The accompanying photo, taken by Lauren Walker, shows a bunch of older horn players looking on slightly goggle-eyed while Sam Cousineau solos on John Graham’s tune, Malibu. We had all finished our solos and a good thing too. One thing we learned in preparing for Sundays Originals concert was that you don’t want to be the one soloing after Sam Cousineau.
The concert, held at the Shenkman Centre, came out of a JazzWorks project that has been going on for several years, most intensely in the last two, with the creation of extra days at jazz camp for composers. The Ontario Arts Council has given support.
In those extra days the composers work closely with faculty members, fine-tuning the songs that just need a little work, and doing major make-overs on tunes that need that. Attention is also given to arranging. Then the composers hear their tunes played by both faculty and campers. Most of the tunes played on Sunday are a product of that process. Most of them came ready to play.
Composers represented were David Miller, Roberta Huebener, Gretchen Schwarz, Ron Buckingham, Mary Moore, Nathan Corr, Doug Somers, Lance Schwerdfager, Charley Gordon, Tim Murray and John Graham. Most of them also played in the concert, with the additional help of Sam, Dave Finlayson, Alrick Huebener, Doug Jacques and Gavin McLintock.
There were 12 tunes in all. On many of them, most of which had been played at the closing concert at jazz camp last summer, members of the original groups were on hand, sometimes bolstered by extra musicians, sometimes by faculty members — John Geggie, Nancy Walker, Nick Fraser and Rémi Bolduc.
That was one big difference. It is always a thrill to have your song performed. It is more than a thrill to have Nancy Walker on it, or to hear Rémi Bolduc solo on the chord progression you weren’t sure about. Turns out that any chord progression is the right one when Rémi plays on it.
The other difference was the short rehearsal time. We got together on the night before the concert for the first run-through. Then there was a two-hour dress rehearsal on the afternoon of. Some of the musicians, a mixture of older and younger players, were sight-reading on tunes they hadn’t played before. Some of the tunes were pretty easy, some of them weren’t. Some of the charts needed fixing.
One of the best things about having the faculty members around was the reminder we constantly got from them that this was not just about reading music. It was also about finding a groove, about listening to each other, and keeping energy levels up, about soloing and supporting soloists, all the things that you can forget when you are focusing only on playing the right notes.
There was no shortage of highlights. For me, I loved the ensemble playing of the horns (Sam, Gavin and Doug) on David Miller’s tricky Motion of the Ocean. Roberta Huebener’s tunes are always pretty with nice chord progressions to play over. It was great to hear the combination of finesse and spirit that Mary Moore brings to a song. A special treat was to hear the faculty rip off an impromptu version of Invitation. Rémi Bolduc’s playing always makes me smile. And you can hear the same spirit in Sam Cousineau, who is studying with him.
The space, Richcraft Theatre at the Shenkman Centre, was nice to play in and had good sound, also a pleasant a co-operative staff. The audience (and thanks for coming!) seemed to enjoy everything and the participants did too. No reason not to do it again soon. Keep those tunes coming.
As far back as I can remember, JazzWorks has provided a showcase for original compositions. Even in the Christie Lake years there were always one or two at each jazz camp closing concert. Around 2007, those attending camp were given a choice of participating in combos featuring original compositions by the members and the number of originals increased.
There were enough of them to enable an originals concert in 2010, featuring campers and faculty at the National Arts Centre Fourth Stage.
After that, and helped by granting agencies such as the Ontario Arts Council, the originals aspect of JazzWorks picked up speed. Jazz camp in 2012 and 2013 featured an additional two days tacked on at the beginning for aspiring composers. They brought their finished or unfinished pieces, or maybe just an idea, to Lac McDonald and worked on them, both on their own and in collaboration with faculty members.
The learning curve was steep, for most of us. Composing involves creativity, but it also involves practice, trial and error, an attention to theory and just plain hard work, sometimes involving music software. On all levels, the faculty were helpful, sometimes offering an aesthetic judgment, sometimes just a tip about notation, and sometimes just giving a listen. A big kick, on the last afternoon of this pre-camp, was the opportunity to hear their tunes played by the assembled faculty.
In 2012, it was Dave Restivo, Frank Lozano and Jim Lewis, along with John Geggie; last year it was Rémi Bolduc, Nick Fraser, Nancy Walker and Geggie. They could make any composition sound good and the good ones sound great.
One of the many positive effects of this was on the camp: combos formed at camp had a supply of relatively polished originals to perform at the final concert.
Now they are going to be performed again, perhaps with some even newer pieces, at a concert sponsored by JazzWorks on Sunday May 25.
In some ways, the concert, dubbed Originals: New Shoots from Jazz Roots, represents the culmination of the originals process. Held at the Richcraft Theatre in the Shenkman Centre in Orleans, the concert will feature composers, musicians and composer/musicians from the JazzWorks community, in conjunction with Rémi Bolduc, alto sax, Nancy Walker, piano, Nick Fraser, drums, and John Geggie, bass. The faculty members will participate in some of the combos and likely do some playing on their own.
The concert begins at 8 p.m., not only a celebration of the originals concept but a chance to hear some great tunes, with the participation of the amazing faculty members. Details about tickets are available here. You can get them online, or through JazzWorks board members. There will also be some on sale at the Thursday night jam session, May 15.
Now that the Ultimate Jazz Combo Workshop has passed its second year, we can safely call it a tradition and look forward to the next one.
Readers of this space might remember the first one, held a year ago at the Shenkman Centre with Sienna Dahlen, Christine Jensen, Roddy Ellias and Nancy Walker as guest faculty. Those participants who gave feedback were unanimous in their view that it should be tried again.
This time we moved to Arts Court, also a congenial location, providing, among other things, the opportunity to get lost in the Rideau Centre looking for a place to have lunch.
As in 2013, the 20-odd participants were divided into two groups, nominally called Beginner and Advanced, but with considerable overlap. Jim Lewis, trumpet, and Steve Boudreau, piano, were the faculty members for the advanced group; Sharada Banman, voice, and Kevin Barrett, guitar, worked with the beginner group.
As always, Anna Frlan looked after the administrative details and John Geggie provided overall supervision and inspiration. Set-up and lugging were handled by a number of people, most notably, John Graham and Ian Schwartz.
The 2013 experiment with selecting repertoire in advance seemed to work well, so it was continued this time. The advanced group, which included one vocalist, three horns, five pianos, two guitars, two basses and one percussion, worked on Recordame, Have You Met Miss Jones and Lover Man. The similar-sized beginner group worked on All of Me, Sonnymoon for Two and Fly Me to the Moon.
Charts for all the tunes were made available in advance. It was hoped, and the hope was probably borne out, that the participants would arrive with some familiarity with the tunes. This would not only save time, but allow for a closer look at the tunes, with chord alterations, rhythmic variations etc.
As an aside, I would mention that I attended a trumpet master class at GigSpace earlier in the week, featuring the New York (but Canadian) trumpeter Ingrid Jensen. Four young trumpet players played for her, accompanied by a student rhythm section, and Jensen offered comments that were helpful for the instrumentalists in the audience (a lot of trumpet players, some not so young) as well as on stage. At various points she asked the performers what versions of their tunes they had listened to. In several cases, the question drew a blank, which dismayed her.
My impression was that this would not have applied to the Ultimate folks. Dozens of versions of our tunes are available, on iTunes and, free, on YouTube, and I think many of us listened to them. There is nothing to open your ears up like spending an hour or so listening to 10 versions of Miss Jones — crazy intense ones, like Chris Potter and McCoy Tyner; relaxed mellow ones like Chet Baker and Ellis Marsalis. It was helpful also that Jim Lewis had brought along an iSomething with some of the recordings on it. He could illustrate a chord substitution in Lover Man by playing the Charlie Parker version. We could hear how Joe Henderson and Kenny Dorham used the chord progression of Recordame.
In my experience, most pros stress the value of listening, as opposed to just reading, when learning a tune. I heard that from Ingrid Jensen and also from our faculty.
We all got up and played, in various combinations, with Jim and Steve sometimes offering suggestions, sometimes listening patiently while we tried to solve problems on our own.
In some ways it was like a workshop at jazz camp, except that it lasted six or seven hours and we all got a chance to play. By playing, by making mistakes, by getting advice on how to overcome the mistakes, we improve.
A lot of information was conveyed, for all the instruments, and voices. There were tips for the chord instruments — how guitar and piano can keep out of each other’s way, how compers can support horn players and singers without overwhelming them.
There were tips on ensemble playing, on the uses of signals and eye contact to make sure that everyone is in the same place, to avoid the common situation where no one knows quite what the ending is going to be.
There was harmonic advice for all instruments — the use of triads, tritone substitutions, adding (or subtracting) II-Vs.
There was advice for soloists, scatters and horn players. Some of it was particularly thought-provoking for me, such as the advantages of playing lines in an upward, rather than downward direction.
All the advice was delivered with respect and good humour and I don’t see how anyone could have failed to enjoy it.
At the end of our session, someone asked Jim and Steve to demonstrate and they did a duo version of Miss Jones that had us thinking: “Oh. So that’s how you do it!”
Here are some thoughts from other participants. They verge on testimonials, but that’s the kind of day it was.
Dave Finlayson, drums: "As a rhythm section player I’m always intrigued to hear how melodic players are coached, what you have to deal with, all those intervals, harmonies, progressions etc. (I also got to play a lot of accidentals). But there was plenty of useful coaching for me too, and coming from professionals who are not primarily drummers is enlightening in unexpected ways. Finally, it’s such a pleasure to have these times with all my diverse JazzWorks buddies.”
Mary Moore, vocals and guitar: “The workshop learning goals were clearly laid out, and met, including understanding (and playing) root notes, guide tones, arpeggios as an aid to jazz improv. In addition, the advice, anecdotes and demonstrations by Kevin, Sharada and John Geggie were worth the price of admission in and of themselves. There was ample hands-on playing for participants (hence the 'Workout' moniker - I felt like I had been to the gym!). … A huge thanks to John, Anna, and the set-up crew for an inspiring and informative event!”
Sue McCarthy, alto sax: “All the moderators knew what part they had to play and we were led through the tunes in a methodical manner: first play the melody, become familiar, then notice the root notes for the chords, the guide tones, the arpeggios — the tools for improvisation. We were directed about how much and when to play, how to play with the other musicians. We all had the chance to improvise. We were encouraged to listen to what was going around us and to add only what added value to the whole. I especially appreciated Sharada’s charts where she indicated the guide tones and the arpeggios. This took the guesswork out for us. Overall, I think I came away with some tools for improvisation that I can think about and absorb into my playing. I feel very encouraged after this workshop and am really looking forward to jazz camp now. It is a nice tune up for jazz camp.”
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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.