Everybody in the JazzWorks community knows Gaby Warren. The 70-something singer is a mainstay at jam sessions, always picking great tunes and surrounding himself with the best musicians available. No one is better prepared: he has charts for everyone in the appropriate keys. He’s thorough: he lets everybody know when he wants them to come in, who solos when and how to take it out.
Gaby hasn’t been at jazz camp for a few years (lean on him a bit next time you see him!) but he was a faithful attender for just about all of the Christie Lake years as he was taking his first steps into jazz singing. In the liner notes to his brand-new CD, his first, Gaby makes note of that.
“I gained valuable experience and knowledge by attending, for a number of years, JazzWorks jazz camp,” he writes. “I am indebted to Judy Humenick and the faculty.”
The new CD has a definite JazzWorks flavour, with three faculty members in the rhythm section — Nancy Walker on piano, John Geggie on bass and Nick Fraser on drums. Another faculty member, Rob Frayne, is listed as co-producer. Also on the CD is the compelling saxophonist Kirk McDonald, who left Ottawa a few years ago for Toronto.
The CD reflects Gaby’s encyclopedic knowledge of jazz, right down to the packaging which invokes the look of the Impulse Records LPs of the Sixties. Included are tunes by McCoy Tyner, Horace Silver and Thelonious Monk — and not the obvious ones either. A highlight is Kirk McDonald’s beautiful Calendula, with lyrics by Gaby. Gaby also contributes several originals.
Another thing about Gaby that not everybody may know is that he is an avid supporter of other people’s music, one of the most loyal in the city. If you have a club date, the odds are that Gaby will be there. If you put on a concert, Gaby will be in the audience. If you are fortunate to draw a “bravo!” from the crowd, that will be Gaby.
That’s one of the reasons why a lot of us will be there on May 21 at the NAC Fourth Stage when Gaby launches his CD, Reflections of a Jazz Fanatic. The same great cast of musicians will be along with him. It should be a great night.
Tim and Adrian, keeping things going
The Clifford Brown Project (John Haysom and I, trumpets and assorted brass, Tim Murray piano, Adrian Steeves, bass, and Scott Warren, drums) thoroughly enjoyed itself at last Thursday’s JazzWorks jam session.Getting a chance to perform in front of people is a gift.
It’s always a somewhat unnerving process to go from rehearsal to performance. Like other jam bands, we rehearsed when we could — three rehearsals, more or less (not everyone being able to get to all three) and drew up a map for each tune, specifying how we get in and out, who solos when and so on. We did the rehearsing in a living room and a living room sounds a lot different than a tavern does.
In the living room nobody is watching you and there is no shouting and noise of dishes and glasses and machinery. You can see everybody and you can hear everybody. When mistakes happen, you stop and start over.
Performing, it’s not like that. You might have been facing the piano player in your living room. Now he’s off to the side, out of sight. The bass player is behind you. In front of you are lots of people, any of whom could notice the mistake you are about to make.
I think of it like sports. You can practice your jump shot on your driveway hoop and get to where you think you can shoot a jump shot. Then you get in a game and there’s somebody trying to stop you from shooting your jump shot. And there are people watching. It feels different and it’s a lot harder to make the jump shot.
You may have done it — the music or the jump shot — hundreds of times. You may have done it so many times that you are not nervous. But you’re excited, or should be. And excitement affects your concentration. What often happens with me is that I think so hard about getting a particularly tricky passage right — say the coda to Daahoud — that I mess up some easy passage that I’d never messed up before.
Worse than that is messing up something that affects the whole group. That would include coming in too soon, or too late, or not coming in at all, forgetting it’s your solo, or forgetting it’s someone else’s solo. When that happens, you remember, perhaps too late, that jazz is a team game and you have to figure out how to help the team get out of the mess you made.
In our case, it wasn’t too bad. Some fours were to be traded and, for whatever reason, they never started. So there we are, a few bars into a chorus that will have to be filled with something while we wait to take the tune out. Didn’t happen in the living room.
The worst thing you can do at point stage is look like something has gone wrong. You see that sometimes: there’s dead air on the bandstand, the rhythm section is playing and all the other musicians are looking at each other. The crowd, which might never have noticed, now does.
My son was a baseball pitcher when he was a little guy. I used to tell him not to let the other team know he was upset when things went wrong. I try to tell myself the same thing on the bandstand. I’ve seen and heard musicians, including myself, curse when they miss a note. Silly. Why signal the audience that you’ve messed up?
Last week at the Carleton, Tim filled the gap by playing an extra solo chorus while the rest of us pretended that was the plan all along. Then, as surreptitiously as possible, we passed around the word that we would skip the fours and take it out when we reached the top of the form.
And so we did. Was no one the wiser? Probably there were some sharp-eyed folks out there who could figure out what happened. Put it this way: fewer people were the wiser.
Upcoming jam sessions
You can expect no mistakes at all from the bands leading the next two jam sessions. There will be more on them in this space later on, but for now here are the folks to watch out for.
Sunday, May 12th at 2 p.m. Swing Time
Janet Hofstetter, vocals and snare
Paul Bourdeau, guitar
Rob Martin, guitar
Ann Downey, bass
Joseph Zulak, violin
Thursday, May 16 at 8:30 p.m. Ralph Mercredi Quintet
Louis Allard, guitar
Alrick Huebener, upright electric bass
Dave Finlayson, drums
Derek Smith, trumpet
David Fraser, tenor sax
Pianist Karl Nerenberg
Sunday’s jam session with Stay Tuned/Restez-à-l'écoute attracted a bigger crowd than March's inaugural effort, so the word is spreading. Hosted by Janet Hofstetter, the band featured with Carl Daniel, trumpet, Edwin Gans, alto saxophone, Tim Healy, electric bass, guitar, vocals, Karl Nerenberg, piano and Tim Leah on drums. Special thanks go to Robin Davies who, with help from volunteers, set up and managed the sound system.
Trumpeter and composer Clifford Brown
And then comes Thursday
Right after the Sunday jam, the third Thursday of the month rolls around and modesty does not forbid me from mentioning that I am involved in the host band. This one is called the Clifford Brown Project and features John Haysom and myself on trumpets. Each of us switches to valve trombone from time to time. Tim Murray is on piano, Adrian Steeves on bass and Scott Warren on drums.
Ten years or so ago, I dropped by John’s house to rehearse for some gig and discovered that on the wall in his music room was a photo of Clifford Brown, the immortal trumpet player. It was the same photograph that was tacked to the wall of my cubicle at the Ottawa Citizen. John and I were members of the same fan club. Not that this is surprising: There is hardly a trumpet player in the world who is not, almost 60 years after his death, still in awe of Clifford’s sound, technique and lyricism.
As it turned out, a number of Brown compositions were in John’s book for Glebop and I played some others with the Tim Murray Quintet. So it was logical to put together a group, including Tim, to play Clifford’s compositions. We’ll play half a dozen or so of his compositions, including better-known ones like Sandu and Joy Spring, and more obscure ones, like George’s Dilemma and Larue, also the chops-busting Daahoud.
There are also some tunes associated with Clifford, such as the old Victor Young movie theme Delilah (not, mercifully, the Tom Jones one but the theme from the ’50s Biblical epic) and the Quincy Jones tune Stockholm Sweetnin’. Finally, there is the beautiful Benny Golson tribute, I Remember Clifford. We’ll do that too, with an assist from vocalist Helen Glover.
The opening set usually starts around 8:30. Hope to see you there.
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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.