resume.

Stanford Jazz Camp and Jazz Residency
July 29 – August 3, 2012
Stanford University, Stanford, California

I myself attended the Residency a few years ago, and I cannot say enough great things about this program. If you’re serious about jazz, you should definitely look into this one. The major draw for this camp is without a doubt the faculty. It is insane how many amazing players they have teaching there every summer. Essentially every relevant contemporary jazz musician has taught at Stanford. The year that I attended I was taught by Gretchen Parlato, Becca Stevens, Taylor Eigsti, Julian Lage, the Bad Plus, Dena DeRose, Dayna Stephens, and many others! This year they have added Victor Wooten, Kendrick Scott, Randy Porter, Mike Moreno, Tupac Mantilla, Tootie Heath, Alan Hampton, and Kenny Barron just to name a few. This camp can really be whatever you make it, but for the most part it’s a challenging experience and the faculty will push you every day to be a better player. As a high school student you have two options: the Camp or the Residency. The Camp is for ages 12-17 and there is no audition required so it’s open to all ages and all abilities. This is a great option for students that are less familiar to improvisation and jazz theory. The Residency is technically for ages 18 and up, but high school students are able to audition to attend and are accepted based on ability. The high school aged students in the residency tend to be the best players because of the audition process.

Perks: an absolutely gorgeous campus to explore, warm California weather, a super delicious café/restaurant right next to the main building with yummy sandwiches, pastas, espresso, and vegan options, many other food options on campus, the super fun city of Paolo Alto (only a 10 minute walk away) to check out in your free time, and free access into the Stanford Jazz Festival (a lot of times the faculty are the artists performing, the shows are amazing).

Faculty profiles:
Jazz Camp info:

Brubeck Summer Jazz Colony
August 4 – 11, 2012
University of the Pacific, Stockton, California

This program is definitely for very serious players only. It’s a weeklong full scholarship program for performance and there are very few spots available. It is exclusively for freshman, sophomore, and juniors in high school, and the instrumentation they look for is: 3 pianists, 3 bassists, 3 drummers, 3 saxophonists, 3 brass (trumpets/trombones), and 3 guitarists. Unfortunately vocalists are not included on this list, which definitely bothers me! If accepted, students will study with Brubeck Institute faculty as well as visiting artists, and will study theory, advanced improvisation, and attend seminars on Dave Brubeck and other topics. Like any other program there will be jams to participate in and many performance opportunities. The application program is much more detailed than some of the other programs listed here. It includes a color photo of you, two letters of recommendation, a resume, a recorded audition of 5 specified tunes, and the actual application form. Pretty crazy, but remember, it’s free if you’re accepted! Definitely worth the work! Getting info online about the housing, meal plan, and other details is difficult, probably because that information is given when a student is accepted, but you can always call the Brubeck Institute at 209-946-3196 or email Melissa Riley, the administrative Assistant, at for any info you need before applying.

Perks: The Brubeck institute is a highly respected school and the name carries a lot of weight.


Banff International Workshop in Jazz and Creative Music
May 21 – June 9, 2012
Banff, Alberta, Canada

This is a really unique, world-class program that I considered not including for a few reasons: 1) it begins when many of you will still likely be in school, and 2) the students are largely college aged and older. But I decided to include it; having to leave school a little early wouldn’t have hurt my feelings much in high school, and they do not make their choices based on age, but on skill, so for the exceptionally talented, this would be an amazing experience. Like I said, this program is very unique. It leaves rigid academia behind and focuses on creativity and innovation, assuming that the students already have advanced knowledge in theory and improvisation. There are master classes, small ensembles, recording sessions, performances, and opportunities to develop original compositions and to collaborate. The faculty changes every year, but it has included some amazing artists in the past, such as Ravi Coltrane, Joshua Redman, The Bad Plus, Ingrid Jensen, Scott Colley, and many more. I myself have never attended this program, but the town of Banff is only about 45 minutes away from my hometown and I have been to the Banff center many times. It’s a really cool space that is filled with creativity throughout the year. It’s a really inspiring place, and Banff itself is beautiful and serene. Like the Brubeck Institute, the application is really in depth and time consuming. You must include a resume, a minimum of one letter of recommendation, high quality recordings, and the application itself. Tuition is $2,377.34, which includes housing and a meal plan. In comparison, this price isn’t too bad considering the quality of faculty and facility. I’m definitely planning on applying for this program for 2013 myself, and even if you feel like it may be a bit too advanced or you’re not comfortable being the youngest one there, it’s a great program to keep in the back of your mind and revisit a few years from now when you feel you’ve developed your artistry a bit!

Perks: Banff is gorgeous, you can apply in groups, so if you have a really tight ensemble there’s a possibility you can all go and grow together, and they offer financial aid options based on need.

Application page:

VenetoJazz and The New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music Summer Workshop
July 12 – 25, 2012
Chioggia, Italy

If you’re willing to make the trek overseas, and if you’re going to be 18 by the summer, the New School’s summer workshop in Chioggia, Italy (right next to Venice) is the real deal. For those of you who don’t know, the New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music is a college in New York City with one of the best jazz programs in the country. Brad Mehldau, Avishai Cohen, Robert Glasper, Mike Moreno, and Becca Stevens, among others, are notable alumni of the school. In this workshop, students are divided by ability and will take master classes, theory, arranging, combos, big band, and vocal technique classes for the vocalists. It takes place during the Veneto Jazz Festival, a very prominent European festival, and there are several performance opportunities over the course of the 2 weeks for students. Unfortunately, as it is for ages 18 and up (although they do take younger students based on talent), it is a pretty “fend for yourself” type of workshop. Travel, housing, and meals are not taken care of by the program, which can be challenging and expensive, not to mention a lot to deal with. The average age of students is between 17 and 26 years old. It’s a fairly advanced program, but nothing too crazy. Basic knowledge of jazz is required of everyone, but for the most part all levels are welcome. The tuition is 390 Euros or around $507 if you register before May 15. After that, the price is raised to 440 Euros.

Perks: all of the classes are taught in English, for every 5 students that register, a 6th student is given a scholarship, so get 6 people together and split the cost, and if you decide the New School is a college you may like to attend after high school, you can audition right at the workshop!

FAQ page:

I think this is a really relevant list of the most current and cutting edge programs jazz has to offer high school students, but it is by no means a complete list. If you’re looking for more options, Down Beat Magazine has a great list that includes many more summer programs across the country. The article is from 2008, so some of the programs no longer exist or the details have changed, but it’s still a great resource and you can find that here:

Thanks for reading, and I hope you all have a great summer filled with the music we love most!


          February 6, 2016