About the Workshop


Musicians entering grades 7 through adult, who can read music, and who want to advance their playing and improvisational skills are welcome to register. Past participants have played saxophone, clarinet, trumpet, trombone, flute, vibes, guitar, bass, piano, voice, and drums; but one can improvise jazz on any instrument. We are always looking for bassists and drummers!


A 5-session workshop over 2 weeks where students learn improvisational skills by playing in a jazz combo with similarly skilled peers. The workshop consists of 5 90-minute combo sessions and one concert. 

Area students have been learning about jazz improvisation in a combo setting through the Grayslake Jazz Combo Workshop since the summer of 2001.


Sessions organized by ability level will be offered on the dates and times listed below. Students will register for a combo session at their current ability level. Learn more about Combo Levels

All returning students will submit a video a video audition to help our faculty create the best learning environment possible for each combo. New students will do an in-person video. For audition details, see our Placement Auditions page.

2023 Combo Sessions/Times To Be Announced in the spring

Performance Opportunities: Students are not required to attend every concert, but performances help students advance their improvisational skills.


  • On the registration form students should indicate their 1st and 2nd choice for a combo session. This allows our faculty to maximize correct placement level at the greatest convenience for all students who register. See Combo Levels
  • Except for situations where we need to balance combo instrumentation, positions in combos will be filled on a first-come, first-served basis (according to a student’s date and time of registration). We will maintain a waiting list if necessary.
  • If a session fills, we will offer the student a slot in another combo, if possible, or offer an additional session, if we are able.
  • When multiple rhythm section players (i.e., drums, piano) are assigned to the same combo, students will switch between drum set and auxiliary percussion, or piano and keyboard, and will alternate their positions on different tunes.
  • Our experience has been that students advance regardless of the combo level they are assigned.


Sessions are held at…

  • Chapin Jazz Studio, 146 Center St., Suite 4, Grayslake (see map below)
  • The Rails Jazz Club (Paul Nielsen residence music room) at 93 Railroad Av., Grayslake. Get directions


To gain valuable experience playing in a combo, to learn music theory, to get lots of time to improvise in a low-pressure setting, to learn the higher level of professionalism required to perform in concerts, and to have fun and groove to the beat of the most American form of music–jazz.

Topics we may cover: Scales and patterns for improvisation; jazz theory beginning to advanced; introductions and endings; trading fours; soloing; learning jazz styles such as swing, latin, waltz, blues, ballads; playing with proper time and feel and, of course, jamming on jazz tunes.

Typical Combo Session: Setup and warm-up–10 minutes; improv on the blues–20 minutes; ear training games and exercises–10 minutes; break–5 minutes; jazz theory–10 minutes; rehearsal of tunes and jamming–60 minutes; assignments and review–5 minutes. Often, a snack is provided.


Bill Chapin has been playing piano professionally in the Chicago area since 1978, taught jazz piano at the the College of Lake County for 8 years, and has taught jazz piano and improvisation privately since 1990. He established at Chapin Jazz Studio in 2013 and the Grayslake Jazz Combo Workshop in 2001. Bill performs regularly with multiple groups, including the Bill Chapin Jazz X-tet. See Bill’s bio.

Paul Nielsen is well-known in the Chicago area, both as a jazz and music educator and as a working musician on multiple instruments. He directs the choirs at Grayslake North High School and can be seen playing bass with the College of Lake Jazz Ensemble and other area jazz groups. See Paul’s bio.

Tim Barclay currently directs the music program at the Carmel Catholic High School and performs with numerous professional groups. Tim is a graduate of North Texas State University and has previously taught at the College of Lake County and at Vernon Hills, Libertyville, and Hersey High Schools. See Tim’s bio

Jon Rarick is a recent graduate of the Eastman School of Music, where he earned his masters degree in jazz writing. In addition to playing trumpet with several big bands, pit orchestras, and jobbing bands around Chicago, he leads the Jon Rarick Nonet, a nine-piece band dedicated to playing his arrangements and compositions. He teaches private lessons in trumpet, improvisation, arranging, and composition and serves as an instructor with the Ravinia Sistema program. Jon is also a graduate of Grayslake North High School and is himself an alumnus of the Grayslake Jazz Combo Workshop. See Jon’s bio

Andre Rivera directs the band program at the North Chicago Math & Science Academy. He is also known for his band, Here for the Summer, which has provided performance opportunities to young performers in the area for the past few summers. Mr. Rivera was graduated with a degree in music education from Augustana University and is an Apple Scholar. See Andre’s bio

When needed, we hire additional qualified instructors to lead combos or serve as consultants.


  • Next year’s workshop costs will be posted in the spring.

Students may not participate unless payment is made in full by the first rehearsal. Cost includes a workshop T-shirt, instructional materials, photocopying, facility rental, and all administrative costs.

Note: We will not pro-rate the cost for missed rehearsals.