Looking at Lauren Walker's photographs of this year's jazz camp, particularly those of the faculty, brought to mind another of the camp's many dimensions. In the last blog I wrote about the ego boost you get from camp, the praise you earn for the music you play, no matter at what level you play it. Empowerment is the regrettable jargon for it.
But another aspect, which I probably forgot to mention because I was feeling so empowered, is humility. Up-close exposure to those who play our instruments at the highest level reminds us of how far we have to go. That may come from a master class; it may come from a jam session; it certainly hits you hard at a faculty concert. You listen to Jim Lewis or Nancy Walker or Kim Ratcliffe. That's how the instrument is played by a pro. That's how improvisation sounds when expertise combines with inspiration.
Not to mention hard work— for one of the huge differences between the campers and the musicians who inspire them is how long they practise, compared to us. Every year a few aspiring musicians arrive at CAMMAC hoping that someone will hand them the Key to realizing their musical dreams. "Is that in a book somewhere?" I’ve heard people ask, as a faculty member tries to explain some way of approaching the instrument, the music.
There is certainly lots of stuff in books, but the pros didn't get it from books. They got it from practising and practising, playing and playing, listening and listening. Where you faithfully did your one hour a day, occasionally not so faithfully, they were doing five. Where we are content to play tunes we know with people we are comfortable with, they seek out challenging material and play it with people who are better than they are, if they can find them. After 20 years or so, that starts to add up.
So, to use the sports analogies that so many of the faculty enjoy, you bring your game to camp and realize how weak it is compared with those who are real players. That could make you decide to take up some other activity, and perhaps it does, for some. But for those of us who keep coming back, something else happens. We are inspired by hearing the great players perform and by having them around us in rehearsals, workshops, jam sessions and master classes.
We don't give up. We are humbled, if we are thinking straight, and that's a good thing. But we are motivated, and that's a good thing too. Not too many of us are going to reach the top levels. Maybe the youngest players have the best chance because they are playing the most and have the longest time ahead of them. But all of us can become better and a lot of us do. At any level, the music is worth it.
Jam session season resumes
Note that monthly JazzWorks jam sessions return Thursday, Sept. 18 at 8 p.m. at the Carleton Tavern, corner of Parkdale and Armstrong. Here’s your chance to show off all that stuff you picked up at camp.
The host band, which will play a 45-minute set prior to the jamming, is called Cole’s Notes, in honour of the Cole Porter tunes they will be performing — everything from the pretty ones, like Every Time We Say Goodbye to the off-beat ones, like Don’t Fence Me In. The group features three singers — Sue McCarthy, Mary Moore and Phyl Reading, accompanied by Marylise Chauvette on piano, Alrick Huebener on bass, Dave Finlayson on drums and a horn section comprising John Graham on tenor and myself on trumpet.
If you haven’t been to the jams before, you’ll find them a welcoming experience, a bit noisy, but you’ll have fun meeting up with and performing with your musical friends.
The way in is a bit odd. Entering from Armstrong Street, you go in the left door, walk through the tavern to the pool table at the back, turn right and go through another door into “our” side of the tavern. There you’ll meet Anna Frlan, hand over $5, find the sign-up sheet and a place to sit. The smoked meat is good.
A note about Sunday jams: They haven’t resumed yet because the JazzWorks board is looking at ways to boost attendance. One way is to make them a more convivial setting for beginning jammers and we’re working on that. Any suggestions you have will be most welcome.
Comments will be 'approved' before they are made visible. If you are leaving a comment, please sign it with your full name. Anonymous comments won't be published.
About this blog
Tune Up won't be a calendar of events — Ottawa Jazz Happenings takes care of that. But it will discuss events and issues of interest to the JazzWorks community. Journalist, author, trumpet player and a jazz camper since 1999, Charley Gordon is a former vice-president of JazzWorks.