Guitarist Alf Warnock plays computer
About a dozen singers and a few curious instrumentalists turned out for an intriguing JazzWorks workshop called “Follow My Lead” on July 17. Chaired by guitarist Alf Warnock and trumpeter John Haysom, the session was aimed at helping singers (and others) prepared workable charts for jam sessions, but the lessons learned can be applied in many other musical areas.
As Warnock pointed out, a singer at a jam session has to think of him or herself as a “bandleader for 10 minutes,” and to try to get the best out of the accompanying musicians (some of whom might be complete strangers).
Too often an inexperienced singer (or instrumentalist) will show up at a jam session with one, often poorly notated chart, intended for the piano player, while others in the band are left to fend for themselves. The results are not fun to listen to.
Using a computer projection screen, Haysom and Warnock took their listeners through a short course in making life easier for their accompanists. As Warnock put it: “In order to give the best possible demonstration of your talent, you want to have the best possible accompaniment; the better they sound, the better you’ll sound. And the more fun everyone will have.”
There were hints on finding the proper key, on transposing, on readable chart layout, on simplifying chords and on generating lead sheets. There was also some discussion on music software, with an emphasis on Band in a Box.
Warnock pointed out the necessity of making clear instructions for beginnings and endings.
A chart illustrated what each concert key translates to for Bb and Eb instruments. To the gratitude of horn players in the crowd, Haysom pointed out what he called the “detestable keys,” D, E and B, that load up a trumpet player’s chart with sharps.
The Carleton Tavern provided the room for the workshop and even provided a round of soft drinks. Judging by the number of questions and favourable post-workshop comments, it appears that future workshops on this and other topics will be popular.
Suggestions are welcome.
If you’ve attended jazz camp in the last few years, you’ve been impressed by the three young musicians who are performing at GigSpace Saturday night, July 20. Trumpeter Emily Denison (she also plays violin), tenor saxophonist Claire Devlin and pianist Deniz Lim-Sersam have all been to camp on several occasions and one of the many pleasures of camp is hearing how quickly young musicians grow into the music.
Those three could all play when we first heard them. But they can really play now.
Obviously you don’t credit camp with all that. Emily, Claire and Deniz are all studying music at the college and university level. And to hear them play, you know that they’ve been working hard. But it would be nice to think that camp helped them gain confidence and absorb some of the love of the music from the faculty and their fellow campers.
Pianist/journalist Peter Hum has done a nice piece on the three young musicians in the Ottawa Citizen. Have a look at it here, and don’t forget GigSpace, Saturday night at 7:30.
What we're talking about
The idea of a lead sheet workshop — coming to the second floor of the Carleton Tavern on July 17 — is overdue. It’s especially useful for singers. Too often they find themselves at a jam session with a tune they want to sing and a band that can’t play it.
WhTo review: a lead sheet has the music, the lyrics, if any, and the chord symbols. Sometimes we’ll call it a chart. Even if the singer has a chart, there may not be one for the piano player, or the trumpet player — and, oops, the trumpet player’s chart has to be in a different key, and the alto player’s chart has to be in a different key from that, and then there’s the bass clef one for the bass player . . .
Life is complicated and the more experienced singers know that. Watch Gerri Trimble or Betty Ann Bryanton at the next jam session, hauling out the binder and pulling out the appropriate chart for each player. The instrumentalists appreciate that kind of professionalism. It makes their job easier and that helps make the singer sound better too.
But I would venture to say that instrumentalists could benefit from this workshop too. Singers are not the only people who need lead sheets. When Alf Warnock and John Haysom talk about creating proper lead sheets, they can be talking to instrumentalists too.
I’ve seen horn guys show up with a chart they want to play that is only in concert key. There are some folks who can sight-read and transpose at the same time, but I can’t and I may not be alone.
There are issues about music software that may be discussed. Some of us find it frustrating and non-intuitive. But, perhaps more important, is the notion of how to create lead sheets, how to make them easily understandable, how to transpose, how to simplify complicated chord notations. It’s not only singers who need to know how to do that.
Follow My Lead: Crafting Jazz Lead Sheets That Work will be held upstairs at the Carleton Tavern on July 17 from 7 to 9:30. Cost is $20 for members — or, as we now call them Friends of JazzWorks — $25 for others.
I didn’t catch much of the Ottawa Jazz Festival jam sessions this year but was in attendance for a guaranteed highlight every year — the big Dave Restivo solo.
Every year, it seems, Restivo, a long-time JazzWorks faculty member, shows up at the jam and plays a solo that takes everyone’s breath away. Another JazzWorks faculty member, Jim Lewis, has referred to it as the moment when “Restivo levitates off the piano bench,” or words to that effect.
“I’m just going down there for awhile,” I told my wife, as I headed off to Alpha Soul shortly after midnight on the last night of the festival. And I added, “if I hear All The Things You Are, I’m turning around and heading home.”
And, of course, it was All The Things You Are, that Restivo played on the festival’s closing night, with some people I didn’t know and some I did, including JazzWorks artistic director John Geggie on bass and the great Roddy Ellias on guitar. I didn’t go home.
To change direction for a second, I had been intending for some time to do a blog post on long solos. This is a timely topic heading into jazz camp, where the jam session is key component. Observance of jam session etiquette helps make the jam session the happy event it should be and one of the tenets of jam session etiquette, I had always thought, was that you don’t play too long.
Not playing too long, at least at the JazzWorks level, means getting off the bandstand after a couple of tunes. And it also means not playing lengthy solos. Two choruses is tops, half a chorus on a ballad, if you’re accompanying a singer.
Part of that has to do with etiquette, giving others a chance. But an equally important part is that most us, amateur players, run out of things to say after a chorus or two. Even at the advanced level of some of the student musicians playing at the jazz festival, repetition begins to creep in pretty quickly. Searching for something different to say, trumpet players begin the high-note exercises, saxophone players start honking on one note (a guaranteed crowd-pleaser, unfortunately).
Better to quit while you’re ahead, but I know the feeling. You’re finishing one chorus and thinking about whether to go for another. Two thoughts make you go on: (1) “I’m going so good, I should take another”; or (2) “That was so crappy, I better take another to see if I can get it right.”
Judging from I’ve been hearing at higher-level jam sessions, such as the jazz festival’s, four choruses now seems to be the minimum. Students are among the worst offenders but that’s understandable: they’re only doing what the pros do; there’s a feeling that you’re not a real jazz musician unless you go on and on.
Some jazz historians blame John Coltrane for the long solo, and indeed he could go on for 20 minutes. Some point out that you never heard Charlie Parker playing long solos, but that’s probably because he did most of his recording in the days before the long-play record. The essential point is that nobody minded listening to Coltrane for 20 minutes and nobody would have minded if Charlie Parker took another.
One of the great memories of Ottawa Jazz Festival jam sessions is the time that Donny McCaslin took what must have been 16 choruses on What Is This Thing Called Love at the jam session at the Crowne Plaza in 2009. Chorus after chorus, each full of new ideas or expansions of ideas he had just played, poured out of him as his bandmates — John Geggie and Nancy Walker were playing — just gaped. And also laughed, because it made them happy. Aside from some jazz critics earnestly discussing something in the lobby, everybody in the place was transfixed.
And here’s the thing: They wanted Donny to keep on playing.
Same thing with Restivo the other night. He stoppeHe played four or five choruses, not 16, each chorus building on what had come before, and we wanted him to keep going.
So there is something to be said for the long solo. If you’re Donny McCaslin or Dave Restivo.
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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.