If last year’s Ultimate Jazz Combo Workshop is any example, you will want to be at Arts Court on Saturday, April 26 for the second annual. There’s great faculty lined up, familiar to JazzWorks veterans — Jim Lewis on trumpet, vocalist Sharada Banman, guitarist Kevin Barrett and pianist Steve Boudreau. And the program should be both challenging and fun.
As a participant, what I remember about last year’s workshop was how hands-on it was. In two senses: it was hands-on for us, the 26 participants, because we got to play quite a bit; and it was hands on for the four faculty members, because they spent time giving us individual advice even while tunes were going on. Somebody would jump up and whisper a suggestion to a rhythm player about changing a groove or to a horn player about injecting more rhythmic feeling into a solo. We tried playing less, playing more, using eye contact with the other musicians in our groups; we tried to be more clear in what we were playing so that other members in our group could respond to it.
Occasionally a curve would be thrown, such as a decision to play a tune in a singer’s key rather than “book” key. That was a challenge, but that’s jazz, and it was fun to deal with it.
These are things you don’t get a chance to work on in the average jam session. We were also better prepared than we would be for the average jam session. A short list of tunes had been circulated well beforehand, so that we could be more comfortable and not have to spend all our time with our eyes down on the page.
The tunes covered a good range — from modal compositions, to standards, to blues, to ballads.
It will be a similar procedure this year, except that the participants will be divided into beginner and advanced groups, each with two faculty members assigned to it. As JazzWorks Artistic Director John Geggie explains it:
“In the next little while, we will be making up a list of repertoire. Each group will be working on three or four tunes that will be a good and fun challenge to the participants. The goal for the day will be for you to really learn these tunes from a melodic, harmonic and structural point of view. It is really important to be able to get inside a tune before one plays or sings it. You will be guided on how to do this. There will be lots of playing and practical improvisational tips.”
Geggie also provides some suggestions to help you decide which group, beginner or advanced, you should be in:
“I urge you to pick your combo based on your comfort and skill level, not based on the tunes themselves. You will be challenged with some tunes you know and some you don't know; in a similar way, we will be covering a multitude of different styles, grooves and participant combinations. The singers should find their OWN key for the tunes and let us know ASAP so that we can transpose them to the correct keys. In this way, the other people in the combo will be able to better accompany and play along with you. If you don't know how to find your key, your should contact JazzWorks and we can help you with that.
“For the instrumentalists, it is really good when you are playing a standard to be familiar with the lyrics (the subject of the narrative). We will be picking good tunes to be played and sung at jam sessions. For the singers, you may run into a tune you don't know, including a jazz standard (i.e. not a Great American Songbook tune with lyrics but a tune written by a jazz player like Charlie Parker or Kenny Dorham). There may not be lyrics to those tunes, which is fine; you should try to learn to sing or scat the melody without lyrics.”
Last year the organizers made sure that there were two compete rhythm sections in attendance. Other than that, instrumentation doesn’t matter, as Geggie notes:
“Last year, we had a nice turnout of participants — a good group of singers as well as many horn players, some rhythm section player and many guitarists. It is ok that there may be more that one of your instrument there. There will be ample opportunity to switch performers around to try different things.”
As for the technical details, drummers should bring their kit. If there are several drummers, they will be put in touch with each other to minimize gear duplication. Of interest to drummers, one of the rooms has a carpet, the other doesn’t. Guitarists and bassists should bring their instruments, amps and a power bar. Horn players need only bring their instruments. For singers, there will be a small PA there but if you have your own mic and a mic stand, please bring them.
Other details: There are many lunch places close by. There is limited free parking on the east side of the Arts Court building, limited free on-street parking on Nicholas, and two parking garages across Nicholas Street.
The sessions last all day, with a break for lunch. To give you an idea of the intensity of the experience, our group spent the entire morning working on just two tunes. The response of the participants afterwards indicated that they had enjoyed it and learned stuff. The faculty responses were equally enthusiastic, which why we’re doing it again.
“Talk to your friends,” says Geggie. “This is a great workshop opportunity to really 'shed' some tunes and it will show you how to ‘shed' other tunes down the road.”
For further information, including the registration details, check this page on the JazzWorks website.
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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.