This week marked the completion of a highlight of the Brad Schoener MusicMan Academy’s ten-year anniversary celebration: the “jump-jiving” Jazz Jam! Camp. As the Academy’s summer program celebrations continue, The Brad Schoener MusicMan Academy looks back at its “JAM-packed” Jazz Jam! Camp, which took place from July 11th-15th. Jazz Jam! invites students to explore the world of jazz by unlocking the secret to transpositions, improvisation, composition, and to break into combos guided by some of the best jazz players in the Philadelphia scene. Young musicians can master the ingredients of swing, funk, and ballads all while learning how the best in the business communicate musically, guided by the expertise of Jazz Jam! Camp Director Hiruy (Henry) Tirfe.
A former student of Upper Darby’s MusicMan, Brad Schoener, Hiruy is a musician/saxophonist born in Philadelphia and raised in Upper Darby, PA. In May 2017, Tirfe graduated from the University of the Arts with his Bachelors in Saxophone Performance with a minor in music education and received his Masters Degree in Music Education from the University of the Arts in 2018.
Tirfe has performed at Radio City Music Hall, Made In America Festival, AfroPunk Festival, Mid-Atlantic Jazz Festival, 2017 NFL Draft, Monterey Jazz Festival, John F. Kennedy Center, NPR Tiny Desk Series, and more. When Tirfe isn’t on the stage, he is in the studio working with many different artists and bands. Tirfe has had amazing opportunities to perform with artists of all genres of music, including The Roots, Chill Moody, Solange Knowles, Eric Roberson, Patti LaBelle, Jay Bratten, Robin Eubanks, Ted Nash, Killiam Shakespeare, Beano French, Bilal Oliver, and others. Tirfe is a two-time “Outstanding Soloist” winner at the Next Generation Jazz Festival (2016, 2017).
We sat down with Hiruy Tirfe to learn more about his love of jazz and his vision for the Brad Schoener MusicMan Academy Jazz Jam! camp.
Q: What is your role at the Brad Schoener Jazz Jam! Camp?
A: I have been the Brad Schoener Jazz Jam! Camp Director since 2019. When the entire MusicMan Camp started in 2012 it was a very classical-based curriculum, and throughout the years a lot of students and their families requested a jazz component to it. Around winter 2018 Jennifer Schoener, who is the founder of the entire MusicMan Academy, reached out to me about how the families wanted an entire week dedicated to jazz. We collaborated and came up with a nice curriculum including having students delve into music theory, jazz combos, a big band, a masterclass series, and more performance opportunities. That’s how Jazz Jam! Camp came to be.
Q: What is your background, and how did you get involved with music & the arts?
A: I graduated from Upper Darby High School in 2013. I was actually born in West Philadelphia and was enrolled in the public school system here in first grade. I played saxophone when I was in fourth grade, and Brad Schoener, who was the MusicMan himself, was my first saxophone teacher. All of the MusicMan camps and programs are based around his philosophy of reaching every kid through music. He passed away in 2008, which was a true loss for the district as well as for the music communities in the surrounding areas. Being a saxophonist in Philly, I played a lot when I was a teenager. We had a little band that used to perform at various places like the Kimmel Center. I was just very active on my weekends as a teenager playing music in Philly.
When MusicMan Academy started to become a thing, I started off as a teaching assistant. I really got to learn the ropes about the business and how things came to be, what the director’s role is, what the lead teacher’s role is, what the assistants’ roles are, etc. And as years went on and I developed more relationships with my performance colleagues, it was just so great to be a part of so many amazing projects. In playing for the Grammys, the Recording Academy, the Academy Awards, the Oscars, and other gigs I got to meet a lot of great people. I can then use those relationships to bring these musicians back to my hometown of Upper Darby and expose the younger kids to that professional side of the industry. One of the biggest goals that I had when I was presented with the director position was to give a real-world experience to the students. Oftentimes, a lot of music programs don’t offer information on music business or how to make a living in music, so that’s why I bring masterclass guests in. I want to let these kids know that you can make a living in music. I’ve been at Jazz Jam! Since 2019, and I’m very happy to see that after four years we’re still going strong.
Q: What do you think makes Jazz Jam! so special?
A: The creativity. This is a lot more of a creative and experimental camp experience than some other summer music camps. We essentially give students the opportunity to make mistakes, learn from their mistakes, and have those mistakes be an outlet for something that can work great. Jazz is Black American music, which is all about creativity, coming up with things on the fly, and being spontaneous. I think that the focus on personal creativity is really what makes this camp stand out.
Q: What was your favorite moment from Jazz Jam! this year?
A: My favorite moment was definitely recording our concert and making a live album. When I was younger, that’s what Brad Schoener did. Every spring semester he would get all the students from the three schools he taught at together in the Beverly Hills Middle School auditorium. We would turn the auditorium into a recording studio and record all the music that we had done throughout the year. I wanted that experience to come back for a new generation, especially considering how everything is digitized. The experience of holding a physical album in your hand is unlike any other, and it needs to come back. I feel as though we did great. We had an amazing production team called B-FAM Productions from Upper Darby. We set everything up and the kids had a great time. In addition to that I would say that our masterclass series this year was one of the best we’ve had yet. We had musicians Micah Graves, Gerald Veasly, and Lionel Forrester, Jr., who are all great friends of mine and high-demand musicians not only in Philadelphia and the surrounding areas but internationally as well. When they did their masterclass series, they all talked about opportunities they had to tour and perform around the world, which really opened up the kids’ eyes to new possibilities.
Q: How was the digital component incorporated into Jazz Jam! this year?
A: First and foremost, this year was our first year having a full day of camp. In years past, the camp had only gone until noon, but we were able to end at 3:00pm this year. This allowed us more time to get the students engaged in activities. Dr. Stephen Selfridge is a good friend of the MusicMan Academy and the band director at Garnet Valley High School. He is also well known online through the popular “Dr. Selfridge Music” education YouTube series that he has, and is really into technology and recording. It was only right that Jennifer and I brought him in for the week to have him give the students an intro to recording. They were introduced to GarageBand and iRealPro, produced their own beats, and created their own practice loops. It was very successful. The students were able to take the music they were learning and record it to make their own backing tracks. This was a brand-new addition to the camp this year, and with the expertise of Dr. Stephen Selfridge it turned out very, very well.
Q: What makes jazz itself so unique?
A: Jazz is all about spontaneous improvisation and the ability to create something out of nothing, essentially. The question is always: if you have a simple jazz standard with a simple melody, what can you do on top of that to bring the tune to life? Brad Schoener was a great example of that, in fact I learned jazz through Brad. I never took private lessons when I was younger so my two years with Brad Schoener in fourth and fifth grade, he brought that passion to the forefront. He got me out of my shell and encouraged me to be more creative and learn how to improvise. That’s what makes this genre of music so appealing.
Q: How does your vision for Jazz Jam! help to carry on Brad Schoener’s legacy?
A: Brad Schoener’s legacy is definitely a very heavy legacy to carry. He is called Upper Darby’s MusicMan for a reason, and for me to be one of his students and to direct a camp in his name is an honor. Brad Schoener was all about the jazz; I remember when I was younger he had the most serious trumpet chops. He was just all about having kids come to the front, taking solos, taking chances and risks, and that’s the exact same thing we do at Jazz Jam! I think if he was still with us he would be extremely proud.
Q: If young musicians are interested in jazz, who should they listen to?
A: I would say to just go back in history and listen to the greats. Definitely check out Miles Davis, Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, Cannonball Adderley, Freddie Hubbard, and just expose yourself to a lot of different music. The thing that’s kind of cool about music today is that you can get recommendations based on the album you’re listening to, so take advantage of that. Just absorb as much as you can, try to play by ear, play to the albums, and just go out to find music. There are a bunch of great clubs in Philly to check out music in. There’s a lot of good things happening this side of town, so just get involved.
Q: What does “uniting community through music” mean to you?
A: First and foremost, to unite means to all be together for one solid purpose, whatever that purpose may be. When you have a community, you have a group of people with different backgrounds, beliefs, and walks of life. Everyone says that music is a universal language, and even though I may not relate to someone in terms of our life experiences or what we believe in, music is definitely the thing that can even bring two opposites together and have them work in one accord.
To learn more about Hiruy Tirfe, check out his website: www.hiruytirfe.org
Be sure to visit udmusicman.udfoundation.org to learn more about the MusicMan Academy programs and the legacy of Brad Schoener!