Like a lot of JazzWorks folks, I’m working on tunes for the upcoming Ultimate Jazz Combo Workout on March 23. Some of the ones we will be playing — Body and Soul, All Blues, Softly As in a Morning Sunrise — are more or less familiar to me. Others, such as Little Sunflower, are ones I haven’t played much. And some, such as Skylark, are incredibly tricky. Try playing the bridge without the chart in front of you.
Charts, in fact, are being sent out to those who have signed up for the workshop — and it's not too late to sign up, by the way. But, as John Geggie reminds me, listening is just as important as reading, probably more. “One way to prepare is to listen to many different versions of a tune,” Geggie noted in an email. “For example, doing a search in the online listings of the Ottawa Public Library, one can find over 50 citations on CD for the tune What is This Thing Called Love; for Skylark, the number is around 30 (one of which is Julie Michel's excellent version with Don Braden). This is a goldmine of information for people to check out how different singers might phrase the lyrics, how a horn places the melody, how a rhythm section sets up a groove . . . all valid possibilities.”
I would add that iTunes is a great source and YouTube is too, and free. For a horn player, the ne plus ultra version of What Is This Thing is the one by Clifford Brown and Max Roach, and sure enough YouTube has it. Clifford’s solo shows you what you could do if you could only do everything.
Obviously, the great Coleman Hawkins version of Body and Soul is a must-listen and nobody is going to play Little Sunflower like Freddie Hubbard. But a little searching around will find you some other, quirkier versions that might give you some ideas. Frank Sinatra does Body and Soul. So, in a modal way, does John Coltrane. So do Sarah Vaughan, Billie Holiday and Jim Hall. For a special treat, check out Thelonious Monk’s rendition.
Many instrumentalists say that they can learn about a song by hearing a great singer sing it. Similarly, many vocalists are influenced by horn players in how they approach a song. You only get it by listening.
John Geggie adds: “The first thing we will be doing on Saturday morning is having the faculty get together with the combo folks and discuss the harmonic twists and turns of each tune — what scales or modes to play on, how to hear the chord changes going by. This is a chance to really get inside the tunes before we start playing on them.”
I’m looking forward to that. It is one thing to listen to a tune, another to read it off the page, but something entirely different to hear someone like Christine Jensen or Roddy Ellias, Nancy Walker or Sienna Dahlen discuss how the song works for them, what they are thinking while they are playing or singing it.
After that, the fun begins. As Geggie notes: “The extra thing is that participants are going to have a chance to work on those improvising skills, make some mistakes, try to some different things, get immediate feedback from the faculty and learn from watching and listening to what other people are doing at the same time.”
There’s more about the Ultimate Combo Workout elsewhere on this website. Maybe we’ll see you, and hear you, there.
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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.