FEATURE: Celebrating the International French Summer School at twenty years old

Clive Fenner

The International French Jazz Summer School is twenty years old. Its founder, drummer CLIVE FENNER writes:

It is hard to believe that this year will be the 20th year of the Jazz Summer School in France. It makes me realise how much it has grown and developed over the years.

I’m not sure how I got the idea - I think it was probably a coming together of different events. I had a house in the South of France, I was involved in Education—I taught Philosophy of Education, and I had resumed playing drums and learning to play jazz. I had met Simon Purcell and Martin Hathaway and knew that they taught on English Jazz Schools. It all came together when I was introduced to a Domain with accommodation in a little French village. I chatted with the owner - who was an ex-jazz musician! - and he said he really liked the idea. So I calculated my potential losses if it all went wrong and booked all his accommodation for a week. This was 1995.

I think for the first few years we enrolled around 10-15 people but it started to grow quickly - we were the first of the French schools. Jamie Cullum attended in the early years when he was 18. You can see Jamie and other early photos on our Facebook page – International French Jazz Summer School - I’ve been putting them up to celebrate 20 years. As one week became full I added others and we now have a programme of courses running over 3 weeks (and a separate Course in Cuba in February).

I think what has been great is that we have developed a real community over the years - our tutors and participants are all really committed to the school. Many say it is their favourite week of the year when they can get together with friends and great teachers and immerse themselves in music – it’s hard work but exhilarating and great fun. We get many testimonials saying that the school has been a life changing experience. It is a very positive environment for all of us to be involved in.

Students at the Summer School

All our courses run for 1 week - although some people attend more than one. We have 5-6 hours of workshops each day, a daily performance by workshop groups and an evening club where participants and tutors play for each other and together. We have a final night concert to the public at the end of each week. The concerts have become so popular that we can no longer get all the audience inside the performance hall. It’s an exciting way to culminate a good week’s work and fun. Everyone leaves on a high and many book immediately for the coming year!

We have different teams of tutors for the different courses:

- Our weeks of 8th-15th and 15th-22nd are our courses for instrumentalists and singers of all experience levels.

- The Tutors on 8th-15th are the great team of Martin Hathaway, Tom Cawley, Geoff Gascoyne and Trudy Kerr. 

- On 15th-22nd we also have brilliant tutors - Liane Carroll, Simon Purcell and Julian Siegel.

- From 22nd-29th August we have 2 courses running - a Specialist Singers Course for singers of all experience levels with Liane Carroll and Sophie Bancroft, and an Advanced Improvisors Course for the more experienced improviser with Simon Purcell and Julian Siegel.

We are now located in the beautiful Ardeche countryside in a fully restored chateau set in its own grounds with swimming pools, table tennis, country walks - if you’ve got the time.

Perhaps the school is best summarized by things our students have said:-

“Somehow being away from home frees you up from the usual hangups about your playing and makes you more willing to experiment. I learnt a lot of important principles here that stay with me today.”—Jamie Cullum

“This must be the benchmark for all jazz courses”-- P.S.

"The location is stunning, the food is great, the people have been welcoming, warm and generous. The tutors are second to none and as a result I have had a life changing experience - thank you all so very much." A.R.


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