Steve Boudreau is a busy guy. One of the top two or three jazz pianists in Ottawa, Steve leads a band hosting the Tuesday jams at the Rochester. He performs with various other groups, including the new Mike Essoudry Sextet, and is in demand by singers, who know a sensitive accompanist when they hear one. He has recorded a beautiful album of original compositions with guitarist Garry Elliott.
Steve plays good bass, when called upon to do so and at one point he was working on trumpet. Scary if he still is.
He also teaches and coaches. Last year he helped with the JazzWorks winter workshop, and he was on the faculty at jazz camp in 2011.
He has a website that is worth looking at, particularly for its blog, which talks intriguingly about learning and practising.
So he’s the perfect guy to be moderating the third JazzWorks Sunday jam session. The first two, led by John Geggie and Mike Tremblay, respectively, got rave reviews for their focus on less experienced improvisers and how they can learn to navigate the sometimes uncertain currents of a jam session. Both by playing and talking, the moderators helped musicians at all levels make sene of the situation.
Steve will continue that process, Sunday, March 8 at the Bluesfest Festival House.
“I feel that jam sessions are a crucial part of a jazz musician's education,” Steve says in an email. “Playing with others is key, but playing with musicians you may barely know is a truly special way that we share this wonderful music.”
Part of Steve’s focus will be on repertoire. “While I came from a classical, music-reading background, I still learned the blues, rhythm changes, and Autumn Leaves fairly early on so that I wouldn't be lost in the page as the music was happening around me,” he writes. “Lately I have been compiling a list from all of the great tune lists out there of ‘must-know’ tunes, which I plan on having copies of for people to take home.”
If you have experienced the freedom of being able to play on a tune without looking at the music, you’ll know what Steve is talking about.
At the Sunday jam, Steve will concentrate on songs everyone knows, the better to focus on other elements of the jam session performance.
“Even in a jam situation where usually the head is followed by individual solos, there is room for the soloist to relate to what the other musicians have played before as well as what they are playing in the present moment. I have several ideas in mind to get people thinking and listening this way at the upcoming jam.”
The Sunday jam runs from 2 to 5 p.m. Bluesfest Festival is located at 451 Churchill Avenue. Use the entrance off Ravenhill.
Some nice news for one a long-time JazzWorks faculty member: trumpeter Jim Lewis has won a Juno nomination, along with guitarist David Occhipinti and bassist Andrew Downing, for their album Bristles.
The nomination, for Jazz Album by a Group, is well-deserved. The album combines live and studio tracks. The live tracks, recorded at The Jazz Room in Waterloo, feature the group’s individualistic take on standards such as You and the Night and the Music, I Fall in Love Too Easily and Emily. If you know Jim’s playing, you will know that the standards will not receive standard treatment. Interspersed are improvised interludes of less than two minutes and named after painters, such as Paul Klee, Wassily Kandinskiy and Jackson Pollock — hence, “bristles.” It is challenging but accessible music.
Bristles, which might be the name of the group as well as the name of the CD, is up against some stiff competition for the Juno. Among the other nominees in the category are Toronto pianist Brian Dickinson, who recently played in Ottawa, and the legendary saxophonist Jane Bunnett.
Also nominated is another musician with a JazzWorks connection, the great Toronto pianist Chris Donnelly, a jazz camper when he was a kid, around the turn of the century, with his group Myriad3, described in a recent Jazz Times as “Canada's answer to groups such as The Bad Plus.” Myriad3 played on the main stage at last summer’s Ottawa Jazz Festival. Don’t know when the group will be back in Ottawa (they’re heading for Germany in the spring), but I do know that Jim Lewis and Bristles will be at GigSpace in April, probably April 24. More details when they emerge.
Another Sunday jam
Don’t forget to be at Bluesfest Festival House on Sunday, Feb. 8, for the second of the new JazzWorks mentored jam sessions. The first one, led by John Geggie, was a successful introduction to the art of the jam session. There was good talk, enjoyable music and valuable lessons were learned. The space at Festival House was perfect for the event.
This time, the jam session will be led by Mike Tremblay, a fine tenor saxophonist and experienced teacher. Every musician has his own approach to the music and the experience of making it and it will interesting to get Mike’s take.
The jam session begins at 2 p.m. Bluesfest Festival House is at 450 Churchill Avenue in Westboro. Entrance is at the side, off Ravenhill.
After six years on the JazzWorks board of directors, it was time to step off and open the door to some fresh thinking. But a lot happened in those six years.
Up to 2008, there were three people essentially running JazzWorks — Judy Humenick, John Geggie and Gavin McLintock. Knowing what I know now about the magnitude of the task, it’s amazing what they were able to accomplish, and without a full-time administrator.
Then Anna Frlan came on as a paid administrator, and the board expanded. With various comings and goings, there are now nine on the board and more may be added.
The new president is Mary Moore. Anybody who knows her knows she is full of energy and ideas and a great love of JazzWorks. Vice-president is Tim Leah, whom many of you know as a fine drummer and a loyal supporter of the organization. Ira Abrams, who has done valuable work as treasurer for five years or so, continues in that capacity and Peggy Cameron takes over as secretary. With Judy as executive director and the remarkable work of John and Anna, the new board is in good shape to accomplish great things.
To employ a popular cliché, here’s a Top 10 list of things I learned on the JazzWorks board.
10. The environment in which an organization like JazzWorks operates gets tougher every year. There are new and more complicated regulations and filing requirements. Granting agencies usually have less money to dispense and are much more selective.
9. The Carleton Tavern is a great second home for JazzWorks. Although some complain about the acoustics at jam sessions, the tavern is a most welcoming host, tolerating the disorder we create in setting up, allowing the board the free use of an upstairs meeting room and helping us out whenever we do something like throw a party for volunteers. Yes, the meeting room is also used for a darts legue, and yes, the board is occasionally serenaded during meetings by what sounds like 343 banjos. Still, we wouldn’t trade it.
8. Speaking of volunteers, JazzWorks would perish without them. The equipment that we use at the tavern and at camp doesn’t get there and get set up by itself. This website does not maintain itself, nor does Ottawa Jazz Happenings. Naming anybody risks leaving others out — I started a list off the top of my head and came up with about 30 names. But I should at least mention Betty Ann Bryanton, who runs Ottawa Jazz Happenings, a large undertaking, and also MCs the monthly jam sessions, and Alf Warnock, who co-ordinates those jam sessions and sets up the equipment each month.
7. The emotional attachment to jazz camp impresses me every year. As a board member, I got to read the responses to the camp evaluation questionnaire. They were overwhelmingly positive, quite emotionally so in many cases. The faculty gets enormous praise and the facilities at CAMMAC are appreciated too. Anna, John and Judy are often singled out. There’s the odd criticism, which gets attention, you can be sure. But I hope not too much. Statistically, if there are 80 people at an event, the odds are that somebody has to be grumpy about it. And to be honest, sometimes the people who say they get the least out of it are people who don’t put much into it.
6. The faculty love the camp as much as the campers do. That impression is reinforced every year in the happy chatter that follows the faculty concert. Of the nine Canadian faculty members who were at Christie Lake when I first attended in 1999, eight were at camp in 2014. That’s loyalty. I know what the appeal is for people like us, but I’ve always wondered about the appeal for the faculty. It’s not like it’s a lucrative weekend. And many of them teach at other camps and other educational institutions where they work with students who are at a higher musical level. My understanding is that the faculty appreciate the vibe at CAMMAC, the enthusiasm, sincerity and (for the most part) lack of ego of the campers, and those more than make up for lower skill levels. The faculty members also love to hang out with each other and to play. Every year at the faculty concert, I think about the fact that there is probably nowhere in the country where you could hear such a collection of great musicians in one place.
5. The jazz environment in Ottawa has changed considerably. There are more and more organizations that do the things that JazzWorks used to do all by itself. For example, there at least four other jam sessions. There is another jazz camp, Carleton’s. There are other listings of jazz events. And there are other organizations doing jazz education, most notably Alcorn Studios. This is great for jazz in Ottawa, challenging for JazzWorks. There is a lot of competition for people’s attention.
4. There are various ways of getting that attention. One is by putting on concerts by visiting artists. That hasn’t been tried much, except in a limited way at fundraisers. Another way, which has been successful, is to extend the jazz camp experience into the “off-season” by putting on workshops, such as the Ultimate Jazz Combo Workout, that ran in 2013 and 2014 and continues this year in a format geared to vocalists. Another is to showcase our camp participants and faculties in such settings as the Originals Concert.
3. Another challenge is making sure that jazz camp is not just a camp for people who are middle-aged and older. Some school- and university-age students have attended camp on their own hook, or their parents’, but scholarships are still the main reason why students attend camp, usually four or five a year, sometimes more, depending upon the generosity of individual donors. There are now continuing scholarships given in memory of Jerry Heath and Alun Davies, two musicians who benefitted and benefitted from jazz camp. There is room for more.
2. At the same time, it would be wrong to neglect our “base” — to use the political term. The most loyal supporters of JazzWorks and jazz camp are older musicians, some of them retired, who come back year after year and support JazzWorks in other ways as well. Camp obviously works for them, and it has to keep working for them. There are lots of camps for students, but not all that many for grown-ups. What we should seek is an atmosphere where the kids and the veterans can enjoy each others’ musical presence. There have certainly been years, such as last year, where that has happened.
1. The old saying goes that if you’ve seen how sausage is made you’ll never eat it again. After years of seeing JazzWorks from the inside, I don’t have that reaction. The more you know about it, the more you appreciate the effort and creativity that go into producing the annual miracle that is jazz camp. See you there, August 20.
I was at the first of the new Sunday JazzWorks jam sessions and came away impressed. For one thing, the space, at the Bluesfest Festival House, is idea. It is small but has a large stage area. The seating area is comfortable, there’s lots of room for horn cases and for people to move around. The sound is good. It’s idea for what we are doing.
And what we are doing is giving people a chance to jam, but also giving a bit of a course in what jamming is involved. On Sunday, the “course” was given by bassist and JazzWorks Artistic Director John Geggie. He got people up on the stage to play and talked to them and the audience about what was going on.
There were about 40 people there, off and on, and they were at all levels of ability. A shifting house rhythm section worked with horn players and singers, some of them with very little experience in this sort of thing. The names of some of the tunes to be played had been communicated in advance, which was helpful, but there were some tunes called on the spot, which is sort of wht jazz is about.
If you’ve spent a lot of time at jam sessions and playing in groups, you might have forgotten how many details have to be decided in order for that experience to be satisfying. Geggie reminded us.
Communication is the vital element. An awful lot of details have to be communicated, either verbally or with gestures and eye contact. Among them:
The key: You never know. Different people might be playing out of different books.
The count-in: somebody has to do it and make sure that everybody is on the same page rhythmically.
Feel: Is it swing, Latin, straight-eighths, or what?
Beginnings and endings: How is the tune going to start; how is it going to end?
Solo order: Who wants to solo, and in what order? How to signal that your solo is finished, or not finished.
Comping: If both a guitar and a piano in the group, will one lay out while another accompanies a soloist.
Trades: Will there be trading of fours or eights with the drummer? who will start?
Out-head: When to take the tune out and how to signal that.
Geggie stressed the need to have proper sight lines on the bandstand so that everyone can see everyone else. He talked about tuning up, about making sure the sound is balanced and the singer is not drowned out. He talked about riffing behind a soloist.
Geggie also talked a bit about improvisation and how to use the form and melody of a tune in soling.
The environment was friendly and non-threatening and lots of folks got up to try this stuff out. You could see many of them take Geggie’s points and make them work. Ensemble playing was nice.
You could also see where communication was lacking: a solo would come to an end and the musicians on the stand would look around, wondering what was to come next. And you could see instances where someone on the stand just took charge, plunging into a solo or an out-chorus, with the others quickly following along.
There are a lots of protocols even in improvised music. This was a good way of learning some of them.
From the JazzWorks point of view, one of the encouraging things was seeing nice faces, both very young and older. It would great if they came back. The next opportunity will be on Sunday, Feb. 8 at 2 p.m. and the mentor will be Ottawa saxophonist and teacher Mike Tremblay. Exactly a month later, pianist and teacher Steve Boudreau will be in charge.
Bluesfest Festival House is located at 451 Churchill Avenue in Westboro. Entrance is at the side, off Ravenhill.
Here's a sort of cheery note for the new year, from the pianist, educator and philosopher, Kenny Werner, whose book, Effortless Mastery, is considered essential reading by many jazz teachers.
“There has been a silent question creeping into the consciousness of musicians, and particularly music educators. It is the question that must not be asked, something akin to 'he who must not be named.' The question is: More and more young people are flocking to music schools to become professional musicians — more than at any point in history. There are more prodigies and virtuosos than ever before, but fewer places to play. What’s up with that? I have a new theory, perhaps one we can rally around. More and more young people will pour into music universities around the world until one day everyone on earth will look around and suddenly realize that everyone they see is a musician. At that point, we will have fulfilled the ancient prophecy of heaven on earth.”
This tongue-in-cheek prophecy, from an article in a recent edition of Downbeat, coincides with something I've wondered about as dozens of us journey joyfully to and from jazz camp every August and otherwise seek to make ourselves into jazz musicians. Some of us will, through the camp experience and other attempts to improve, move on to play jazz fairly well in public. Others of us will move on to play jazz in public, although maybe we shouldn't. The rest of us will keep grinding away, perhaps happy just to play in our homes.
This brings us to a point related to Kenny Werner's: Are we producing too many amateur jazz musicians?
(As an aside, I fairly recently retired from a profession, journalism, which has a similar situation: The journalism schools are cranking out graduates every year to fill fewer and fewer jobs in news. Many of them go into political work. I don’t know what the jazz equivalent of political work is, and I’m not sure I want to.)
Are we producing too many amateur jazz musicians? As an amateur jazz musician, I fear that some audiences might say yes, after suffering through performances put on by groups hired by undiscriminating club owners. Some professional musicians might say yes too, if the amateurs are taking work away by playing for below-scale wages.
Those points can be debated at length. But there is an up-side, which is that anything that gets more people learning about jazz can't be bad, especially if it produces larger audiences for live and recorded jazz.
That's my cheery theory. If jazz education doesn't always produce skilled musicians, at least it produce skilled audiences, people who love and appreciate the music, who will buy it and venture out to see it.
So that’s a small version of Kenny Werner’s heaven on earth. Except — where are the audiences? If all these skilled audience members are being produced, why aren’t they showing up, except at festival time? Why aren’t they buying CDs and downloads? Why aren’t professional jazz musicians as rich as they deserve to be?
I’m as guilty as the next guy of somehow managing not to attend performances by my friends. Maybe we should make it a new year’s resolution to get out more. We could resolve to be more like Alrick and Roberta Huebener, who never miss anything, as far as I can figure out. Or the Ottawa’s jazz singer community, which always seems to turn out in force whenever one of their number is performing.
For the rest of us, heaven on earth is still a slight distance away.
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Jam session reminder
The revised version of the Sunday jam session is just days away. Have a look here to get more details. With a new location, Festival House, 450 Churchill Avenue, and a new approach, the Sunday jam should be really interesting. While it is aimed at creating a comfort level for less experienced players, it is open to all. See you there, at 2 p.m.
And not far away is the first Thursday jam session of the New Year. That would be Thursday, Jan. 15, 8 p.m. at the Carleton Tavern. The host band is Room to Groove, featuring
Jean Bergeron — piano
Emmanuel Buckshi - Bass
Robert Murray —- drums
Edwin Gans — alto saxophone
A new kind of jam session begins on Sunday, Jan. 11. JazzWorks is experimenting with a different approach to the jam session and hoping that this will work.
As JazzWorks artistic director John Geggie notes, the Sunday jams began a couple of years ago, inspired and organized by Janet Hofstetter, a JazzWorks board member, not to mention fine singer. The Sunday jams quickly became popular for their laid-back vibe, part of which came from the fact that they were less populated, and therefore less noisy than their Thursday counterparts at the Carleton Tavern.
Unfortunately, the Sunday jams became maybe too laid-back, which is to say, too unpopulated. Which led to a decision — would we ditch them, or would we try something else?
An answer of sorts came from this summer’s jazz camp and the beginner jam session introduced there. As at the camp, the Sunday jams will feature a coach or mentor — “to help folks through those beginning jamming steps,” as Geggie puts it.
Geggie himself will be the coach for our first session. On Sunday, Feb. 8, the mentor/coach will be Ottawa saxophonist and teacher Mike Tremblay and on Sunday, March 8, the coach will be pianist and teacher Steve Boudreau.
With the new approach comes a new venue — a rehearsal space in Festival House, a reconstituted church at 451 Churchill Avenue in Westboro, owned by Ottawa Bluesfest.
Some details are still to be worked out and what’s worked out will undoubtedly evolve. Here’s what John Geggie is thinking right now:
“In the coming weeks, I will be making some suggestions on some tunes we could play, so that everyone will have had a chance to familiarize themselves with the material. I will be picking some tunes that are good jam tunes and that can easily be found in various fakebooks here and there (in various transposed keys). I think it might be wise to shoot for no more than perhaps three tunes so that as many people as possible can get a chance to play on the tunes”
Geggie will get the names of the tunes posted on this site, so watch it, as well as Ottawa Jazz Happenings. ”I am hoping,” he adds, “that we can have some fun on the tunes while at the same time trying to get inside those tunes a bit and feel more comfortable. By having a coach there, I think questions and concerns on the spur of the moment can be addressed. I think it is important to demystify the jam experience and truly make it a communal learning experience for everyone taking part.”
As always, the efforts of volunteers make this possible. Sheila Green and Ryszard Kowalski are doing the heavy lifting as co-ordinators and Peggy Cameron is the board member overseeing the operation.
She gets the last word: “The Sunday jams are an easy and safe way to ease into playing with others a great opportunity for young musicians to get their feet wet and for older musicians to start in a positive and supportive atmosphere. They are fun!! And the coaches we have lined up are among the top musicians Ottawa has to offer.”
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Meanwhile . . .
Don’t forget the regular jam session, this coming Thursday, Dec. 18 at the Carleton Tavern. For the 14th consecutive December, vocalist Gaby Warren will be hosting the jam with an A-list group of musicians. The group:
Gaby Warren, vocals
Rob Frayne, piano, tenor sax
Linsey Wellman, alto sax
Garry Elliott, guitar
Alrick Huebener, bass
Mike Essoudry, drums
Gaby’s opening set, beginning at 8 p.m., songs by pianist Horace Silver, one of the greateset of modern jazz composers. Silver died last June. The only piece not written by him will be Homage To Horace written by Gaby several years ago. A couple of the tunes to be featured December 18 have never been recorded by other vocalists. In lieu of their usual jazzy Christmas carol, Gaby and Friends will perform Silver's beautiful composition, Peace.
Silver wrote the lyrics for some of his tunes, and not all were completely correct, politically speaking. At jazz camp a decade or so ago, Gaby sang some cringe-worthy lines to Silver’s Strollin’. I dared him to do that again at the jam and he has accepted.
After Gaby’s 45-minute set, jamming will begin.
I went to see the Jack Bush exhibition at the National Gallery of Canada last week and came away with some thoughts, probably not all that original, about the relationship between jazz and the visual arts.
Bush, a Canadian painter, was active from the Forties through the Seventies. He was acclaimed internationally, spent a lot of time in New York and hung out with New York painters and critics. The abstract expressionists tended to be big jazz fans and haunted the Greenwich Village clubs. So did writers like Jack Kerouac.
It’s easy to see why. The painters, and some of the writers, of that period, rejected more formal styles. Like jazz musicians, they improvised, they took risks. New York, in the Forties and Fifties, was full of risk-taking musicians. The jazz they played had not entered the mainstream. It was controversial. No wonder there was a kinship between the contemporary painters and the musicians. The New York abstract expressionist Jackson Pollock called jazz “"the only other creative thing happening in this country.”
Bush himself was almost pushed into an improvisational approach to painting. In 1947, he began working with a psychiatrist to help him deal with anxiety problems. According to Bush’s diaries, snippets of which appears to great affect with some of the paintings, in the National Gallery exhibition, the psychiatrist urged him to start “from scratch on a blank canvas with no pre-conceived idea, and just let the thing develop in colour, form and content.”
That sound like anything you know?
Jack Bush was a jazz fan, painted to music and sometimes invoked musical themes in his paintings and their titles. One of the paintings in the National Gallery show is entitled Basie Blues.
As someone who has no talent whatsoever in the visual arts, I’m envious of the painter’s ability to leave something tangible in the form of a painting — particularly something big and bright like many of the works of Jack Bush. I picture him standing in front of the canvas, perhaps listening to jazz and responding, on the canvas, to what is going through his mind. I can also see the relationship between him and someone like, say, Charlie Parker, who was all the rage with the New York painters of his era.
In case you were wondering how all this relates to a JazzWorks, there is indeed a connection to be found. Just as visual artists are inspired by jazz, so are jazz musicians inspired by the visual arts. Seven years ago, saxophonist Frank Lozano and an all-star JazzWorks faculty group (John Geggie, Jim Lewis, Jean Martin and Kim Ratcliffe), recorded “Colour Fields”, an terrific album named after the style of abstract painting that attracted Jack Bush. Lozano compositions in that album include Rothko and Kandinsky. It is too easy to liken the musicians to abstract painters, but the analogy is unavoidable.
More recently, Ted Nash, a jazz camp visiting faculty member on several occasions, composed and arranged a suite of music for the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra entitled “Portrait in Seven Shades.” It’s beautiful, less abstract than the Lozano disk, but equally attentive to the spirit of the painter’s gift. The titles of the seven movements say it all: Monet, Dali, Matisse, Picasso, Van Gogh, Chagall, Pollock.
In his notes, Ted makes the comparison clear: “Many parallels can be drawn between the two forms of art. Like painters, musicians talk of colours, layers and composition. Several expressions are used to describe styles in both fields — impressionistic, abstract, pop. And of course there is the blues.”
Also: “Musicians and painters often experience the same struggles, successes and self doubts when creating and later sharing their creations. When artists embrace their own truths, working on art can be an opportunity to discover something new from within.”
Modern jazz musicians are sometimes asked, accusingly, “Where’s the melody?” The equivalent for a modern artist is the observation: “That doesn’t look like a table.” With respect to this, I like the quote from Matisse in the notes to Ted’s album: “I do not literally paint that table, but the emotion it produces upon me.”
Matisse, by the way, produced, in 1947 a book called Jazz, with text alternating with bright paper cutouts. A website devoted to his work says “Matisse viewed jazz as a ‘chromatic and rhythmic improvisation.’ The title Jazz evoked for Matisse the idea of a structure of rhythm and repetition broken by the unexpected action of improvisations. The artist wrote to a friend in late 1947, ‘There are wonderful things in real jazz, the talent for improvisation, the liveliness, the being at one with the audience.’”
What brought this to my attention, weirdly enough, was a Matisse Jazz 2015 calendar that I saw on sale in an Ottawa bookstore. It’s inescapable. So there you go. Art and Jazz: See the exhibition, buy the albums, get the calendar.
The first time I saw the idea of a mentorship program for jazz combos was in an email from Kevin Barrett, the great guitarist and long-time JazzWorks faculty member. In an email last year discussing possible workshops, Kevin proposed a way of extending the combo coaching at jazz camp into the community.
“It seems to me,” he wrote, “that in the Ottawa area, there's a pretty significant network of bands / groups / regular sessions involving JazzWorks students and others. Almost anyone who's been to the camp more than once seems to have a band, or play regularly with someone. I wonder whether there's value in offering the kind of combo 'coaching' we all do at the camp, to this network? It could be a day-long workshop, where bands come for an intense workout with a coach … or maybe JazzWorks could offer a program where a band could book an instructor/coach to attend a series of rehearsals … and help them work on how they play together.”
With the aid of a grant from Community Foundation of Ottawa, we’ve been able to put Kevin’s idea into practice. You’ll see the details here. The idea is that your combo can schedule a session with a local faculty member. In all likelihood, this would involve having John Geggie, or Roddy Ellias, or Garry Elliott, or Mark Ferguson, or Steve Boudreau, or Rob Frayne, drop in for a couple of hours to your rehearsal, listen, offer comments and answer questions.
Those who have attended jazz camp are aware how effective the coaches can be. A group of musicians who basically haven’t met and may not be at the highest level, can become, with coaching and hard work, a tightly-knit unit performing at a higher level than anyone had thought possible in the beginning. And that applies at all levels. No one is too advanced to learn.
You can see this new program working in several different ways. One example might be new combos, the ones that typically are formed by people who meet at camp. In that situation, it’s hard sometimes to know where to begin — where to find repertoire, count-ins, ensemble playing, solo order, beginnings and endings, how to set up on the bandstand and, most important, how to interact as a group. These are issues that not everyone will have dealt with. A coach can certainly help there.
For more established groups, a coach can help in other ways. For example, sometimes combos can get too comfortable. They have list of tunes they can play well, they are satisfied with their soloing but they are not really improving. It’s here that a new set of eyes and ears can be really helpful. Maybe the tune that you always played Latin could be swung. Maybe somebody has always been playing a wrong chord in bar 7. Maybe the ballads are not slow enough. Maybe somebody is speeding up or slowing down, playing sharp or flat, playing too loud or too soft, playing solos that are too long — and nobody has the heart to say so. A coach could say so. Maybe the rhythm section is overpowering the soloists, or maybe it’s too weak. Maybe the horns are overpowering the singer. A coach could say so, and the group might never have thought of it.
There’s no shortage of bandstand issues and many of them can be easily resolved once somebody spots them. The trick is to spot them. As a bonus, sometimes a coach can bring in new tunes that will get everybody excited again. And here’s a radical thought: maybe the group sounds terrific and just needs someone to tell them that.
Many of us have had the benefit of combo coaching at camp, but a few of us were lucky enough recently to have experience in Ottawa. Specifically, it was in Alrick Huebener’s basement, when the host band for the September jam session rehearsed. Marylise Chauvette was the pianist. Let her tell the story:
“As we were preparing the Cole Porter' Notes gig a few months back, it dawned on us that a bit of professional help to untangle a few musical webs would be most helpful and thus sent out an SOS to pianist Steve Boudreau. Fresh off the plane from New York after an intensive few days of work and play over there, Steve nonetheless showed up that very evening to guide, inspire and encourage us. What a gift to have someone in the know to help us figure out the best approach and guide us subtly but efficiently into improved territory. A mentor is a gift that every group or individual musician deserves and needs. We could not recommend it more!” Marylise concludes.
There you have it. He was paid for his time, of course, just as participants in the Combo Mentorship Program will be paid, but the cost, spread out among us was very little (and for the Mentorship Program JazzWorks foots the bill for half of it). Steve could hear things that the rest of us didn’t and had ideas that the rest of us hadn’t. It made a big difference for us. JazzWorks is hoping it will make a big difference for you.
November jam coming up
Speaking of combos that are always striving to get better, the host band at the November jam session, the host band will be Free Association, a group that has been together for some time. The members are:
James Knopp — tenor/alto sax
Ken Suddaby — trumpet/flute
Jean Bergeron — piano
Ed Beingessner — guitar
Adrian Steeves — bass
Gerard Hartley — drums
Like Glebop, which did a fine opening set at the October jam, Free Association is thoughtful about repertoire, coming up with some interesting songs that are not frequently played. The result is a challenge both for the improviser and the listener.
That's Thursday, Nov. 20 at the Carleton Tavern. As usual, the host band plays at 8 p.m. and jamming commences about 45 minutes after.
My guess is that it’s going to be sold out — by rights it should be — but if it’s not, make sure you get to GigSpace this coming Friday, Oct. 10, to catch Rob Frayne making a public return to playing the saxophone.
There’s a great interview with Rob by the Citizen’s Peter Hum that tells the whole story, but suffice it to say that Rob has been mostly out of action as a sax player since the horrible auto accident in 2004 that threatened both life and livelihood.
As those who have been around JazzWorks know, Rob has been relentlessly cheerful and optimistic all that time and has worked hard to regain his strength. Unable to play much saxophone, he continued as a mentor at jazz camp, launched upon some serious composing/arranging projects and did the odd casual gig on keyboards or electric bass. Friday night’s is a serious gig.
Last summer at the JazzWorks jazz camp, he played a little bit of tenor in the faculty concert; this summer, he played a lot more than that. His rendition, with Dave Restivo, of Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen brought the house down.
Rob would probably tell you that he’s still not the tenorman he was, but most tenormen around now aren’t either. He’s regained his sound and he never lost his creativity. Friday night he plays with Roddy Ellias on guitar and Alvaro de Minaya and Garry Elliott on percussion. The show starts at 7:30.
It’s always pleasant to be able to write what I think of as “local boy makes good” stories. In other words, stories about people we know who are moving up the ladder. To be more jazz-specific, stories about people we go to jazz camp with who are launching CDs, appearing at big-time concerts and so on.
This brings us to Peter Liu, a talented singer who, since he first attended jazz camp in 2008, has worked hard to improve his technique and expand his repertoire. The hard work pays off at 7:30 on Friday night, Oct. 3 at the NAC Fourth Stage when Peter launches his debut CD, Bamboo Groove. He is accompanied by the group of the same name, which has been performing frequently with Peter over the last few years.
The members are: Peter Hum, piano, who also contributed the arrangements, Scott Poll, clarinet, Normand Glaude, bass and Tim Shia, drums. Peter Liu describes the music in a press release as “intriguing takes on jazz standards and jazz interpretations of Asian pop and folk songs.”
The jazz standards include East of the Sun, I Fall in Love Too Easily and Alec Wilder’s beautiful Moon and Sand. There are also two songs sung in Mandarin and one in Cantonese.
Peter Liu has sung at the Fourth Stage before, as well as at the Ottawa International Jazz Festival, the Canadian Tulip Festival and Rideau Hall. He has also been a huge help to JazzWorks as co-ordinator of jam sessions a few years back.
That important volunteer effort reflects Peter’s strong connection with JazzWorks. He has attended jazz camp four times and is effusive about the contribution it has made to his growth as a vocalist.
“I would never have been able to be at this place in my musical path if it hadn't been for JazzWorks,” he writes, “everything from meeting Sharada Banman who became my jazz vocal coach, meeting and playing with so many friendly and talented musicians, all of the many jam sessions over the years, and of course the great learning at jazz camp. JazzWorks provides so much support, inspiration, and jazz learning to late bloomers like me, and I am deeply grateful.”
Well, we’re grateful to Peter too, for being a good friend of JazzWorks and an inspiration to many aspiring vocalists. All the more reason to catch his show on Friday night. You can find more details at Peter’s website: www.peterliuvocals.com
And don’t forget the jam session
The September jam session at the Carleton Tavern was extremely well-attended, as is usual for the first one after camp. The Cole’s Notes group, of which I was a member of the supporting cast, had a good time doing Cole Porter tunes. The three singers in the combo, Sue McCarthy, Phy Reading and Mary Moore deserve a lot of credit for the hard work they did putting together and rehearsing the program. They, in turn, would credit pianist and faculty member Steve Boudreau, who attended some rehearsals and offered valuable advice.
The October jam, Thursday, Oct. 16, deserves to be equally well-attended. The host band, Glebop is always well-rehearsed and always has an interesting repertoire of jazz standards and originals. Glebop's core members have been together for at least 15 years — John Haysom on trumpet, flugelhorn, valve trombone and perhaps various other brass instruments, Rick Moxley on tenor sax, Bert Waslander on piano, Howard Tweddle on bass and Christian Raquin on drums. They will play at 8 p.m. and the jamming starts about 45 minutes later. See 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.