Giving Jazz Students Support and a Stage
Developing Musicians Can Jam, Perform in Coffeehouse Class
By Jennifer Johnson
Special to The Washington Post
Thursday, May 20, 2004; Page AA14
People who brunch on Saturdays expect a few things at 49 West Coffeehouse: the clink and clatter of plates, spirited chatter among the patrons and light jazz playing in the background.
Often the music comes from a back room of the coffee shop and eatery where musicians cook up tunes so enticing that folks come from miles away to listen.
The jazz that's filling that back room comes from the members of Jeff Antoniuk's Jazz Band Master Class, a varied mix of men and women who have signed up to sit with saxophonist Antoniuk twice monthly to learn how to play the way he does.
This class, which has been meeting since mid-January, is composed of 21 people who divide into three groups and learn from Antoniuk how to improvise or freely string together notes and eventually play in front of audiences.
In a city known for its talented artists -- painters, sculptors, musicians and filmmakers -- Antoniuk and his students fit right in.
Bette Stallman, 30, of Frederick, said she likes the class because it allows her to grow with other budding musicians.
Like several of her fellow students, Stallman sort of happened onto Antoniuk. She had a full-time job working for a nonprofit wildlife protection advocacy group, but jazz had always been her side project. Although she worked hard at her music, she has always struggled for exposure. Then her piano teacher told her about Antoniuk and his master jazz class.
"This is the only chance I've had to really get together with other beginning jazz musicians, rehearse and jam in a semi-instructed manner," said Stallman. "It's almost altruistic for Jeff to come up with this idea because the only other option is to sit in with a jazz musician at a nightclub, and frankly, it's terrifying. Most of us haven't majored in music, so we don't have those connections, and if you don't have that, you have nothing."
It's a cool spring evening and Antoniuk, a resident of Annapolis and professor of saxophone at Towson State University, has just settled down for a sandwich and iced tea at 49 West. Those who know him describe him as dynamic, almost theatrical because of the way he uses his hands and maneuvers his eyes and mouth when he speaks. Sporting a mess of curly brown hair, a wide smile and a deep, hearty laugh, he looks and sounds every bit like a musician.
"I've been really fortunate," said the Canadian-born Antoniuk, who still carries a bit of his native accent. "I didn't really market myself one way or another. There's been a lot of word of mouth, a lot of people recognizing me from playing in public."
Antoniuk has accumulated an extensive background. He earned two music degrees from the University of North Texas. While there, he also performed with the One O'Clock Lab Band, an acclaimed college band. A composition he wrote won the 1998 Billboard songwriting contest for best performance, and he has toured small towns in Iowa and Arkansas and large venues in Japan and Korea, where he has played with the likes of Doc Severinsen, Natalie Cole and Freddie Hubbard. He has been teaching students for years through private lessons.
But what may have had the most impact on his musical life is the Unified Jazz Ensemble, the quartet Antoniuk co-founded and now co-leads.
Now, at age 38, Antoniuk, a husband and father of a young child, wants to share what he has learned with closet musicians or people who want to be musicians but, for whatever reason, have not been able to make the leap.
Twice a month for two hours, Antoniuk meets with wannabe musicians such as Stallman and her fellow students Andrea Brim, a saxophonist and social worker from Easton, Baltimore psychiatrist and trombone player Tony Lehman and software engineer and guitar player John Horstkamp of Reston.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company