Here’s a rant I’ve wanted to unload for some time. It concerns jazz on the radio. Fortunately, there’s a fair amount of it now, particularly on the Internet. But it could be better.
Specifically, the hosts could tell us who’s playing. How hard is it, actually? There’s a quintet playing: trumpet, tenor, piano, bass and drums. The piano player knocks you out. Who was it? You want to listen to him or her some more, buy a CD. “That was Miles Davis,” says the host. No mention of anybody else.
Sometimes you have to wait through another tune before the announcer comes on not to tell you who was playing. CBC is terrible for this, but not alone. Failure to announce the personnel is more than irritating. It is an abdication of responsibility to those who are learning the music.
That may sound a bit over-dramatic. Still, I remember how I learned about jazz. I was living in the Middle East, as a teenager, and suddenly developed a passion for the music after listening to the records some of my friends had. I bought Downbeat whenever I could find it and read about the big and not-so-big names of the period — Miles, Sonny Rollins, Art Pepper, Horace Silver, Stan Getz. Not to mention all the trumpet players of the day — Kenny Dorham, Donald Byrd, Art Farmer, Jack Sheldon, Shorty Rogers, Clifford Brown.
The way I heard them was to stay up late and listen to the Voice of America on shortwave radio. Voice of America was a U.S. propaganda vehicle aimed largely at people who lived behind the Iron Curtain and in the so-called uncommitted nations of Africa and Asia. The most appealing part of the propaganda was jazz, a symbol of freedom, so it was thought, and an underground passion in many Communist countries.
Every night Willis Conover would play jazz records and after every one he would painstakingly list every musician on the tune — even if it was a big band. If it was a Count Basie record he would tell you who every one of the 15 musicians was. This was jazz education at its best and I imagine there are young players today who would be happy to learn the same way.
If it was Horace Silver record, Conover would tell you who the trumpet player was. So that’s what Donald Byrd sounds like! Conover would tell you who played tenor and bass and drums. So I might buy a Donald Byrd record and on that record hear Pepper Adams and decide I liked Pepper Adams enough to buy one of his records and on that one hear a piano player I liked. And so on.
If you heard that tune on the CBC, it would be over and the guy would say: “That was Horace Silver.” And then move on to read some offbeat article off the wire that had nothing to do with music.
Now, it’s possible that you might be able to find a playlist online if you searched for it (I just tried and gave up), but that doesn’t help you if you’re in the car. And really, how much extra time does it take to read five names aloud?
Internet radio, which I listen to increasingly to hear jazz, has sort of the same problem, but in most cases there is no host to blame it on. If I hear something I like, I will do some quick Googling on the tune and leader and find out who else is playing. But you shouldn’t have to do that when there is a host.
This didn’t happen, by the way, when Katie Malloch was running the jazz show on CBC. The decline has happened since and what it tells me is that there really isn’t much interest in jazz at the CBC, other than filling a time slot. There is a blandness about the programming that indicates CBC is content to provide background music.
The failure to provide personnel information is further indication of a lack of interest. If you really cared about jazz you would want to know who the players were. If you really cared about jazz, you would want your listeners to know that too. It doesn’t sound like anyone cares.
The news that John Geggie is stepping down after more than 20 years as artistic director of JazzWorks made me think back to the first time I went to jazz camp. It was1999. I was writing an article on camp for The Citizen (which paid my way: thanks again, guys) but also brought my trumpet. The experience moved me, as it has moved countless others, and I had the added benefit of interviewing campers and faculty to get their perspective on it.The one who provided the key line for the article was John Geggie. “You don't teach jazz,” he observed, “you share it.”
There were 62 campers sharing it that weekend at Christie Lake and 10 faculty. The faculty included Frank Lozano, Julie Michels, Jim Lewis, Jean Martin, Rob Frayne, Kim Ratcliffe and Nancy Walker. The more observant of you will notice that those same faculty members were still teaching at camp 15 years later. Others, who came along a year or so later, like Christine Duncan, Dave Restivo and Kevin Barrett come back every year too. They braved spartan conditions at Christie Lake, in the early days, endured long drives from Toronto or Montreal and were not not, let’s say, overpaid for doing so.
Why? Well, John Geggie was not the only reason, but he was a big one. As artistic director of JazzWorks from its inception in 1994, Geggie had the largest impact on the direction the camp would take. He gave it an educational direction, a musical personality, an artistic integrity. Plus he played and taught bass wonderfully.
Those have seen him teach up close are quick with praise. Here’s Alrick Huebener, a bassist who has attended many jazz camps: “John brings an inspiring combination of high skill, discipline, creativity, humility, affection for the struggles of students and humour to any teaching situation.
“He always began by polling us before camp about our needs and interest,” Alrick recalls. “He then proposed an approach that allowed us to address those issues as well as learn about things we had never thought about before. Some of the workshops were quite challenging, like have a dozen bassists stand in a circle and pass along a few bars of a walking bass line or a solo to each other while trying to maintain the continuity of the song. We set it up so we learned from him and learned from each other. Such sessions were intense, interesting and a bucket full of fun.”
Now, after more than 20 years of it, having listened to two thousand demo tapes, endured what must seem like two million board meetings, explained things patiently a million times, John is stepping down as artistic director, although there is a good chance he will continue as a faculty member and bass instructor.
To say that he will be missed as artistic director is a massive understatement. Camp runs so smoothly that it is easy to underestimate the contribution that those who run it make. As artistic director, Geggie decides on the program and the content. He picks the faculty members and consults with them on workshops and other program details. He decides on the make-up of the combos formed at camp (and handles the complaints from those who fear they wound up in the wrong one).
Long ago, the folks who started the camp (Geggie, Rob Frayne, Jean Martin, Judy Humenick and Tena Palmer) decided that they wanted it to be not like other camps. JazzWorks would welcome adults as well as students. It would stress small-group improvisation, as opposed to big-band precision. It would encourage open-ness in the music, including the freer kind of jazz. It would nudge the fearful to play, the set-in-their-ways to experiment. If you are reading this, you are likely among those who know first-hand how well this has all worked.
Part of John Geggie’s genius lies in being able to recognize and seek out teachers who would enjoy and nurture the camp aesthetic. A characteristic they all share — a rare one — is the ability to be patient and encouraging with beginners, coupled with a determination to demand that the more advanced players be better — in a nice way, of course.
That first camp in 1999, I walked into a beginning improvisation workshop led by Geggie and watched him at work. He sat at a keyboard in the dining hall at Christie Lake and played a major chord. "See if you can sing Joy to the World on that chord," he asked a vocalist who had said she didn't understand chords. She sang two bars. "See," said Geggie, "you sang in context. You sang in the key. The importance is that you heard that song. You were playing by ear, which is a beautiful thing.”
That’s one side. Here’s the other, recounted by Alrick Huebener, an advanced player: “Once, when I was in the rhythm section for a jam in the Boathouse, I thought we we were really cooking, providing good support for each of the horn soloists who played in succession. I mean, the rhythm section played in time, followed the changes and each soloist seemed happy with it. We did not fall apart or otherwise screw up. At the end of the tune, we smiled, generally satisfied that disaster had been avoided. John, the presiding faculty at the jam, stepped up and informed us that something was wrong with the rhythm section.
“We were surprised. He let us know that the rhythm section was solid, but unvarying between soloists, a kind of Band in the Box accompaniment that was competent but uninteresting. We had not changed our playing to match the style and personality of each soloist. We felt badly. Our moment of competence had less lustre than we thought. Our musical sheen was diminished. But he was right. He was letting us know about the next aesthetic level in improvisation, the need to really listen to who we are playing with and adjust to them in what we play and how we play it. I still thank John for that lesson and realize the point of a lot of practicing in jazz is to give yourself the listening skills and musical vocabulary to respond in the moment.”
Those are two sides of the JazzWorks camp aesthetic. Geggie had an instinct for knowing which faculty members, Canadian and U.S. guests, got it, which ones should be invited back. He found them, hired them, listened to them, welcomed their ideas. He did trouble-shooting on their behalf when problems arose. As a result, he received a strong loyalty from them. When you talk to faculty members, you quickly realize how much they love this particular camp. They like the setting, they like hanging out with each other, they like the campers, they love playing together. But the musical atmosphere John Geggie creates is a big part of it.
Nick Fraser, Toronto drummer and long-time faculty member, says it well: “John has been a great teacher and leader for us at jazz camp. Thoughtful, energetic, loyal, considerate and always willing to listen to our input. When I first started teaching at camp, I don't think I really knew what I was in for, since working with the adult students with varied skill levels that jazz camp serves takes a special hand. John is a master of this type of teaching as he can be firm without being mean and offers truly constructive criticism. I've learned a lot from him.”
It’s a bit of a mutual admiration society, the faculty and John Geggie. “The faculty has always been inspiring for me,” Geggie says. “I have learned so much and I have always looked forward to learning from faculty and participants every year and I hope to continue doing so.”
For a person whose influence has been so strongly positive, Geggie spends little time in the spotlight. He doesn’t grandstand. His speeches, if any, are short and on the laconic side. He is just as likely to say “Nice shirt” as “Great chorus!” At the faculty concerts, his are the shortest solos.
So it is little surprise that when he is asked to sum up his time at camp, Geggie responds with a typical blend of optimism and realism. “What I hope camp has become is a 'check-up' or reality check for folks at all levels of their interest in improvised music. If folks have come away challenged, inspired and/or pushed to go farther, then I am pleased.”
Be pleased, John. And thanks for sharing jazz.
The death of Phil Woods last week put me in mind of a special kind of jazz musician.
When I first became fanatical about what was then called “modern jazz,” Phil Woods seemed to be on every record I bought. He played in Dizzy Gillespie’s big band, he was on a Monk big band record, and in bands led by George Russell and Quincy Jones. He had his own quintet with fellow alto-man Gene Quill, recorded with Kenny Dorham, Donald Byrd, Red Garland, Oliver Nelson and Art Farmer, among others. Much later he did a nice album with Rob McConnell and the Boss Brass. The obit writers made a big deal out of the fact that Woods recorded solos on tracks by pop artists such as Paul Simon, Billy Joel and Steely Dan, but what mattered more was the great group he fronted from the ’80s on which included, at one time, Tom Harrell on trumpet, and later Brian Lynch.
And what stuck out about him was the sheer abandon with which he played the instrument. Something about the enthusiasm and the energy he brought to any recording said: “I really love playing this horn
In a music that sometimes tends toward the introspective, this glad-to-be-here quality is refreshing and rare. As a trumpet player, I think of Louis Armstrong, of course, and later, Dizzy Gillespie. The guy enjoyed what he was doing. Clifford Brown had it, as did Lee Morgan.
It’s a subjective thing, probably having a lot to do with the listener. For fun, make a list of the people you listen to who have this quality. I heard it in Pepper Adams and Johnny Griffin and the great trombonist Frank Rosolino. Art Blakey had it, and so did Ray Brown, but it’s not a quality only associated with artists of years gone by. This year at the Ottawa jazz festival, I found it in spades in the quirkily intense group Kneebody. And if you go to jazz camp, catch Rémi Bolduc jamming in the boat house. That’s what it is.
The other night I heard Ted Warren playing drums with Peter Hum’s quintet. It was there too. When artists clearly love what they are doing, it is difficult for audiences not to appreciate them. This sense of engagement is not the same as showboating. I head for the exits when I feel that the soloist is trying to milk applause, when the saxophone player honks on one note, the trumpet player screeches incessantly or the drummer plays a five-minute solo.
That kind of showboating can be found in all the arts and, as in jazz, it attracts an audience. You can make your own list. But the people on it won’t endure as long as the writers, painters, actors who show a real engagement with their art.
The movie A Walk in the Woods, sent me back to the writing of Bill Bryson. Nobody has more fun writing. Elmore Leonard had it. You can guess that Shakespeare had it. Margaret Atwood has it. Don’t be deceived by her laconic public speaking. When she writes, she is going for it and having a hell of a great time, even when she’s writing about the end of the world — actually, especially, when she’s writing about the end of the world.
The great baseball philosopher, Willie Stargell (outfield, Pittsburgh Pirates), once said: “When they start the game, they don't yell, ‘Work ball.’ They say, ‘Play ball.’” And we play jazz, don’t we? Phil Woods certainly did.
I’m going to unabashedly plug a friend’s gig (not to mention unabashedly split an infinitive). I figure that Peter Hum has done so much, through his writing in the Citizen, to promote the work of local musicians that he deserves some promotion of his own.
On Thursday, Sept. 24, the pianist launches his second CD, Alpha Moment, in a concert at the Fourth Stage. I’ve heard the CD and it’s very good. You can check it out at peterhum.com. All the compositions are Hum originals and they vary in mood and tempo, from the soulful Voice From Afar to the spirited title tune. Peter likes odd time signatures, but he also likes pretty ballads and he also likes to just swing. All of that is on the CD. The arranging for a front line of tenor sax, alto sax and guitar uses different combinations of instruments in an intriguing way. And the soloing is inspired. Kenji Omae on tenor alone is worth the price of admission.
Omae is one of several members of the sextet with Ottawa connections. He grew up here and played in local jam sessions as a teenager, before moving to New York. He now lives in Korea.
Guitarist Mike Rud spent several years playing in Ottawa in the early 2000s before moving to Montreal a few years ago. Bassist Alec Walkington grew up here and was a high school classmate of Peter Hum.
And Nathan Cepelinski, on alto and soprano saxes, is also a local guy. In fact, he attended JazzWorks jazz camp as a 14-year-old prodigy back in the Christie Lake days. He now lives in New York and won’t be at the Fourth Stage concert.
Powerhouse drummer Ted Warren has performed here frequently enough to be considered an honorary local.
The Fourth Stage concert is part of a four-city tour that also includes the Upstairs Jazz Bar and Grill in Montreal on Wednesday, the Jazz Room in Waterloo on Saturday and The Rex in Toronto on Sunday. Thursday’s concert here begins at 7:30. Tickets are available through the National Arts Centre website. See you there.
I checked out the new JazzWorks jam session location on Friday. There’s a lot to like about it. While I miss the Carleton Tavern folks, who were friendly and incredibly supportive of us, I won’t miss the difficult acoustics and cramped conditions of the place. At the Georgetown, the new location in Ottawa South, you can hear and you can move around much more easily.
That being said, attendance wasn’t all it could have been. Usually, the first jam session after jazz camp is packed. This one wasn’t, although there was a respectable crowd. Maybe change just takes getting used to, particularly the shift to Friday night from Thursday. Some potential jammers prefer to stay home with their families on Friday nights. Some potential jammers are just worn out from a week of work. Some potential jammers, probably, just weren’t paying attention.
And maybe some potential jammers were at City Folk, just down the street, listening to Van Morrison. That would explain why there wasn’t a parking space to be found within a 10-minute walk of the Georgetown. For all I know, some potential jammers are still out there today, circling.
For future jams that aspect of life will be easier. Years ago, when the jam session was at the Bayou, a block or so away, parking was never a big problem. The Georgetown is comfortable and the jam session fits well inside it. There is a natural stage area and the sound carries better to the back than it did at the Carleton, partly because the room is more or less square, rather than long and narrow.
I didn't sample the food, but I know there's a deep-fried Mars bar on the menu. Say no more.
As for the jam itself, there was some good playing, and some people who don’t normally participate in jam sessions got up and played. Some difficult tunes were attempted, which is admirable, although not without peril. I added to my list of tunes that are risky at jam sessions — Blue in Green and Lush Life. The first one, with its odd 10-bar structure is just an invitation to get lost and I was one of those who did. The second, with its tough key and complicated chord progression is one you don’t sight-read. There a several false starts, but it came out OK thanks to Mary Moore’s confident singing. I watched that one from a safe distance.
Those reservations aside, there is a lot to be said for getting away from Centrepiece and Satin Doll. The next jam is scheduled for Oct. 16. There’s a football game that night, so you might be circling a bit, but don’t let that keep you away.
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.
Some months ago I wrote about the connection between jazz and painting. Jazz has connections with other art forms as well and one that surfaces from time to time is between jazz and theatre. Not enough, because too many productions used canned music or no music at all. The pit orchestra, a fixture of the Broadway stage, has largely disappeared.
But a most dramatic example of the use of jazz just finished a long run at the National Arts Centre Theatre. The play is Needles and Opium by Robert Lepage and I wish I’d seen it earlier in its run so that I could have sent out a heads-up.
There are three main characters in the play. One is a jazz-loving Québécois actor in 1989. One is the French movie director Jean Cocteau. The third is Miles Davis.
Davis is in Paris in 1949, his first visit, where he meets and falls in love with the singer and actress Juliette Greco. It would not be useful to discuss the plot, since it is complicated and involves much back-and-forth in time and place among the three characters.
Visually it is a tour de force, a kind of jazz sensibility informing Lepage’s use of his imaginative set, lighting and projected imagery. Musically, it is imaginative as well, using, among other things, actual Miles solos, including some beautiful bluesy solos from his score of the 1958 film Elevator to the Gallows. More than in most theatrical productions, music — jazz in this case — is essential to the creation of a dramatic mood.
In addition to snippets of jazz from the period, you also hear looped muted trumpet sounds that form part of the dark soundscape that underlies the dialogue. If you read the program carefully you would have noticed a credit:
Trumpet: Craig L. Pedersen
That’s the same Craig Pedersen who is well known in Ottawa as prominent trumpet player, avant-gardist, teacher and occasional participant in JazzWorks jam sessions. He recently moved to Montreal but still appears here frequently.
In addition to contributing to the sound design of Needles and Opium, Craig also plays one haunting solo on My Funny Valentine. It is evocative of Miles, as the actor playing him, Wellesley Robertson III, mimes it on stage, but still Craig’s own.
(Oddly, a Miles version was available, recorded for Prestige in 1956, but it was not used, perhaps because the action takes place in 1949 or perhaps due to one of those complicated copyright considerations. Whatever the reason, Craig’s version fit perfectly.)
I was curious about what it was like for Craig to participate in the show. In an email, he told me that he recorded samples of his trumpet sound for the audio engineer/composer to use to create soundscapes and he also recorded, at his home, several versions of My Funny Valentine, responding to notes on the mood the producers wanted.
The results were impressive and important for the success of the show. Too bad Craig wasn’t in town to take a bow.
What could be a nicer experience, sitting in the legion hall, sipping something, visiting with friends and listening to a big band. I mean big. Rob Frayne's Dream Big Band on Saturday night had 17 players in it, and that doesn't count the dancers.
Two of them came out during most the the tunes, interpreted the song in dance, and then danced off into the wings. People applauded, briefly, as if the dancers were jazz players and their solos were over. Not many bandleaders would think of putting dancers in the band, but then, Rob is Rob.
As with his smaller Dream Band of a couple of years ago, the music was complicated, yet accessible. There is a great spirit to it, and also the wonderful satisfaction for the listener of watching the musicians react to the challenge of it, both in the ensemble playing and the improvising. There was a lot of changing horns among the reed players, in the brass section a lot of shifting from trumpet to flugelhorn and back, a lot of putting in and taking out mutes.
Some jazz musicians are not fond of big bands, finding them regimented — all that reading — and lacking in solo time. That can happen, and has happened, in some bands. The best bandleaders build their arrangers around the soloists — think of Donny McCaslin with Maria Schneider’s band. The Frayne band was like this too. You wanted to hear more from some of the musicians, such as Mike Tremblay, who had no solos, but those who did solo did so at length.
What is sacrificed in solo time is made up for in the spirit, energy, colour and power that only a big band can offer. The arranging, most of it by Rob, with one gorgeous tune by drummer, Mike Essoudry, was far from the stereotypical blend of trumpet section, sax section and trombone section. Vibes were in the mix, also a piccolo, flutes and clarinet, a Hammond B-3 organ. There was even a bass clarinet and all manner of percussion. Like the best of jazz, this was an evening full of surprises.
The music demands a high level of commitment from the soloists and all of them had it. They really rose to the occasion — Zakari Frantz on alto, Roddy Ellias on guitar, Don Cummings on organ, Mark Ferguson on trombone and the two ringers from Montreal, Joel Miller on tenor and Bill Mahar on trumpet.
Rob's music constantly shifts rhythms, and sometimes time signatures. Mike Essoudry on drums handled all that with ease. As a trumpet player, I was also impressed with how the four-man section survived the demands placed on it by Rob's writing, particularly Nick Dyson on lead trumpet.
The Westboro legion hall is spacious but with a low ceiling. During the quieter passages, you could hear the country band playing in a room upstairs. Somehow that didn't spoil anything. Perhaps it added to the informal feel of the evening. Although the music was contemporary, it had its throwback moments, reinforced by the setting.
Somehow it made me think of what it was like in the '40s and earlier, when, on a Saturday night, dozens big bands bands would be in operation all over the region, mostly playing for dancing, but for listening too. A lot has changed since then, much of it for the better, but there's a lot to be missed too. People still dance, but too often it's to a guy with a Mac and big set of amps.
You can blame technology for that, as well as economics. A club owner today would sooner pay one guy with a Mac than 17 folks with horns. You can also blame the audience. People stay home and watch things on screens.
All is not lost. There are other big bands in town, in addition to Rob's, some good ones too. But they need places to perform and people to pay them. When someone goes through the ordeal of organizing 17 musicians, writing charts and finding a way to rehearse, then takes the financial risk of hiring the hall and hoping people will buy tickets, you have to admire him. But then, Rob is Rob.
The Internet can be a blessing for musicians. The ease of finding tunes on YouTube, downloading them on iTunes, the terrific videos of jazz musicians — we now have more resources at our disposal than ever before.
The downside of this wealth of information is that a lot of it is bad. The trick is to distinguish what is useful from what is damaging.
Anybody who knows a hypochondriac knows that there is a lot of ridiculous health information on the web. Anybody who knows a golfer (the sports equivalent of a hypochondriac) knows that there is no shortage of golf tips available, enough to ruin anybody’s game at the click of a mouse.
And there is a lot of stuff for musicians too. I’ve been impressed by the series of videos on YouTube from the Jazz at Lincoln Center Jazz Academy. Trumpet players like Marcus Printup, Kenny Rampton and Ingrid Jensen share ideas about warming up, increasing range and so on. I’ve tried some of them and I like them.
But then I wondered about this kind of musical self-medication. Is it going to get me into trouble? So I asked a pro, and this is the answer I got from Nancy Walker, wonderful pianist, teacher and JazzWorks faculty member:
“'Consider the source’ was a saying my dear departed Mum imparted to me on more than one occasion,” Nancy writes. “If the musician spouting the advice has a solid reputation and track record as a player and/or educator, then his/her advice via the Internet might be great. If the musician is unknown to the viewer, then a little research into their background and reputation would probably be a good idea before implementing their advice.”
Nice advice. The Jazz at Lincoln Center folks obviously fall into the reputable category. But I wonder about some of the others. The Internet is full of folks teaching you how to hit double-high C, the Holy Grail for a certain kind of trumpet ego, or how to have perfect pitch. The Internet is also full of folks teaching you how to break 80, cure hiccups and get triple your gas mileage. The expression “buyer beware” might be even more relevant when the product is free.
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I’ve been away for a few weeks and want to clear up an accumulation of odds and ends of interest to the JazzWorks community. First, a word about the Vocal Jazz Workshop Series. Sessions two and three have had to be cancelled because of low enrolment, but the first session will proceed and will be held Sunday, April 12 at Festival House. Sharada, a celebrated vocalist and teacher, as well as a JazzWorks faculty member, has titled the session “Learning a new tune in your personal style.”
Elsewhere on this website is further information. JazzWorks President Mary Moore, suggesting that the timing might have been off for offering a three-part program, promises that there will be a survey in the near future to see what other programs members of the JazzWorks community might be interested in.
“It can be difficult,” Mary notes, “to gauge the public's appetite for any programming, as everyone in the teaching business knows, but JazzWorks will continue to offer what we feel is inspired, affordable, quality programming. Both our Artistic Director and our Executive Producer have built strong relationships with top national and international jazz performers/educators, and we will continue to offer exciting learning and performance experiences to our constituents.
“For the moment,” Mary adds, “our focus is on Camp.” Registration is now open, in case you didn’t know.
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Next is news about the next Thursday night jam session, April 16 at the Carleton Tavern. The host band is called St. Vincent and features, speaking of strong trumpet players, Carl Daniel. Others in the band are Edwin Gans on alto sax, Frank Edgerton on piano, Tim Healy on bass and Tim Leah on drums. As always, the host band plays at set at 8 p.m. and jamming begins 45 minutes or so later. It’s always a good time.
Three days later, the fourth in the Sunday jam session series will be held at Bluesfest Festival House, 450 Churchill Avenue at 2 p.m. This jam session, more organized than the Thursday event, features coaching and input from professional musicians. It has been particularly helpful to and well-received by less experienced musicians.
The Sunday, April 19 jam will be mentored by bassist Dave Schroeder. Dave, a much in-demand player on the local scene, has a music doctorate from the University of Miami and has also studied at Berklee. He is now teaching at Carleton.
"I think because it is a jam session rather than a workshop/clinic/ensemble class the focus should be mainly on playing," Dave writes. "I will offer guidance and organization tips, and I will help whenever I can with regards to sharing my relevant experiences. I will offer the participants advice pertaining to what might be expected in a professional level jam session, drawing on my experiences in various cities in Canada and the U.S. I hope that the participants leave the session inspired to implement new ideas into their practice routines that will help them progress and grow as musicians. The experience will help them to grow musically and to learn more about jam session etiquette and expectations, and will help them to be more effective and productive in future sessions."
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Finally, a word about comings and goings on the JazzWorks board. The latest departure, much regretted, is that of Dave Finlayson. It was Dave who took on the difficult and complex task of bringing the organization’s structure and constitution into line with recent legal changes regarding not-for-profit organizations. The job took several years, but it is done.
“Serving on the board was enriching, enlightening, and gratifying, thanks to the fabulous people (too many to thank individually) collectively known as JazzWork,” Dave says. “As a board member I connected with other not-for-profit and charitable organizations and came to appreciate how JazzWorks is a vital community within our diverse broader community, particularly through its educational initiatives but also in ways that are less visible. Closer to home I saw first-hand the dedication of the board in bringing value to us JazzWorks friends in so many ways. You don't miss your water until the well runs dry — continue supporting our precious JazzWorks, come to camp, the jams, the workshops, volunteer, visit the website often, and stay in touch with your fellow jazz-lovers. There's really nothing like it.”
Dave deserves both thanks and a rest. As long as he doesn’t rest from playing drums.
One of the more interesting things JazzWorks has done in recent years is a present series of workshops in the so-called "off season" — that is, the time between one jazz camp and the next. The aim is to build on the jazz camp experience — to reinforce the lessons learned and maintain the enthusiasm created.
While there is no way the jazz camp experience can be recreated in November or April — for that, the participants would have to show up on three-hours sleep and wearing ugly T-shirts — the off-season work can build excitement, heighten expertise and, of course, help us endure the cold months.
Past workshops have focused largely on instrumentalists. The three-workshop series beginning April 12, will be for singers. It follows on the success of the recent workshops and concert by vocalist Vinx.
Those who have been at jazz camp in recent years will know Sharada Banman's work. She is a fine singer and a natural teacher. JazzWorks artistic director John Geggie has known Sharada for many years and worked with her in both performance and educational contexts. "In addition to her excellent teaching credentials," John says, "she is a great singer who embodies all the best qualities of an engaging jazz singer - great voice, great intonation and phrasing, knowledge of the art form, knowledge of tunes as well as her own arrangements and of course, great commitment and compassion - you want to hear her sing and tell you a story."
John notes that what Sharada is proposing is a comprehensive program of essential skills for anyone aspiring to sing jazz in public, beginning with learning a new tune in your personal style. "There are so many aspects of her complete three-session workshop that go the heart of the needs of singers these days, John says. "People will learn so much as well as get a chance to sing in master classes and get feedback on the basics of jazz singing as well as the finer points of the craft. The basics in terms of knowing one's vocal range, picking one's key, getting the right tunes, being responsible for creating a lead sheet as well as the aesthetics of jazz singing will all be covered. These topics are so important and they never get old."
John urges singers at all levels to come to the first session at Festival House, check out the wealth of knowledge Sharada can share with you and perhaps sign up for all three sessions. The second and third sessions are on May 24 and June 14. For all the relevant info, check out our Vocal Series event page.
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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.