It's what jazz camp is all about — making musical friends, forming groups and eventually performing in public. Being a first-time host band at the JazzWorks jam session is full of excitement, frustration and tiny terrors. We asked Margaret Dalziel, piano player in the Six-Pack Jazz Quintet, to write about the experience. Six Pack was the host band at the Feb. 21 jam session. Here's her report.
"The Six-Pack Jazz Quintet is a JazzCamp spin-off. The original group of six were in Remi Bolduc’s combo during the summer of 2011. Much to the amazement of jazz newbies Leslie Cass, our vocalist, and myself, we were invited by some of the guys to join them in weekly jam sessions. And to our further amazement we were not booted out after the first couple of practices!
"And so 18 months later here we are hosting the monthly jam session. We’re now down a guitar player and have had a turnover of bass players, but to our complete astonishment the Six-Pack has transformed itself from a confused and motley crew that couldn’t be sure they were all playing the same tune, to a group of amateur musicians that come perilously close to competence as jam session participants.
"So what did the journey look like? Leslie and I were fortunate to hook up with a group of people that were committed both to improving as musicians and to having fun. I thought I’d be good for about two months of weekly practices, but in very short order this imposition on my schedule become something I looked forward to every week. Incredibly nobody missed a practice unless they were out of town. One week Richard Jodoin, our charming and talented sax player, left Ottawa before dawn to drive to Boston to buy two saxes and be back in time for our 6:30 practice!
"Right from the beginning we institutionalized a beer-break in the middle of our practices—hence our name. We soon came to learn that our drummer Owen Munn’s extensive knowledge of the jazz repertoire was matched by his vast knowledge of the region’s microbreweries—not to mention his endless supply of puns!
"Overtime we discovered other talents. Our bassist Gord Graham was not only a seasoned musician but also a great prospector of all things quirky. First there were the songs—Sugisarishi Eien No Hibi—then our spectacular logo. And Gord pushed us out of our comfy practice nest last summer when he declared that he was going to host a F*cking Elegant Garden Party featuring us as the entertainment. We were shocked and delighted when his neighbours clapped instead of throwing tomatoes.
"The FEGP was followed by a Chili & Jam hosted by Leslie, and several tunes at monthly jams. Over time we became steadier and more confident. Nobody objected when Owen said he had signed us up to host a jam session… but we all had apprehensions. The intensity of our practices increased. In addition to hosting our practices Leslie took on the important job of documenting our set list.
"Finally the big day came. As nervous as we were, we were pretty confident that we were practiced enough that it couldn’t be a complete train wreck. And in the end it went great. Leslie had blossomed into a captivating performer and the wonderful JazzWorks community embraced our efforts. Thanks to all of you for supporting our journey as fledgling jazz musicians and a personal thank you to Yves Laroche, my marvelously inspirational and patient piano teacher."
The set list:
No Moon At All
Sugisarishi Eien No Hibi
Lullaby of Birdland
It Ain't Right
Everybody Wants to be a Cat
A regular part of the conversation at summer jazz camp is the wish people have that there could be something like this in the off-season, partly a refresher course, partly a recapturing of the camp vibe.
The upcoming JazzWorks workshop, which we’re calling the Ultimate Jazz Combo Workout, is a response to that, a late winter opportunity to play, listen, think about music and learn.
From what I can gather from John Geggie who is organizing it, the workout will have the feel of a jazz camp workshop, but more focussed and with more opportunity for participants to play, since the numbers are small and the session lasts all day.
The day — Saturday, March 23 — should unfold like this: You arrive in the morning along with two or three dozen others. The group is split in half and your half goes into a music room with two faculty members — two of Nancy Walker, Roddy Ellias, Frank Lozano and Sienna Dahlen.
“We don't dive into the playing right away,” says Geggie, “but spend some time getting inside the tunes from a theoretical and harmony point of view (an hour or so). Then mid-morning we start working in groups.”
(If you’re interested in how this sort of thing is done elsewhere, at somewhat greater length, check out pianist George Colligan’s Jazz Truth blog, where he describes, with video illustration, the goings-on at The Shed, a camp he began last year in Portland, Oregon.
Later, you will play. Says Geggie: “The focus is on playing and really getting to know these tunes (ones that are chosen for their longevity and popularity in jazz circles) in an intense hands on environment. Everyone will get the chance to play.”
In your room will be some rhythm section players, some vocalists, some guitarists and horn players and these will be formed into shifting combinations to work on tunes. You will be geting feedback on your work and a suggestions on how to improve it.
Geggie: “It is a like a coached session where people get together to 'shed’ some tunes and get more ideas from the experience.”
Here’s one thing I really like. The tunes — just a few of them — will have been circulated in advance by email. So if you’ve done your homework you’ll know them, probably well enough so that you don’t have to worry about reading notes and chord changes. You can concentrate on playing.
Knowing the tunes and having (presumably) practised them means something else important: it means that you can get a lot out of hearing other people play them. That’s one of the seldom-discussed advantages of standards, either jazz standards or Tin Pan Alley: when you listen to someone else playing them you play along with them in your mind, you think along with them while they’re improvising. When it comes to a particularly challenging part, you’re thinking about what you would play there while you listen to what someone else is playing. Often you hear something you had never thought of, and you can incorporate that into your own playing.
Those thoughts might have to do with harmony, or rhythm or tone or dynamics.
It’s quite a revelation to have played a tune like Beautiful Love hundreds of times, think you know it, and then hear it done by Bill Evans or Tom Harrell or Shirley Horn or McCoy Tyner or Anita O’Day. Or to think you understand how the blues works, and then here Miles play the blues, or Coltrane, or Brad Mehldau, or Woody Shaw, or Roddy Ellias.
So that will be part of the experience, getting really inside a song, doing it at different tempos, different time feels, different moods, perhaps different keys.
There won’t be the pressure of a final concert, but the opportunity to play, unrehearsed with your peers and with faculty looking on should be an incentive to play your best.
You’ll see details about registration elsewhere on the site. There will be more info here soon. It should be good.
Even the best jazz musicians have a tough time making a living. Despite that, many musicians will play for nothing to help out a worthy cause. One local group that is prominent in this field is the CUPPA SOUP COMBO, a division of Souper Jazz Inc., which as been in existence for 25 years and has raised lots of money for charity.
Check them out here: myspace.com/cuppasoupcombo
The six-piece band includes some JazzWorks notables — John Mitchell on trumpet and Alf Warnock on guitar. Last year, in 18 gigs, the Dixieland band raised almost $12,000 for charities, most notably the Shepherds of Good Hope, by playing in supermarkets, streets festival and government office buildings.
Here’s the catch. CUPPA SOUP has been told that it will now have to pay a fee — one figure quoted was $125 — to perform in some government office buildings. This is in addition to filling out the usual forms in triplicate and getting insurance certificates.
The fee, according to emails received by the group, are to cover the “direct costs” of the use of government properties. What exactly those costs might be is not specified.
So there you have it. A group of musicians donating their time is told that they will only be able to perform free to raise money for charity if they pay for the right to do so. You knew being a musician was tough, you just didn’t know how tough.
John Mitchell is quick to point out that not everyone is so Scroogish out there. No fees are charged to play Business Improvement Area functions and the grocery stores are “marvelous” to work with. “I wish the whole world was in the grocery business,” Mitchell says.
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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.