Jazz to College
Seven years ago my oldest son, Julian, applied to college to study jazz. Like any parent I wanted to assist him. I thought it would be a straightforward process, but what I found instead shocked me.
The application process wasn’t a single linear process. There were no clear instructions or an easily defined set of tasks. It hit me like random onslaught of due dates, requirements, essays, transcripts, and sometimes multiple applications for one institution. Further considerations included recommendations from private music teachers, high school teachers, resumes describing student and professional experiences, scholarship and financial aid forms. All of these challenges were already stirring up my anxiety before we even thought about the prescreening and audition recordings or live auditions.
Every single one of these requirements often had different deadlines, sometimes up to five different due dates for one college. Considering the number of colleges we were applying to, we realized we had quite an array of dates to keep track of and deadlines to meet.
When we moved on to the prescreening and audition videos, a new set of questions arose. How many tunes did we need to record? What were the different requirements from each school? Which tunes to record? how many choruses? do we shoot video or record audio only? do we record at home or in a professional studio?
I was shocked and frustrated. Surely there must be someone to help me. But as we started our fact-finding and information gathering, I quickly realized that most of the information available online and from high school counselors wasn’t relevant to a music student. The advice centered around things like “portfolio diversity,” grade point average, and test scores. None of the advice focused at all on the single most important factor in acceptance to music school – the audition. And advice on that process was very scarce.
If anyone should have felt comfortable and confident about this process, it should have been me. As a professional jazz saxophonist in New York City for many years, I already had working relationships with faculty members at almost every major music school and conservatory on the East Coast, and as a clinician and guest artist I had presented hundreds of masterclasses at universities throughout the United States. I had produced successful audition recordings for several of my students who were already attending major conservatories.
But none of that experience prepared me for what my own child would face or how to manage the dizzying number of dates, deadlines and considerations.
After going through this gauntlet the first time, I started giving seminars for our students at Jazz House Kids on navigating this process. I started to actively guide students and parents, helping them as best as I could to manage the multiple tasks that would confront them. I started providing individual assessments and guidance in addition to the group seminars.
In the past ten years I have helped over thirty students through the process to successful placements in major conservatories. We now have students enrolled at New England Conservatory, Berklee School of Music, Montclair State University, The Juilliard School, Oberlin Conservatory, Manhattan School of Music, The New School, William Paterson University, Rutgers University, SUNY Purchase, Eastman School of Music, Northwestern University, New Jersey City University, Temple, and Miami University.
Nothing can make this easy, but no one else has the diversity of experience that I do to guide you through this exciting, sometimes treacherous and very rewarding journey.
Mike Lee Bio
Originally from Cleveland, Ohio, saxophonist Mike Lee has established himself in the New York City/Northern New Jersey area for many years. He balances a thriving performing career with a distinguished teaching resume. He performs regularly in New York City as a member of a wide array of jazz ensembles. His recent associations include The Jimmy Heath Orchestra, The Dizzy Gillespie Orchestra, Wallace Roney’s Universe Orchestra, The Oliver Lake Big Band, The Loston Harris Trio, The Nat Adderley Jr. Quartet, Josh Evans Big Band, Dave Stryker, Frank Lacy, TS Monk, and The Roy Hargrove Big Band. He performs regularly at venues such as The Bluenote, Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola, Smalls, The Jazz Gallery, Fat Cat, and Bemelman’s Bar at the Carlyle Hotel. Recent tours have taken him up and down the East Coast, to Italy, France, California and Beijing, China.
Mike Lee is Professor of Jazz Saxophone at The John J. Cali School of Music at Montclair State University. In 2009, Lee helped found and develop Jazz House Kid’s in-house jazz education program. As the instructor of the first class (2009) at the Jazz House and Director of the JHK Summer Workshop (2010-2012) he oversaw the growth of the program from one class to a thriving jazz school. Mike’s private students have also excelled, winning national awards from the Grammy Band, Next Generation Jazz Orchestra, Downbeat Magazine, and Young Arts. He has had several students go on to attend The Juilliard School, Berklee College of Music, Manhattan School of Music, William Paterson, Rutgers, Miami University, and Northwestern University. Lee has presented clinics and workshops throughout the country. Mr. Lee is endorsed by Conn-Selmer saxophones and Vandoren mouthpieces/reeds.
Lee’s musical accomplishments are shared and enjoyed by his musical family. Along with his wife, violinist Rebecca Harris-Lee, they are raising three active young musicians. Their oldest son, saxophonist Julian, a graduate of The Juilliard School, has a thriving career in and around New York City having performed with ensembles including the Mingus Big Band, Wynton Marsalis Quintet, and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra.
Mike Lee’s three children are all establishing themselves as important voices of the next generation.
Julian Lee is one of the most promising young saxophonists in New York City. In addition to a recent stint with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis in Rose Theater, he is also a regular at Dizzy’s, where he has led Late Night Sessions, performed as a member of the Juilliard Jazz Orchestra, and worked as a sideman with some of the city’s top young bandleaders.
Matthew Lee, 18, has been playing gigs in and around New Jersey and New York from a very young age. He has performed in impromptu jam sessions with artists like Roy Hargrove, Joe Lovano, Don Braden, Dave Stryker, and many others. He has been mentored by Shawn Baltazor, Alvester Garnett, Billy Hart and Lenny White. He will be a freshman this year at the Juilliard School.
Jacquie Lee, 14, is a brilliant young jazz and classical violinist who has performed in many important venues with her father and brothers and has received training from some of the greatest living jazz musicians. She cites Regina Carter, Stuff Smith, and Sonny Stitt as her primary influences.
Mike’s wife of 29 years, Rebecca Harris-Lee, is a professional violinist and marathon runner. She performs with the Madison String Quartet and several area orchestras.