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A summer jazz camp for grown-ups

Sharon Litwin (photo by Jason Kruppa)

Sharon Litwin (photo by Jason Kruppa)

Editor's Note: In honor and memory of Sharon Litwin, The Queen here at NolaVie, we will be publishing a piece from her every day for the next month. Sharon was an advocate and spokeswoman for arts, culture, people, and policies here in New Orleans. Her voice and sharp wit will be greatly missed. 

To listent to Sharon Litwin's interview with Banu Gibson at WWNO radio, click here.

Banu Gibson

Banu Gibson

Banu Gibson does what so many secretly wish they could do: be a jazz performer. She’s been at it a long time.

“I started dancing when I was 3,” she says. In fact, her first professional job was as a dancer, her second as a dancer-singer, her third as a full-time jazz singer. She’s been singing ever since. Oh, she’ll throw in a little tap dancing now and then to liven up her shows, but mostly she thrills audiences around the world with her vocal renditions of traditional New Orleans jazz songs of the 1920s, ‘30s and ‘40s.

Now in the fourth iteration of her musical life, she has become a teacher, something she says she really loves. But Banu's students don't meet in the usual classroom. They've signed on to a music camp complete with homework assignments like visits to jazz clubs and second line parades. Excpet there's not one young up-and-rising kid player in this camp: This week-long music experience is for adults only.

Banu and her impressive jazz faculty teach their trade to grown-ups of all ages who come to the Crescent City from across the globe to be part of her New Orleans Trad Jazz Camp.  For them, it's more than seven days and nights of music workshops to learn how to play New Orleans jazz as it was played at the beginning of the 20th century; it's a dream come true.

As you might imagine, this is not a group of campers used to roughing it. No tents or barracks for them. Their one-week camp fees ensure housing at the Bourbon Orleans Hotel, several meals, the opportunity to play with outstanding New Orleans-area professional musicians and the joy of meeting others just as passionate as they are about the music.

“I’ve been performing it seems like forever,” Banu says. “So it’s really kind of nice to be at this stage in my career and be able to give back, passing on something that I’ve spent a lot of years accumulating.”

So many of the players Banu grew up with and who generously shared their knowledge with her have passed on. “So my generation is becoming the connective tissue,” she says.

Now in its third summer, the camp has become so popular that Banu is adding a second session this year. Locals who want to participate can do so at a reduced rate if they do not want the hotel accommodations. For wannabe Louis Armstrongs, Pete Fountains or Ella Fitzgeralds, it's a unique and so-New-Orleans way to jam with the best.

I mean, haven’t you always dreamed of performing in Preservation Hall?

For information on the second adult camp, taking place July 28-August 3, go to www.neworleanstradjazzcamp.com.

Sharon Litwin is president of NolaVie. Email her at [email protected]

Sharon Litwin is president of NolaVie. Email her at [email protected]