Jazzy Vocals

Kate McGarry

One might easily imagine carloads of jazz singers trekking up to Egg Harbor to join some of the world’s top jazz vocalists in a Door County barn. Birch Creek Music Performance Center has been sponsoring these musical collaborations for decades. Located on County E near Peninsula Center, Birch Creek brings aspiring young musicians together with seasoned professionals to practice and perform fabulous music, be it percussion-based, classical, or jazz big bands. But new this year, Janice Borla’s vocal jazz session will become Birch Creek’s fifth official music session of the 2014 concert season.

Janice’s ship arrives in the county with hundreds of accolades in her wake. In the words of veteran jazz journalist Neil Tesser, “She shatters the stereotype of the jazz vocalist as a poseur or wannabe, infatuated with the idea of improvisation but lacking the mettle to carry it off: she’s a musician who happens to play voice.”

Ms. Borla has never been content to offer yet another “styling” of an old jazz standard, but has made it her mission to employ her voice as a jazz instrument, assuming an equal role with the other instrumentalists in the ensemble. She is continually lauded for her gorgeous sound, impeccable technique, adventurous repertoire, and imaginative improvisations. Janice’s most current album, Promises to Burn, received enthusiastic reviews, including a coveted “four stars” in DownBeat. Her album, From Every Angle, was named one of the “Best CDs of the Year” by DownBeat and was hailed by JazzWeek as “Another fine effort from a singer who seems to do everything right.” Her previous CD, Agents of Change, was named “The #1 Jazz CD of the Year” by WBEZ-FM Chicago Public Radio. In his review of Agents, Bob Protzman of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette wrote: “A stunning singer with a lustrous voice and the technique, imagination and daring of the best improvising instrumentalists.”

It is this unique approach to jazz singing which acts as the jumping-off point for the vocal jazz camp, “among the most innovative and dynamic summer jazz educational programs in the country,” according to Jazziz Magazine. Concertgoers will thrill to the sounds of Janice, along with co-faculty vocalists Madeline Eastman and Kate McGarry in concert after concert.

Janice Borla

Ms. Eastman was voted a “Rising Star” in the 2013 DownBeat critics poll, described in the Los Angeles Times as “a consummate, inventive, endlessly entertaining artist.” McGarry has been voted a DownBeat “Rising Star” for the past five years, and boasts a Grammy nomination for Best Jazz Vocal CD. Providing expert musical support for the ladies will be a world-class rhythm section, any one of which commands an audience in their own right. Trumpeter Art Davis, vibraphonist Brad Stirtz, pianist Dan Haerle, bassist Bob Bowman, and drummer Jack Mouse will launch nightly jazz excursions in the old barn.

Birch Creek students will bask in the radiating creativity and expertise of this fine jazz faculty, spending their days in classes on jazz theory and history, style and technique, and of course, the vocal improvisation which is a hallmark of the camp. Almost every evening of the camp will feature a concert, with concert offerings from the amazing faculty each night Tuesday through Friday, and finally a concert presented by the students themselves closing out the session on Saturday night.

It truly is no surprise to see the vocal jazz camp arrive. Birch Creek, the vision of Jim and Fran Dutton, has not only been bringing jazz and classical music camps to Door County since 1978, but has always been open to creative new possibilities. In 1982, the percussion session offered a new Caribbean steel band sound, which is now featured at several of Birch Creek’s most popular concerts. And over the years, other creative offerings, such as photography and fashion, have been offered.

Throughout its years, Birch Creek has been known for its strong connection to the professional musical community. While some summer music camps seem little more than thinly-veiled recruitment tools for a college or university, Birch Creek transports students and faculty away from the distractions of institutions and cities, and provides a pristine environment for learning and creativity. And most importantly, constant emphasis is placed on the music profession, preparing prospective career musicians for a life in the arts.

Madeline Eastman

In the early days of the camp, Jim Dutton would gather students and faculty under the apple tree in the yard, and professional musicians would educate students on the realities of the music profession. Students would soak up information missing from many college classes: business cards, attire, professionalism, and what Dutton would call the most important instrument—the phone. Student-faculty ratios are extremely generous, providing vital opportunities for students to receive personal input and guidance in music and career choices.

Make sure not to miss this exciting new addition to the Birch Creek series and the Door County arts scene!

Vocal Jazz concerts featuring Janice Borla, Madeline Eastman and Kate McGarry are scheduled for August 12-15, and students will be showcased at the August 16 concert. All concerts begin at 8 pm. For more information visit

Peninsula Arts and Humanities Alliance, Inc., which contributes Culture Club throughout the summer season, is a coalition of non-profit organizations whose purpose is to enhance, promote and advocate the arts, humanities and natural sciences in Door County.