Jazzworks 2009: Jazz Boot Camp for Adults
Jazzworks' reputation has spread, largely through word of mouth, and has seen participants come from as far away as the Pacific Northwest of the USA, and even an aspiring musician from China. But the majority of the attendees come from the Ottawa-Montreal-Toronto triangle. As great as the camp has been, one of the best byproducts is that musicians who meet at the camp remain playing together throughout the year. "Another thing that happened," says Humenick, "people wanted to keep connected through the year, and so they started having jam sessions, and now they have them once a month and they've a host group who plays the opening set and they provide the rhythm section for the evening, and it's usually a group from the camp."
It's a challenge to organize a program for players with experience ranging from none to plenty, and there's no fixed process, as the demands each year vary with everything from experience to the number of people playing particular instruments. "For some people it's going to be their first experience with anything like jazz," says Geggie. "It's important to have combo rehearsals and enough time to allow people to work on stuff. There's a total of five rehearsals of at least two hours, that start Thursday night and culminate with their performing at the Sunday concert.
l:r: instructor Aldo Mazza, student Elizabeth Munn
"People fill out a questionnaire," Geggie continues, "where they have to self-assess; they also send in demos. Some people, on the questionnaire, say they'd like to play with people they know, or prefer not to play with certain people. So it's based on their suggestions and our interpretation of what their auditions are like. We look at their questionnaires and figure out where we think they should fit. We try to balance it out so that people with like ability will be together in an ensemble. It can be very difficult to do; some years there are many more advanced people, some years there are many more beginning people, it just goes in waves. So once we've figured out combos, we figure out workshops that will help them.
"Over the years we've done different things, like Kevin Barrett's done how to use a PA, how to get a sound; done things like how to pick tunes, how to learn tunes, how to play together. This afternoon there will be a free jazz ensemble; there's a composers' symposiumin three of the combos, the players bring in their own tunes. From one year to the next a faculty member might say, 'I'd like to do a workshop on such-and-such': one year we had a workshop on performance anxiety...as it relates to music, that is [laughs]. This year we have something on how to set up a practice regimen, various people talking about what they do. So it's not only the mechanics; it's also about the aesthetics, so when we have this talk about nerves, for many people it was a revelation that professionals also have issues about nerves, about preparedness, about finding their own voice; things that are a bit more esoteric. So there's a combination of the practical with the aesthetic."
Humenick picks up the conversation: "One of the workshops this morning was about what makes a good tune, and it got very theoretical. They were talking chord structures, and it was really very interesting. Very high level. For those who are already starting to compose, or who have a very good understanding of theory, it was very theoretical. But there was also the element of what makes a good melody, so it was an interesting workshop for those who were at that level."
"This morning we had a workshop for rhythm sections," Geggie continues, "yesterday morning we had master classes for individual instruments, for basses, pianos, drums. So in one room Nick [Fraser] and I were coaching one group, and in another Aldo [Mazza] was coaching another group. You put people together, you say 'Let's play a tune, let's see what happens.' So we can talk about the mechanics of what made it work, why it didn't work, what peoples' roles would be, what are the common pitfalls they may run into like counting off the tune, picking the key or where to accompany each other, what to do during the bass solo, how to figure out the logistics of trading fours. So it's very practical because they're running into these things all weekend.
"It's always a bit of a challenge to come up with a curriculum; keeping it fresh for everybody and also taking the basics into account. It also has to relate to where the overall level of the campers is from one year to the next. [Singer] Julie Michels did a workshop on jam sessions last night, because a lot of the campers had never played at a jam session and they're like deers in the headlights. And so they needed a little coaching on how to approach that."