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Meet Pianist Tyler Henderson and Trumpeter Summer Camargo

Sanford Josephson By

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I love playing with Summer. I feel like we have a great musical connection.
—Tyler Henderson
This article first appeared in Jersey Jazz Magazine.

Growing up in Oneonta, New York, Tyler Henderson "noodled around for five years on a piano that a church donated to my family. I learned to play older rock songs by ear—stuff from Chicago and The Beatles. Then, in seventh grade, I heard the Vince Guaraldi Charlie Brown Christmas album (Fantasy, 1965). I was really intrigued. I had never heard music like that before. Then I discovered Bill Evans. He became my obsession." When Henderson was entering ninth grade, his family moved to Houston, Texas, and he attended Houston's High School for the Performing Arts.

Summer Camargo started playing trumpet in the fifth grade at Calvary Christian Academy in Hollywood, Florida. "In sixth grade," she recalled, "my private instructor, Ral Estevenz, told me I had the potential to make it to Juilliard. I didn't even know what Juilliard was. I was really into classical music at the time, but the high school started a jazz band." While still in middle school, Camargo auditioned for the high school jazz band, and "slowly I started to fall in love with jazz." Estevenz encouraged her to audition for the all-state jazz band. "When I made that, it changed my life." Dillard High School, a Fort Lauderdale-based public high school with a prestigious performing arts program, then recruited Camargo and she transferred there for ninth grade.

Camargo and Henderson are now second-year Jazz Studies students at The Juilliard School in New York. During high school, Henderson was part of a student all-star sextet selected by the Thelonius Monk Institute of Jazz's Peer-to-Peer jazz education program. He and five other students went on tours of educational "informances" at public high schools in the Dakotas, accompanied by professional musicians such as tenor saxophonist/flutist Don Braden, trumpeter Sean Jones, and trombonist Delfeayo Marsalis. Calling the tours "a great experience," Henderson said, "We did a bunch of concerts, showing the students how to build blues and chords and such. We played for the students and also performed at a club."

Braden remembers Henderson as "a very talented and skilled young jazz pianist. He played beautifully throughout our tour, prepared well, was a solid accompanist and consistently played melodic, focused, yet relaxed solos."

When Camargo was attending Dillard, she was part of the school's jazz band that finished third in Jazz at Lincoln Center's Essentially Ellington competition in 2017. "I was so excited," she recalled. "When those three bands [the finalists] performed again, we were all backstage at Rose Hall, and Wynton Marsalis was talking to my band director. Wynton had been a huge hero of mine since middle school."

The following year at the Essentially Ellington competition, Camargo became the first female trumpet player to be named the festival's best soloist. She also won the songwriting award for best original composition and arrangement. Before she performed her composition "Leapfroggin'" with members of the JALC Orchestra, Marsalis introduced her by saying, "She is spectacular in her playing and her presence. What can I say about her? It just gives me so much hope and feeling."

Henderson had an unexpected opportunity to play with Marsalis in Houston in May, 2018. "One of the members of Jazz at Lincoln Center— trombonist Vincent Gardner—had relocated to Houston," Henderson recalled. "He created a band called 'Jazz Houston,' and I had been playing with that band for two years. Wynton came to Houston and was going to be a guest artist with Jazz Houston for a big band concert. I was called as the pianist for the concert. I was so excited! I rehearsed with the band for the whole week. I only saw him at the soundcheck right before the show. We did another show downtown at a library. He was really nice to me and said, 'You're an intelligent player.'"

There is a long list of pianists whom Henderson considers major influences, ranging from legends such as Earl Hines and Bud Powell to lesser-known keyboardists such as Chris Anderson ("Herbie Hancock's teacher") and Clare Fischer ("genius of harmonic movement"). As for Camargo and trumpeters, "At first, Miles Davis and Wynton were the only two I knew. Around eighth grade, I discovered Clifford Brown." In her junior year, it was Dizzy Gillespie and Terell Stafford. Another inspiration was Sean Jones, who directs Carnegie Hall's National Youth Jazz Orchestra. Camargo was a member of this ensemble in 2018 and 2019.

In addition to being JALC's managing director and artistic director, Marsalis is the director of Juilliard Jazz, and Henderson and Camargo feel fortunate to be part of the program. "What he does for the program is amazing," said Henderson. Camargo added, "He has changed jazz education."

This school year, Henderson and Camargo had 75 percent of their classes online. "We did have two classes in person: small combo and big band," Henderson explained. "Everyone wore masks, and we spaced out eight to 13 feet apart." Camargo noted that "Julliard did something unusual. They did an academic block that ended in April. Then, they extended the school year and added a performance block—just performance. Now that the weather's nicer, we can play in Central Park and outside the Juilliard building."

Both students are planning to stay in New York City over the summer. Henderson hopes to play in some jam sessions. Camargo is putting a recording together and hopes to finish it just before school starts in the fall. She's also writing a big band chart for the University of North Carolina at Greensboro's Miles Davis Jazz Studies program that's due in August.

Camargo and Henderson played together at the New Jersey Jazz Society's Virtual Social in March and recently performed the music of Louis Armstrong's Hot Five and Hot Seven bands for the late-night sessions at Dizzy's Club. When Henderson and Camargo played virtually for NJJS, Camargo realized that, "I really enjoyed talking to the audience. I hope to tour one day with my own big band and my own combo." Henderson added that "I love playing with Summer. I feel like we have a great musical connection."

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