Renowned Jazz Musicians From New York and Austin Teach Music Masterclass on The Hill

The New School of Music, Austin and St. Stephen’s Episcopal School recently joined forces to present a Jazz Masterclass, featuring bassist Alex Claffy and renowned drummer Daniel Dufour. The on campus clinic was offered during the school day to the students in the Middle and Upper School Jazz Band, directed by Dave Sayers, who was also instrumental in making this event happen. One of the goals was to create excitement about the upcoming Texas Jazz & Blues summer Camp, hosted on The Hill.

Dufour, who is currently the professor of drum set at Huston-Tillotson University in Austin, was excited to return to St. Stephen’s. 
“Any time we get a chance to work with the youths of today, it really warms my heart,” said Dufour. “[Jazz] music is a very serious and important part of the history of this country.”

Dufour extended the invitation to Claffy who was visiting St. Stephen’s for the first time. The two met a couple of years ago at a gig, and have bonded over their love for jazz and mentoring jazz students. Claffy, who pointed out to the students that he’s Episcopalian and was excited to be at an Episcopal school, is from a suburb of Philadelphia and moved to New York at the age of 18. He shared that he’s had the honor of working with many of his heroes, including Jimmy Cobb, Louis Hayes, Harold Mabern, Kurt Rosenwinkel, Christian Scott, Joey Alexander, Wallace Roney and many more.

“At your age, the way you’re able to be sponges, I envy you guys,” Claffy told the Upper School students. “Now, when I’m trying to learn something it takes me ten times as long, but when I was your age I could listen to one musician and sound like them in three months.”
During the Upper School class, Claffy and Dufour listened to the students play “Now’s the Time,” composed by famous American jazz saxophonist, band leader, and composer Charlie Parker.
Students were asked to play a few chords and would then pause and reflect on what they were hearing. A theme throughout the class was the art of blending, which Claffy described as “playing as one with the musicians around you so that you sound like one voice.” He told them to zone into each other and listen while they’re playing to try and get the sound to “line up flat.” It was a big takeaway for John Peters ’27, who’s been playing the vibraphone for about three years.
“I thought [the class] was great, and learned about focusing on the rhythm and not the chord changes in front of you. I think [our] band sounded a lot better on the chords, we were playing more together,” said Peters.
During the Middle School class, members of the jazz band sat in a half circle and listened to Upper School students play as Claffy and Dufour provided pointers and explained various concepts for them to think about when they’re playing together. Trumpet player John Wells ’26 was front and center for the lesson, and was fully focused on every piece of advice.
“Seeing guys like this - they’re not that far from where we are,” said Wells. “15 years down the road, they still remember these classes and they’re out there playing with people, [they’re] on the front of magazines and playing in Times Square, LA, Philly – it’s really inspiring to see how it’s not unreachable if you put in the work.”
Claffy encouraged the students to listen to famous jazz musicians and big bands in their spare time. He said learning jazz is like learning a foreign language and should be treated as such if students are serious about getting better. Claffy and Dufour wrapped up the Middle School class on a high note by playing a freestyle, improvised number.
Click here to learn more about the Texas Jazz & Blues Camp hosted at St. Stephen’s June 9-14 or email
Address: 6500 St. Stephen's Dr., Austin, TX 78746
Phone: (512) 327-1213