Being off the JazzWorks board, I’ve reverted to less regular blogging, but I’m taking the opportunity to scribble some thoughts about this year’s jazz camp, which ended on Sunday.
Like most campers, I’m still feeling the buzz, humming stuff in my head, waking up too early and, in my case, experiencing a mild case of red Jell-O withdrawal. Aside from everything about the five days being wonderful (the regular camp plus the two-day composers session in the earlier part of the week), a couple of things stuck out as new.
One was the contribution of the guest faculty members. I hope they can all come back. William Carn was a big help to the composers, wrote and arranged an amazing song for the faculty concert and played beautiful trombone. His obligato behind Nathalie Nadon on My Funny Valentine was one of the moments I keep thinking about. Plus, William was always friendly, helpful and approachable. That can’t be easy, given the number of approaches.
Drummer Ethan Ardelli was always around the jam sessions, always encouraging, and an effective combo leader, I hear. He was also a force in the faculty concert. It was fun to see him and Nick Fraser egging each other on musically.
Not being a singer, I didn’t have regular contact with Alex Samaras, but the singers I talked to were full of praise. I heard him sing in a jam session and was knocked out by his jazz feel and sense of adventure. And I loved the tune he sang at the faculty concert, I Like Myself, by Andre Previn, Adolph Green and Betty Comden. Alex swings like crazy and can really sell a song, without giving you feeling that he’s being theatrical, manipulative or anything other than himself. Musically, he goes for it, which is consistent with what I take as the camp musical ethic: trust your bandmates and take chances. (I also get a huge kick out of hearing the faculty play a standard every once in a while, just to hear what they can do with a more familiar chord progression. This time it was Nancy Walker, Kieran Overs, Ethan Ardelli and Jim Lewis with Alex. Another moment.)
Incidentally, the song comes from the movie musical It’s Always Fair Weather (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KgAmXb5UZlY). Gene Kelly sings it, as a waltz, and tap-dances on rollerskates. I think Alex probably could have done that, had he chosen to.
The other new faculty member was not really new. Kieran Overs subbed for John Geggie in 2010, but I missed that year (a nephew inconsiderately decided to get married). This year I got to be in his combo, for which he also played bass. Experiencing that up close is really something. He’s a very helpful man, calm and funny. Like other faculty members, he has that amazing knack of being getting you to stop doing something wrong without ever actually saying that you were doing something wrong.
Even for experienced campers, it’s humbling every year to find out how little we know, how wide the jazz world is, and how trustworthy our guides are. I also noticed this year what seemed like a concerted effort by the faculty to getting people to use their ears more their eyes. In separate workshops I heard Frank Lozano, Kieran Overs, William Carn and Jim Lewis all talk about the virtue of listening — trying to learn music by hearing it. With all the learning resources available now in books and on the Internet, it is understandable that people will first try to find something on the page that will increase their understand of how to play. The faculty are saying that we should be trying to absorb it through our ears. It’s probably a bigger challenge to teach it that way but it would good to see more workshops on that subject in future years.
The concerts, campers and faculty, were all fine, with some performances that ran the gamut from hilarious to intensely moving (for me, the massed faculty playing Rob Frayne’s tune The Hat and the Rabbit was that moment, especially the big gorgeous crunchy chords coming from the five horns). There seemed to be a lot of new campers this year, impressive young ones, like guitarist Justin Orok, and slightly older ones, like singer Jean Lenke. They must come back. Many of the original compositions were keepers. I particularly liked David Miller’s one, Rumba Agridulce, which was played by beautifully by Wiliam Carn’s combo.
The facilities at CAMMAC are great, the setting perfect, the lake refreshing too early in the morning — but what made the camp this year, and makes it every year, is the spirit of the place.
Jazz camp abounds in trust, support, friendship, hysterical laughter and the good kind of tears. We’re rudely reminded of this when we return to civilian life and don’t find complete strangers coming up to us to give us compliments. That happens all the time at camp, right? Somebody you’ve never met tells you that he liked something you sang or played. Does it happen much in your office?
In civilian life there is also a considerable shortage of smiling. But it’s less than a year now before we can leave it again and return to Lac McDonald.
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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.