A regular part of the conversation at summer jazz camp is the wish people have that there could be something like this in the off-season, partly a refresher course, partly a recapturing of the camp vibe.
The upcoming JazzWorks workshop, which we’re calling the Ultimate Jazz Combo Workout, is a response to that, a late winter opportunity to play, listen, think about music and learn.
From what I can gather from John Geggie who is organizing it, the workout will have the feel of a jazz camp workshop, but more focussed and with more opportunity for participants to play, since the numbers are small and the session lasts all day.
The day — Saturday, March 23 — should unfold like this: You arrive in the morning along with two or three dozen others. The group is split in half and your half goes into a music room with two faculty members — two of Nancy Walker, Roddy Ellias, Frank Lozano and Sienna Dahlen.
“We don't dive into the playing right away,” says Geggie, “but spend some time getting inside the tunes from a theoretical and harmony point of view (an hour or so). Then mid-morning we start working in groups.”
(If you’re interested in how this sort of thing is done elsewhere, at somewhat greater length, check out pianist George Colligan’s Jazz Truth blog, where he describes, with video illustration, the goings-on at The Shed, a camp he began last year in Portland, Oregon.
Later, you will play. Says Geggie: “The focus is on playing and really getting to know these tunes (ones that are chosen for their longevity and popularity in jazz circles) in an intense hands on environment. Everyone will get the chance to play.”
In your room will be some rhythm section players, some vocalists, some guitarists and horn players and these will be formed into shifting combinations to work on tunes. You will be geting feedback on your work and a suggestions on how to improve it.
Geggie: “It is a like a coached session where people get together to 'shed’ some tunes and get more ideas from the experience.”
Here’s one thing I really like. The tunes — just a few of them — will have been circulated in advance by email. So if you’ve done your homework you’ll know them, probably well enough so that you don’t have to worry about reading notes and chord changes. You can concentrate on playing.
Knowing the tunes and having (presumably) practised them means something else important: it means that you can get a lot out of hearing other people play them. That’s one of the seldom-discussed advantages of standards, either jazz standards or Tin Pan Alley: when you listen to someone else playing them you play along with them in your mind, you think along with them while they’re improvising. When it comes to a particularly challenging part, you’re thinking about what you would play there while you listen to what someone else is playing. Often you hear something you had never thought of, and you can incorporate that into your own playing.
Those thoughts might have to do with harmony, or rhythm or tone or dynamics.
It’s quite a revelation to have played a tune like Beautiful Love hundreds of times, think you know it, and then hear it done by Bill Evans or Tom Harrell or Shirley Horn or McCoy Tyner or Anita O’Day. Or to think you understand how the blues works, and then here Miles play the blues, or Coltrane, or Brad Mehldau, or Woody Shaw, or Roddy Ellias.
So that will be part of the experience, getting really inside a song, doing it at different tempos, different time feels, different moods, perhaps different keys.
There won’t be the pressure of a final concert, but the opportunity to play, unrehearsed with your peers and with faculty looking on should be an incentive to play your best.
You’ll see details about registration elsewhere on the site. There will be more info here soon. It should be good.
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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.