Backbeat: Grammy Camp Jazz Sessions Celebrates 20th Anniversary,
Backbeat: Grammy Camp Jazz Sessions Celebrates 20th Anniversary,

levin Ron McCurdy, a professor at USC, and Grammy Camp student Ashley Levin from Augusta, Ga., prepare to listen to a recording of "Soul Fly," an original composition by McCurdy. (Photo: Justino Aguila)

Paul McCartney was standing in the same studio the night before high school student Ashley Levin recorded her solo for a song called "Soul Fly" at the Grammy Camp Session Jazz Session inside Hollywood's famous Capital Records tower.

"It's crazy," said Levin, 18, after singing her solo. "I don't believe that this opportunity is happening to me."

The chance to spend more than a week in Los Angeles during the Grammy camp for jazz players and singers is a moment that will make all the difference in the lives of high school students who filled out applications, auditioned and got chosen to be part of one of the country's most prestigious music camps.

choir High school students from across the country record music at the Grammy Camp Jazz Session at Capitol Studios in Hollywood. They are given direction by USC Jazz Studies professor Ron McCurdy (left). Preparing to sing in Studio A includes Christina Takayama, Veronica O'Brien, Ashley Levin, Laila Smith, Myles Nuzzi, Mark Mekailian, Nathan Heldman and Felix Ramsey, Jr. (Photo: Justino Aguila)

Students get to record a jazz album, which goes on sale around May in a digital format. Additionally, they get to perform at various functions and get to walk the red carpet at Sunday's Grammy Awards.

The program also encourages students to continue with their music studies beyond high school. During their time in Southern California they get to network and receive feedback from music vets.

For David Sears, senior director of The Grammy Foundation, the program is a way for students to take time out and focus exclusively on their craft.

sears David Sears of The Grammy Foundation overseas the annual Grammy Camp Jazz Session which includes the participation of students who fly in from various parts of the country. (Photo: Justino Aguila)

Sears, who has been working on the music camp for 18 out of the 20 years since the program was first held, said the satisfaction comes from seeing the students follow their dreams.

Notables who were part of the program previously, Sears said, include singer/songwriter/pianist Peter Cincotti, pianist Gerald Clayton and crooner Brandon Heath, who this year is nominated for multiple Grammy awards including best contemporary Christian music song, best gospel/contemporary Christian music performance and best contemporary Christian music album.

"This is a national program that selects some of the best players and singers in the country," Sears said. "We're here because EMI has graciously provided us studio time at no charge."

mek The Grammy Foundation's Senior Director David Sears and high school student Mark Mekailian from Arcadia, Calif., take a break from recording music that will be featured in a CD later this year. (Photo: Justino Aguila)

Levin has been singing from a very young age and the camp, she said, has given her more confidence to pursue a career in music.

"I definitely want to work in the music industry as a singer," said Levin whose musical inspirations include Smokey Robinson, Stevie Wonder and Celine Dion. "I love jazz, but I also love pop music. If I could combine the two that would be awesome."