'I Couldn't Imagine Doing Anything Else.' On Teaching Next Gen Jazz Musicians

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 (Courtesy of Wally Schnalle)

Wally Schnalle, a professional jazz drummer and director of the Summer Jazz Camp, stands in a sunny practice room at Valley Christian High School in San Jose.

It's a hot Sunday morning and he's watching seven students from the Summer Jazz Camp rehearse "Lingus" by Snarky Puppy for the 30th annual San Jose Jazz Summer Fest.

"That's a challenging tune," Schnalle said. "It's an odd meter. Everybody gets solos and different sorts of rhythmic environments."

Schnalle has long white hair pulled into a pony tail and a white goatee to match. His silver peace sign earrings swing back and forth as he bobs his head to the music.

The song ends abruptly, and Schnalle tells the students, "Yeah, that was better, and you even quoted the groove you wanted to end up on. "


San Jose Jazz is more than the annual festival. The organization also support music education locally through three different programs. One, called Progressions, connects at-risk youth with music in San Jose's Franklin-McKinley School District. The High School All Stars is a regional band that’s exactly what it sounds like. They also run the Summer Jazz Camp.

"It really is a conduit," said San Jose Jazz Executive Director Brendan Rawson. "We've been excited to have a range of folks over the years that have come through our own education programs that come back in other ensemble formats as as artists that we're presenting. I think it ties into the long term direction of the organization of supporting the music and supporting artists coming from the area. "

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Schnalle says, unlike a lot of other professional musicians who teach to help pay the bills, he really likes it.

"It's really heartening," Schnalle said. "Not only to see them trading things that they learned in the classes. I see them helping each other once they learn something or they get it quicker than the other students will help."

Schnalle’s teaching often goes beyond notes and tempo. He works with a lot of talented kids, and some of them want to know: should they pursue music professionally like Schnalle? Are the financial insecurity and the late nights worth it?

"I couldn't imagine doing me doing anything else," Schnalle said, "and if that's the way you feel about it, then please do go for it, right? Because then you'll be rewarded many times. But if you think 'oh that'll be a cool thing to do,' then yeah that's gonna be an uphill battle."

The Summer Jazz Camp performs as part of the San Jose Jazz Summer Fest on August 10, 2019 on the SJMA Next Gen Stage. For more information, click here.