IML SpotlightSpotlight Index (see past spotlights)
Originally from West Hartford, Connecticut, Alexa Tarantino is a jazz saxophonist, woodwind multi-instrumentalist, composer, and educator. Alexa completed her undergraduate education at the Eastman School of Music in 2014, studying with saxophonist and woodwind doubler Charles Pillow. She graduated with degrees in Jazz Saxophone Performance and Music Education, as well as an ALP Certificate.
1. Your recent album, "Crossing Paths", with Dariusz Terefenko has been receiving great reviews! How was that partnership created and did you come across any obstacles you were not expecting when putting this album together?
Dariusz and I started working together outside of the Eastman jazz department in my junior year. We both played in a local Dixieland band called the Smugtown Stompers, and started to call each other for various gigs around town. In my senior year I opted to do an Advanced Study in Improvisation with Dariusz as my faculty mentor, which means I had weekly private lessons with him in addition to my saxophone teacher, Charles Pillow. In that year we focused on interpreting jazz standards, studying the music of Lee Konitz and Lennie Tristano (a well-known duo in jazz history), writing original music, adapting/condensing major classical works for the jazz duo setting, as well as exploring traditional Polish music, Polish film music, and traditional Brazilian music.
After playing several concerts and giving masterclasses at various institutions, we decided to document our work together and release an album. I had no idea what I was in for, but am glad to have gained experience in this area that was so foreign to me. The big obstacle was that I was in my semester of student-teaching while we were trying to get this done, so time and sanity were both hard to come by. I tried to pick as many brains as I could regarding the project timeline, design, record labels, distribution, etc. I decided to start my own record label, Infinite Records, to house this album. We still have a lot of work left to do regarding promotion and publicity. There are a couple things I wish I'd done differently but I am glad we were able to put out a product that we are both proud of! I owe a lot to Jim Doser, who I was student-teaching with at the time. His expertise and advice were invaluable as I was making design decisions, starting the label, and finalizing the product.
2. You started the weeklong Rockport Jazz Camp. What non-musical skills have you developed through starting this camp?
I have learned a ton so far in preparing for this year's camp! One of the most important skills has been learning to delegate, and accepting that I can't do everything myself. I also have to remind myself to stay flexible and open-minded. Even though I have been a summer resident of Rockport all my life, I am new to Rockport Music (the local organization I work with) and the Rockport school system. I may have a vision of what I hope to see happen with this camp, but I have to be respectful of everything that my colleagues in the organization and school system have been doing to further music education in Rockport. We have compromised on some aspects and collaborated on many points, which has proven that taking baby steps together with everyone on board is much better than one person tackling everything with little support.
Stephanie Woolf, Director of Education and Outreach at Rockport Music is who I work with primarily. She's also an Eastman Alumna! We have been on the same page since we started working together and are constantly thinking of the bigger picture, or our five-year plan, as we complete the little things in preparation for August. Other non-musical skills involved in this have been grant-writing (thank you Mark Powell!), creating the online application, handling financial aspects/budgeting, developing the camp schedule and daily activities, keeping consistent with the Rockport Music branding/social media/publicity, working on faculty and guests' travel/contracts, student/parent communication, and more. Oh and designing the t-shirts - obviously my favorite!
3. In addition to your rigorous performance endeavors, you are a music education major. What interesting jazz education projects do you have plans for in the near future?
The Rockport Jazz Camp has been my main jazz education project for the past year or so, but Dariusz and I also love to do residencies at other colleges. We've been guests at the Hartt School, Nazareth College, the Academy of Music in Krakow, Poland, and will be at Berklee College of Music in the fall. Residencies or guest clinics are my favorite gigs! Poland was amazing because we taught all day, ate amazing food, and played all night for over a week - my favorite things! We hope to continue visiting other schools because not only is it convenient to travel as a duo, but we are able to cover a lot of ground with both of our backgrounds as performers and educators. We can tailor our presentations for any age/ability level. Aside from the camp and residencies, I hope to write a method book for jazz saxophonists/woodwind doublers at some point. Rockport Jazz Camp has been on the forefront for a while, but the book is in the back of my mind for what's next.
4. You have been out of school for one year now. What advice would you give to current ALP students who are hoping to pursue a variety of projects and honors similar to yours?
Coffee, coffee, and more coffee! Okay in all seriousness, I would say it's important to continue networking, attending conferences, and keeping your eye on performance opportunities, education opportunities, and other programs. The connections you make at these events prove to be invaluable. What everyone's been telling us is really true: nobody will just magically call you for a gig, you have to actively seek out these opportunities. I keep lists of my short-term goals, long-term goals, and awards/programs I want to apply for. They are the first things I see when I walk into my apartment. The lifestyle change of being in school full-time to being out of school was really shocking for me, but slowly working towards crossing things off these lists has helped me stay focused. Also, while you are still an ALP student, try to learn the basics of as many other branches of the industry as possible. Things like grant-writing, making websites, tracking finances, arts management, notation software, social media, making music videos, etc. Get as many tools in your toolbox as you can, whether it's in the form of an ALP class, picking up a book on something, picking someone's brain, or watching a webinar. Every little bit helps when you're out of school.
Alexa's latest recording, Crossing Paths, with pianist Dariusz Terefenko is available here (hard copy/download) or on iTunes (download).