YES!! It’s time for Jazz Camp!

Got my shirt on!

Well, here I am! The annual event that made me what I am is finally happening again! I have been looking forward to this for the last 51 weeks. This is the greatest time of the year for me, and I can’t wait to get started working. I’ve been hearing from all of the campers for the past 3 months, intensely counting down the days, and now hours, until the start of camp. It really is like coming home for me.

I just realized that after this week, I will have spent 36 weeks of my life up here for Jazz Camp! That includes 23 weeks of youth camp plus 13 years of adult camp! Another eight years of this, and I will have spent an entire year of my life here! That is sheer dedication, and it goes by so fast! I love this music, and the passing of it down to the next generations of musicians. In my 23rd year at the camp, I’m starting to feel my age a bit. It’s a good thing I started so young!

I just heard that the bus is on its way! Here we go! Bring it on!


Making a Difference…


These are my Band One kids! They’re awesome!


The whole Mammoth Group

The ability to make a difference in people’s lives is something that we all hope to have one day. I am so lucky because I get to do it every summer, continuing an already very long legacy in which I was lucky enough to be included many years ago. I was inspired then, and have had the desire implanted in me to inspire others. We continue to inspire, and the legacy lives on.

I know it works! I have seen it in action, and I have experienced it first hand. As long as I am around, it will never go away. I’m talking, of course, about the summer jazz camps here in California. I attended them as a student beginning in 1990, when I was 12 years old, and since 1996, I have been on the faculty. Our job is to inspire people to find the creative passion inside of them. Our medium is music.

This year, here in Mammoth Lakes, I have seen what our inspiration is doing on a grand scale. In my teachings this week, I have seen more lightbulbs turn on and more outbursts of creativity in my students than I ever have before. I had the beginners for band this time, and though they came in as beginners, today on the last day of instruction they have become creative stars! My kids are playing music at an ability level far beyond what would have been expected at their level even as recently as last year. I have never seen anything like it!

All but one of my students are here for the first time this year. They have been inspired, and will continue to do great things. If they return again next year, they will become part of the chain of inspiration. All of our veteran students inspire the newcomers on an entirely different level than the faculty can. The ability to show teenagers that they are not limited, and that their world is very open and waiting for them to contribute something, is one that permeates all of us who take part in this great event. It truly is a beautiful thing, and I plan to make my contribution a thousand times over. If we are able to show others what is possible in this world, then it becomes our duty to allow ourselves to be seen.

Let’s keep contributing!

Flying to Mammoth


What a great day! I had the best trip into Mammoth Lakes ever! The reason for this is because I flew. Driving here from San Diego is the worst thing in the world. Actually, that’s not true. The worst thing in the world is planning to fly to Mammoth from San Diego, only to find out that the flight was cancelled at the last minute, meaning that driving there is necessary. That’s what happened to me last year. On top of that, I missed the Jazz Camp auditions last year.

Not the case this year! The flight was short and sweet, and I was able to audition my piano players just the way I like to. We’ve got some good kids this year! I had a tough time placing everyone into bands, but I think the results will be great.

It looks like I’ll have Band One this year. Not only am I instructing, but I will also be playing in it, since there aren’t enough pianists to fill all the bands. I even auditioned myself. Yes, the students beat out their instructor for band placement! Maybe I’ll make Band Five next year. 😉

It’s the Little Things in Life…

I had a fantastic day yesterday! I went in to teach, and had only 3 students, so the morning was super-easy. And then the best part: I got home only to find that there was no one there. I had the house to myself for 5 hours. I got to work undisturbed on whatever I felt like, a luxury that I love. Then Denise came home and prepared to give a piano lesson to one of our neighbors.

Then came the bestest part! Little old Joey walked into my life when Denise was about to give the piano lesson. Joey is a cocker spaniel, probably about 10 years old I would guess. He was wandering around trying to find his home. He came straight to our house and would not leave. It was as if he knew I would help him out. He looked tired, but could not have been lost for more than a few hours. He had a bandana and a chain collar on, but no tags or license.

I leashed him and took him for a walk, trying to see if he would eventually find his way home, but making sure that he wouldn’t get hurt. He took me through and out of the Monet complex (our condo area), through Treviana (the adjacent condo build), and into a single-family-home neighborhood, about half a mile away. He walked as though he was on to something. After about 200 yards, he stopped and laid down on a patch of grass near the street in front of an abandoned house that was for sale. I figured he was pretty tired after walking so far, and at such a quick clip. He had literally been pulling me along, tethered by the leash. I let him rest a bit, and then decided he needed water, so we went back to our house.

He hung out with us for a little while longer, and I decided to walk him again. Wouldn’t you know it, he led me at the same quickened pace to exactly the same spot as before. How odd… I knocked on the door of one of the houses, no answer. The abandoned house obviously had no one in it. I asked some passers-by if they knew whose dog I had, and everyone I talked to said they had never seen him before.

OK, time to be a little more scientific. No license, no tags… Maybe he’s microchipped! Alright, time for Denise and I to take him on a quick trip to the vet. It turned out that he WAS in fact microchipped! That was good news. We called the number to match him up, and found that the code didn’t match anything in their records. What were we going to do?

The company behind Joey’s microchip was called “AVID”. We gave them a call. They found a match that had only been put in their system that morning. Hmmm… the owners must have reactivated the code when they found their dog was missing. Avid contacted the owner, who in turn contacted us. We gave them directions to our house, and they came by to pick him up. That’s when I learned that his name was Joey. I also learned that his owners live over near where he had stopped on his two walks with me. Apparently, Joey was staying with a friend about 3 or 4 miles away when he got lost. He had traveled a long way and crossed a lot of very wide, very busy streets to find us. He was literally finding his way home. I’m so glad he didn’t get hurt.

The owners were overjoyed and very thankful that we had taken the time to take care of Joey. It made me very happy that we could help. It’s the little things like this that make you feel better about yourself. Thank you, Joey, for entering my life yesterday! 🙂

Holiday?? Nah…

So what do I end up doing on Independence Day? Not relaxing like I said I would. I end up, as on all my days off, working. I’m trying to overhaul my website, and therefore move my entire blog over to this nifty WordPress site. I’m really liking WordPress a lot. It seems pretty simple to use, and I can blog from anywhere!

For those of you wondering about my blog, its transfer has mostly been completed. Almost fifty entries! That’s actually quite good for me. I’m hoping to blog a lot more now that I have an easier way to do so. However, before I start doing that, I still have a few more entries to transfer from my Whrrl account. Most of you are probably not very familiar with Whrrl. It is an extinct service now, but it was quite an all-inclusive, short-snippeted, picture-posting, location-tracking, boring-story-telling, everyday-life-tracking (also boring) blogging tool. The company was purchased by Groupon, who shut them down and has done nothing comparable since. Imagine, if you will, a service like FourSquare, but with storytelling. It really was fun to use… Anyway, if you see any entries on here with lots of pictures and very few words, those are from Whrrl. I admit it will be nice to go over those little tidbits of history again.

Guess I better get on that. Oh, and keep an eye out for my new website design! I’m pushing the big red button on that soon.

If it still looks cartoony and stupid, I haven’t updated it yet. If it looks all black and slickified minimalist, then the little internet gremlins finally did what I told them to do…. little bastards!

Happy 4th!

Happy Independence Day everyone! Today is the day that we celebrate everything that makes us American! Yes, that includes jazz, apple pie, and being unsatisfied with the way things are!

I’m celebrating my day-between-off (weirdo Wednesday holiday) by eating apple pancakes! It’s like apple pie that you eat for breakfast. The beaches are crowded, and it looks like rain today, so all the crazies at the beach will be disappointed. I’ll be staying home and relaxing. They don’t even sell fireworks here in San Diego anymore, so I guess I’ll have to look out the window to Mexico. They’re usually pretty good about putting on a show for us.

Anyway, some of the events going on in DC lately are definitely making me feel un or anti American… Thank goodness for the Olympics coming soon to reinstate our patriotism once again! Exciting stuff.

Anyway I want to keep this short, so be safe today, everyone! Happy 4th!

By the way, if you are wondering why this post is so boring, it’s because holidays are boring.

My Letter to John Williams

It’s an interesting thing, what I get inspired to do every now and then. I have been reading the Harry Potter books lately, and after each one, watching the movies. I am way into film scores, but I’m noticing that they are evolving in to something much less than what they once were, and it’s very sad to me. John Williams’ music always has a definite intent and a life to affect. Where will that all be when he, and people like him, are gone? This is my letter to him, thanking him for how he has inspired me.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Dear Mr. Williams,

I am writing to you in a desperate cry for help! I hope with all my heart that this reaches you, as I am not sure where to turn if it does not. I have been a fervent fan and disciple of your work ever since I was a teenager, and even in writing this, I’m finding myself becoming so emotionally overwhelmed. I’m no sure that I can convey what fully what is going on inside me, but I will try. I must first give you a short background on myself.

I am an aspiring young musician about to celebrate his 33rd birthday next week. I do have a B.M. in classical piano performance, but attended various universities, including the ever-prestigious USC, studying a mix of jazz and classical performance, as well as composition and arranging over quite a few years. I was also privately trained in all of these areas since I was the age of six, which was already two or three years after having showed that I could pick out tunes by ear on the piano or organ without having had any experience nor having even looked at a keyboard before. My family couldn’t afford lessons until later. The only reason I share this is not to gloat, but to emphasize that I may have a unique perspective. This unique perspective has caused me a lot of problems throughout my “studies”, and I found myself over the years in university butting heads with my professors. However, when I was much younger, a teenager, I found myself to be so much more prolific, free, following my heart. This is where you come in, Mr. Williams.

About six or seven years into my private piano lessons, learning technique and the classics, picking up some jazz here and there (actually I was starting to gig around town as a jazz pianist at 13), and having a complete disregard for music theory (I understood it, but it didn’t matter to me), I saw Jurassic Park. It was not the first time that I had noticed the music in a film before, but it was the first time that I noticed that I was noticing the music more and more. Needless to say, I loved it, and it was the first score that I purchased on CD. Of course, I took notice of your name right away, and it kept popping up in films that I had already seen or owned on video. Soon, my exclamations went from “WOW, he wrote the music for Star Wars?!” to “Ok, that music from Amazing Stories must be him!” I was very much affected, and I immediately became obsessed with film scores, but particularly your work because of the way it has always affected me. I was buying CD after CD of everything I could get my hands on, not just to listen, but to study. I was transcribing as best I could into a little archaic MIDI sequencing program to check how well I was doing. As I went, I became more interested in how you strip away the extraneous to arrive at something that is just perfect for your themes. Textures were also big with me. I studied excerpts from older movies, new movies, olympic fanfares. I learned a great deal. I don’t even know where the sequences are anymore, it was such a long time ago, and that software is obsolete now. The point is that I wanted to study how to be a film composer, and there was no way that I knew of to do that, except to do what I was doing. I was also looking at some of the composers that may have inspired you as well: Wagner, Holst, Bartok, etc…

Heading into college to “study” the classics, jazz, and composition, I learned the names of the things that I already understood. And looking back on it, none of it seems to matter. I spent most of my time saying things like, “Yes, I understand the form of Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony, but why does it sound so optimistic?” As you can easily guess, I never received any answers. Composition yielded a bunch of junk of which I’m ashamed to call my own because it was only written to satisfy them. I am looking for a higher purpose in all of this.

In the last 15 years, I have spent my time traveling the United States and Canada as a jazz pianist, keeping up with my technique at home (I received my B.M. and don’t ever want to go back to school because it is expensive and a waste on someone like me), and in the summers I teach teenagers at a jazz camp to unleash their inner creativity and follow their hearts like I once did, just as you have taught me through your music.

So, essentially you have taught me more about music than anyone I can think of. I was thinking the other day about some of the more recent films that I have seen. I have become increasingly worried about the life and evolution of the film score. I’m finding that scores are becoming more and more texture-based, with less and less life. Dramatically sweeping scores are giving way to what could be deemed as “film muzak”, defined as a harmonorhytmically driven, underlying pulse. I saw the recent Academy Award nominations for best score, and I was appalled.

And then, this morning, I was listening to the theme you wrote for Fawkes, the phoenix from Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. And either the second bar or the third and fourth (depending upon how you count it), I keep finding myself getting choked up. The melody goes 1-8-5 and the harmony goes vi – iii. I keep wondering to myself, how is it that the essence of loyalty, mystery, empathy, flying, tenderness, and about a hundred other adjectives that describe that character, how are they all conveyed so well in something so simple? I understand the concept of having dramatic instinct, but why do I always find myself saying, “Well of course! That is exactly how that is musically conveyed!” when I hear your work? This, and the way film scores are evolving, is killing me! I, myself, have always wanted to involve myself in the process, but haven’t found an outlet to do so, and as I get older, I seem to want it more and more, just so that some form of the dramatic, sweeping scores will still remain, when the kings have left this world. There is so much more that I want to learn, but there are fewer and fewer from whom to do so.

And that, Mr. Williams, is why I felt compelled to write to you. I wanted to express my vast appreciation for your work, and what you’ve done for me thus far without even knowing you have. For that, you have my utmost gratitude. But I do believe, and very deeply I might add, that you can help me find the answers that I am looking for. Music is my life, and no amount of techno-babble is going to satisfy my lust to understand it on a much deeper level than just notes and relationships between notes flowing through time. I don’t care about any of that. I want to know how to create music that makes people FEEL things. You have showed me how that is, above all, the most important force in art.

Sincerely yours,

Jason Wanner

I’m on iTunes Ping!!!

Ok here’s a couple of tidbits… My new album: Just You, Just Me is now on iTunes!! I’m so excited! And in addition to that, I now have an artist’s profile on iTunes PING!! Come follow me please! It’ll be just another place where I can post things and let you all know what’s going on with me!

I put up some of my favorite recordings so check those out as well! Of course I didn’t put any of mine, because I’m so small in the grand scheme of things… Things just keep coming together, so check back at Ping for updates. I’ll be there a lot!

Another Sun Valley came and went!

I love Sun Valley! It was great to see everyone again, and I want to thank everyone for all their support of my new CD: Just You, Just Me!! It was a very well-received release, and I think it will continue to do well! I got to meet up with Miss Idaho again through my fantastic friend, DE. That is always a treat, especially because most Miss Idahos are pretty down to earth, and not pageant-crazy! This year, she was quite a talented soprano. Talent always scores points with me.

The picture above, is of my solo “pianorama set”. Yes, it was a filled-to-capacity event! Happy stuff! Although, I did an idiot thing, by forgetting to promote my indiegogo donation site… oh well… nerves sure make me forget things easily.

Another memorable moment was the Classical Renegades set. They put me on last!! That gave me over an hour to sit and stew and be more nervous as I listened to everyone else play. I played two Chopin Etudes, the “Aeolian Harp” and the “Black Key”. The people seemed to really go for it! I always think there can be room for improvement!

Overall, Sun Valley was a good time, with great music, and great friends!

Hanging in Medford

Well I’ve been up here in Oregon since Sunday night. We’ve been doing school shows all week, both elementary and middle. It’s been a fun experience! These kids are some of the best audience members I’ve ever had! They’re just excited about everything…. ALL THE TIME!  And, best of all, they just love what you’re doing, even when it’s not so good. They are just happy that you’re there and that they get to be out of class.

We’ve been illustrating the origins of jazz and how it grew out of multiple cultures and musics from those cultures. We did 4 schools on Monday, 2 on Tuesday, and 4 today. We have 3 more to do tomorrow, and I’m exhausted already. I also have the festival to do this weekend, and then off to Sun Valley… I dunno how I’m going to survive, especially since next week is going to be even busier than this week!

I’m anxious to start selling my CD this weekend! I hope it doesn’t flop, that would ruin my whole year. I think it’ll do well though! Anyway, I gotta get to sleep soon. Early start in the morning.