Jazz in the Rockies

At the Banff International Workshop in Canada, senior Jacob Gollub finds musical fellowship – and inspiration from an unlikely member of the animal kingdom.

By Jacob Gollub '17
2016 Artist Development Fellow

Jacob Gollub ’17, a resident of Mather House concentrating in Statistics, was awarded an Artist Development Fellowship to attend the Banff International Workshop in Jazz and Creative Music in Alberta, Canada this summer. Gollub performs with the Harvard Jazz Bands and is a DJ for 95.3 WHRB Cambridge, where he has hosted a two-hour jazz program. At the 2015 Harvard Summit for Young Leaders in China, Gollub taught a three-day seminar, “Intro to Jazz Music,” to more than 50 students. In this first of two blog posts, Gollub writes about his experience at Banff.

Jacob Gollub '17 (in the blue shirt) in beautiful Banff with friends
Jacob Gollub '17 (in the blue shirt) in beautiful Banff with friends
The first thing to note about the Banff workshop is its location – high up in the Canadian Rockies, according to Snapchat’s location filter, and about a 90-minute bus ride from the Calgary airport. This workshop places its musicians in close contact with nature, a great change of pace for serious musicians who lock themselves indoors to practice so often. Once day, we took a trip to Lake Louise, home to some of the most beautiful sights and hiking trails I have ever seen. While the outdoor environment was inspiring, I was as immersed in music as ever.

During my time at Banff, I experienced so much. The workshop consists of 48 students of various ages and nationalities and a rotating lineup of faculty each week. Vijay Iyer, whom I’ve studied with at Harvard, directs the program. What was important for me was dealing with my own insecurities as a musician. When I first arrived, I felt out of place as one of the only participants who is not a music student or has not attended music school. (Everyone here is an incredible musician.) I also didn’t feel extremely confident with my playing, as I had spent the past nine weeks interning at a trading firm in Philadelphia, a job which did not include much musical improvisation.

Yet as the time went by at the workshop, I realized there is no need to feel alienated. The people were friendly, supportive and open to all types of collaboration as artists. I tried to get to know the other participants in the dining hall and between the activities of the workshop. And I remembered why I love hanging out with musicians so much when we converse about music and people that are largely unknown to the general public. When you can laugh together about a contemporary jazz musician’s awkward interview on YouTube, you know that’s something special. And when I think about things like this, I realized how much I would miss Banff when I headed back to school in September.

ELK at Banff. CREDIT: WIKIPEDIAAt Banff, I had an interesting time trying to compose music. One day, several of us spotted an elk with giant antlers wandering outside near the practice rooms. My friends were keeping their distance and when I asked why, they told me that elk were dangerous. Although I didn’t believe them at first, this must have provided some inspiration for a new tune I composed: Watch Out For Elk. Click here to listen.

The tune evolved from a small melody I wrote several weeks before my trip. Then I finished the composition and arranged it for our eight-piece ensemble at Banff. For me, the process of composition has often been painstaking. I’m easily unhappy with what I write and often spend much time composing with little music to show for. But I put in the time to finish it, and it all felt worth it when I performed it with my combo (led by the amazing trumpet player Jason Palmer) at the Banff Centre’s music club. 

The Artist Development Fellowship program, jointly administered by the Office for the Arts at Harvard, the Office of Undergraduate Research and Fellowships and Office of Career Services, awards 10-15 fellowships annually to promising and/or accomplished student artists and creators who have an unusual opportunity for artistic growth and transformation. The program is open to all undergraduates currently enrolled in Harvard College, and applications are evaluated by the Council on the Arts, a standing committee of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. For more information, visit the OFA website or call 617.495.8676.