Some nice news for one a long-time JazzWorks faculty member: trumpeter Jim Lewis has won a Juno nomination, along with guitarist David Occhipinti and bassist Andrew Downing, for their album Bristles.
The nomination, for Jazz Album by a Group, is well-deserved. The album combines live and studio tracks. The live tracks, recorded at The Jazz Room in Waterloo, feature the group’s individualistic take on standards such as You and the Night and the Music, I Fall in Love Too Easily and Emily. If you know Jim’s playing, you will know that the standards will not receive standard treatment. Interspersed are improvised interludes of less than two minutes and named after painters, such as Paul Klee, Wassily Kandinskiy and Jackson Pollock — hence, “bristles.” It is challenging but accessible music.
Bristles, which might be the name of the group as well as the name of the CD, is up against some stiff competition for the Juno. Among the other nominees in the category are Toronto pianist Brian Dickinson, who recently played in Ottawa, and the legendary saxophonist Jane Bunnett.
Also nominated is another musician with a JazzWorks connection, the great Toronto pianist Chris Donnelly, a jazz camper when he was a kid, around the turn of the century, with his group Myriad3, described in a recent Jazz Times as “Canada's answer to groups such as The Bad Plus.” Myriad3 played on the main stage at last summer’s Ottawa Jazz Festival. Don’t know when the group will be back in Ottawa (they’re heading for Germany in the spring), but I do know that Jim Lewis and Bristles will be at GigSpace in April, probably April 24. More details when they emerge.
Another Sunday jam
Don’t forget to be at Bluesfest Festival House on Sunday, Feb. 8, for the second of the new JazzWorks mentored jam sessions. The first one, led by John Geggie, was a successful introduction to the art of the jam session. There was good talk, enjoyable music and valuable lessons were learned. The space at Festival House was perfect for the event.
This time, the jam session will be led by Mike Tremblay, a fine tenor saxophonist and experienced teacher. Every musician has his own approach to the music and the experience of making it and it will interesting to get Mike’s take.
The jam session begins at 2 p.m. Bluesfest Festival House is at 450 Churchill Avenue in Westboro. Entrance is at the side, off Ravenhill.
After six years on the JazzWorks board of directors, it was time to step off and open the door to some fresh thinking. But a lot happened in those six years.
Up to 2008, there were three people essentially running JazzWorks — Judy Humenick, John Geggie and Gavin McLintock. Knowing what I know now about the magnitude of the task, it’s amazing what they were able to accomplish, and without a full-time administrator.
Then Anna Frlan came on as a paid administrator, and the board expanded. With various comings and goings, there are now nine on the board and more may be added.
The new president is Mary Moore. Anybody who knows her knows she is full of energy and ideas and a great love of JazzWorks. Vice-president is Tim Leah, whom many of you know as a fine drummer and a loyal supporter of the organization. Ira Abrams, who has done valuable work as treasurer for five years or so, continues in that capacity and Peggy Cameron takes over as secretary. With Judy as executive director and the remarkable work of John and Anna, the new board is in good shape to accomplish great things.
To employ a popular cliché, here’s a Top 10 list of things I learned on the JazzWorks board.
10. The environment in which an organization like JazzWorks operates gets tougher every year. There are new and more complicated regulations and filing requirements. Granting agencies usually have less money to dispense and are much more selective.
9. The Carleton Tavern is a great second home for JazzWorks. Although some complain about the acoustics at jam sessions, the tavern is a most welcoming host, tolerating the disorder we create in setting up, allowing the board the free use of an upstairs meeting room and helping us out whenever we do something like throw a party for volunteers. Yes, the meeting room is also used for a darts legue, and yes, the board is occasionally serenaded during meetings by what sounds like 343 banjos. Still, we wouldn’t trade it.
8. Speaking of volunteers, JazzWorks would perish without them. The equipment that we use at the tavern and at camp doesn’t get there and get set up by itself. This website does not maintain itself, nor does Ottawa Jazz Happenings. Naming anybody risks leaving others out — I started a list off the top of my head and came up with about 30 names. But I should at least mention Betty Ann Bryanton, who runs Ottawa Jazz Happenings, a large undertaking, and also MCs the monthly jam sessions, and Alf Warnock, who co-ordinates those jam sessions and sets up the equipment each month.
7. The emotional attachment to jazz camp impresses me every year. As a board member, I got to read the responses to the camp evaluation questionnaire. They were overwhelmingly positive, quite emotionally so in many cases. The faculty gets enormous praise and the facilities at CAMMAC are appreciated too. Anna, John and Judy are often singled out. There’s the odd criticism, which gets attention, you can be sure. But I hope not too much. Statistically, if there are 80 people at an event, the odds are that somebody has to be grumpy about it. And to be honest, sometimes the people who say they get the least out of it are people who don’t put much into it.
6. The faculty love the camp as much as the campers do. That impression is reinforced every year in the happy chatter that follows the faculty concert. Of the nine Canadian faculty members who were at Christie Lake when I first attended in 1999, eight were at camp in 2014. That’s loyalty. I know what the appeal is for people like us, but I’ve always wondered about the appeal for the faculty. It’s not like it’s a lucrative weekend. And many of them teach at other camps and other educational institutions where they work with students who are at a higher musical level. My understanding is that the faculty appreciate the vibe at CAMMAC, the enthusiasm, sincerity and (for the most part) lack of ego of the campers, and those more than make up for lower skill levels. The faculty members also love to hang out with each other and to play. Every year at the faculty concert, I think about the fact that there is probably nowhere in the country where you could hear such a collection of great musicians in one place.
5. The jazz environment in Ottawa has changed considerably. There are more and more organizations that do the things that JazzWorks used to do all by itself. For example, there at least four other jam sessions. There is another jazz camp, Carleton’s. There are other listings of jazz events. And there are other organizations doing jazz education, most notably Alcorn Studios. This is great for jazz in Ottawa, challenging for JazzWorks. There is a lot of competition for people’s attention.
4. There are various ways of getting that attention. One is by putting on concerts by visiting artists. That hasn’t been tried much, except in a limited way at fundraisers. Another way, which has been successful, is to extend the jazz camp experience into the “off-season” by putting on workshops, such as the Ultimate Jazz Combo Workout, that ran in 2013 and 2014 and continues this year in a format geared to vocalists. Another is to showcase our camp participants and faculties in such settings as the Originals Concert.
3. Another challenge is making sure that jazz camp is not just a camp for people who are middle-aged and older. Some school- and university-age students have attended camp on their own hook, or their parents’, but scholarships are still the main reason why students attend camp, usually four or five a year, sometimes more, depending upon the generosity of individual donors. There are now continuing scholarships given in memory of Jerry Heath and Alun Davies, two musicians who benefitted and benefitted from jazz camp. There is room for more.
2. At the same time, it would be wrong to neglect our “base” — to use the political term. The most loyal supporters of JazzWorks and jazz camp are older musicians, some of them retired, who come back year after year and support JazzWorks in other ways as well. Camp obviously works for them, and it has to keep working for them. There are lots of camps for students, but not all that many for grown-ups. What we should seek is an atmosphere where the kids and the veterans can enjoy each others’ musical presence. There have certainly been years, such as last year, where that has happened.
1. The old saying goes that if you’ve seen how sausage is made you’ll never eat it again. After years of seeing JazzWorks from the inside, I don’t have that reaction. The more you know about it, the more you appreciate the effort and creativity that go into producing the annual miracle that is jazz camp. See you there, August 20.
I was at the first of the new Sunday JazzWorks jam sessions and came away impressed. For one thing, the space, at the Bluesfest Festival House, is idea. It is small but has a large stage area. The seating area is comfortable, there’s lots of room for horn cases and for people to move around. The sound is good. It’s idea for what we are doing.
And what we are doing is giving people a chance to jam, but also giving a bit of a course in what jamming is involved. On Sunday, the “course” was given by bassist and JazzWorks Artistic Director John Geggie. He got people up on the stage to play and talked to them and the audience about what was going on.
There were about 40 people there, off and on, and they were at all levels of ability. A shifting house rhythm section worked with horn players and singers, some of them with very little experience in this sort of thing. The names of some of the tunes to be played had been communicated in advance, which was helpful, but there were some tunes called on the spot, which is sort of wht jazz is about.
If you’ve spent a lot of time at jam sessions and playing in groups, you might have forgotten how many details have to be decided in order for that experience to be satisfying. Geggie reminded us.
Communication is the vital element. An awful lot of details have to be communicated, either verbally or with gestures and eye contact. Among them:
The key: You never know. Different people might be playing out of different books.
The count-in: somebody has to do it and make sure that everybody is on the same page rhythmically.
Feel: Is it swing, Latin, straight-eighths, or what?
Beginnings and endings: How is the tune going to start; how is it going to end?
Solo order: Who wants to solo, and in what order? How to signal that your solo is finished, or not finished.
Comping: If both a guitar and a piano in the group, will one lay out while another accompanies a soloist.
Trades: Will there be trading of fours or eights with the drummer? who will start?
Out-head: When to take the tune out and how to signal that.
Geggie stressed the need to have proper sight lines on the bandstand so that everyone can see everyone else. He talked about tuning up, about making sure the sound is balanced and the singer is not drowned out. He talked about riffing behind a soloist.
Geggie also talked a bit about improvisation and how to use the form and melody of a tune in soling.
The environment was friendly and non-threatening and lots of folks got up to try this stuff out. You could see many of them take Geggie’s points and make them work. Ensemble playing was nice.
You could also see where communication was lacking: a solo would come to an end and the musicians on the stand would look around, wondering what was to come next. And you could see instances where someone on the stand just took charge, plunging into a solo or an out-chorus, with the others quickly following along.
There are a lots of protocols even in improvised music. This was a good way of learning some of them.
From the JazzWorks point of view, one of the encouraging things was seeing nice faces, both very young and older. It would great if they came back. The next opportunity will be on Sunday, Feb. 8 at 2 p.m. and the mentor will be Ottawa saxophonist and teacher Mike Tremblay. Exactly a month later, pianist and teacher Steve Boudreau will be in charge.
Bluesfest Festival House is located at 451 Churchill Avenue in Westboro. Entrance is at the side, off Ravenhill.
Here's a sort of cheery note for the new year, from the pianist, educator and philosopher, Kenny Werner, whose book, Effortless Mastery, is considered essential reading by many jazz teachers.
“There has been a silent question creeping into the consciousness of musicians, and particularly music educators. It is the question that must not be asked, something akin to 'he who must not be named.' The question is: More and more young people are flocking to music schools to become professional musicians — more than at any point in history. There are more prodigies and virtuosos than ever before, but fewer places to play. What’s up with that? I have a new theory, perhaps one we can rally around. More and more young people will pour into music universities around the world until one day everyone on earth will look around and suddenly realize that everyone they see is a musician. At that point, we will have fulfilled the ancient prophecy of heaven on earth.”
This tongue-in-cheek prophecy, from an article in a recent edition of Downbeat, coincides with something I've wondered about as dozens of us journey joyfully to and from jazz camp every August and otherwise seek to make ourselves into jazz musicians. Some of us will, through the camp experience and other attempts to improve, move on to play jazz fairly well in public. Others of us will move on to play jazz in public, although maybe we shouldn't. The rest of us will keep grinding away, perhaps happy just to play in our homes.
This brings us to a point related to Kenny Werner's: Are we producing too many amateur jazz musicians?
(As an aside, I fairly recently retired from a profession, journalism, which has a similar situation: The journalism schools are cranking out graduates every year to fill fewer and fewer jobs in news. Many of them go into political work. I don’t know what the jazz equivalent of political work is, and I’m not sure I want to.)
Are we producing too many amateur jazz musicians? As an amateur jazz musician, I fear that some audiences might say yes, after suffering through performances put on by groups hired by undiscriminating club owners. Some professional musicians might say yes too, if the amateurs are taking work away by playing for below-scale wages.
Those points can be debated at length. But there is an up-side, which is that anything that gets more people learning about jazz can't be bad, especially if it produces larger audiences for live and recorded jazz.
That's my cheery theory. If jazz education doesn't always produce skilled musicians, at least it produce skilled audiences, people who love and appreciate the music, who will buy it and venture out to see it.
So that’s a small version of Kenny Werner’s heaven on earth. Except — where are the audiences? If all these skilled audience members are being produced, why aren’t they showing up, except at festival time? Why aren’t they buying CDs and downloads? Why aren’t professional jazz musicians as rich as they deserve to be?
I’m as guilty as the next guy of somehow managing not to attend performances by my friends. Maybe we should make it a new year’s resolution to get out more. We could resolve to be more like Alrick and Roberta Huebener, who never miss anything, as far as I can figure out. Or the Ottawa’s jazz singer community, which always seems to turn out in force whenever one of their number is performing.
For the rest of us, heaven on earth is still a slight distance away.
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Jam session reminder
The revised version of the Sunday jam session is just days away. Have a look here to get more details. With a new location, Festival House, 450 Churchill Avenue, and a new approach, the Sunday jam should be really interesting. While it is aimed at creating a comfort level for less experienced players, it is open to all. See you there, at 2 p.m.
And not far away is the first Thursday jam session of the New Year. That would be Thursday, Jan. 15, 8 p.m. at the Carleton Tavern. The host band is Room to Groove, featuring
Jean Bergeron — piano
Emmanuel Buckshi - Bass
Robert Murray —- drums
Edwin Gans — alto saxophone
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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.