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Camille Thurman – How A Geologist Becomes An Artist


You are a well rounded artist in that you play instruments, sing and compose music.  Tell us what instruments you play and how you got started playing them.

I play the tenor saxophone and flutes (piccolo, c flute, alto & bass flutes)… I also perform oftentimes on the soprano and alto sax.I first started playing the flute at the age of 12 and I was given a mouthpiece for a saxophone but I thought it was for a clarinet. I went to my middle school band instructor and asked if I could try this new mouthpiece on one of the clarinets and that’s when he told me it was actually a saxophone mouthpiece (for alto). I smiled and asked if I could try an alto out and he gave me a fingering chart and told me about all of the possibilities of learning and playing all of the woodwinds. So I would spend every lunch period trying out flutes, saxophones, clarinets and I just fell in love with the alto. Once he had a vacancy in the jazz band, he gave the alto chair to me and I started officially playing saxophone and flute.

I switched to tenor when I was 14 because I was offered a scholarship to attend Queens College Center for Preparatory Studies in Music (CPSM) on saxophone for their jazz program. Their alto chairs were filled but they had one vacancy on tenor and ironically my family had a tenor that was unused for 30 years in the closet. Once I entered the program, I stuck with tenor.


Where and how did singing come in?

My mother used to play all kinds of music around the house when I was a child. I would hear Pops (Louis Armstrong), Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald, Stevie Wonder, Anita Baker and so many others. My dad played a lot of Chaka Khan, Natalie Cole, Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston. So there were a lot of great singers on the radio for me to hear and absorb. I would always try to imitate as close as I could to their voices.  Their range was always a challenge for me because I loved how powerful and dynamic their voices were. So I would always try to sound as close and accurate as possible to their phrasing, pitch and style. It wasn’t until I got to college, where I started to officially experiment and sing jazz with the college jazz ensemble, but for a long time I kept singing “under wraps” because I just had a lot of respect for the singers I grew up listening to. I was very shy and wasn’t sure if I  could do justice or measure up to them.


What are your goals as a musician and an artist?

My goals as a musician are to:
Inspire and teach others to appreciate live music and it’s tradition (the historical, spiritual, social aspects and beauty of music)
Create great music that inspires, speaks to and uplifts people;  speaks for their time/ reflects their history and lives)
To be a musical vessel and share this gift with the world (to inspire/ touch people via music, using my personal experiences/journey)

As an artist to:
Show the importance of music in our everyday lives
Change people for the better (make a better society)
Inspire and uplift the next generation of musicians


You also do educational presentations and workshops for children and teens.  Given that today’s popular music that a lot of young people are into is not really music, but mechanical loops and beats, what is your goal with these workshops and how are you and your music received by these young people?

My goal with these workshops is to
1. Bring awareness to the history and existence of this great music called jazz–showing how it is the foundation of modern music and society today
2. Inspire them to be moved to dig deeper and have the hunger to go out and learn more about this music
3. Show them the relationship between yesterday’s culture and today’s culture and how music is a reflection of culture and society —-showing them how music was the tool/vehicle used  to express ideas/opinions/thoughts about society and the world  –using history,

Young people leave my workshops very inspired. They have an urge to seek more knowledge. One of my students came back to me and told me that my workshop inspired her to do her senior project on Jazz Vocalists. Before taking my summer workshop, she had never really checked out jazz so I felt moved by the fact that my workshop impacted and inspired her to go further and study it.

Students are inspired to gather in groups and discuss on topics covered in my workshops. I even had students, who weren’t in my workshops, seek me out to give them notes and handouts from the workshops because their friends told them about it and they were interested in learning too.  So the students are left with hunger and passion for learning more about the music. I believe that’s the best gift an educator can  give and receive.