Jazzworks 2009: Jazz Boot Camp for Adults
It's like jazz boot camp, primarily for adults, though this year the age group ranged from 14 to 82. And it's intensewhen the campers and faculty are not directly engaged in workshops, master classes or rehearsals, they seem to be always talking about jazz, even when they're taking a little time for a quick swim in the lake. It's like being on another planet where nothing else but the music matters.
Considering the opportunity for mentorship that's virtually impossible to find in the diminishing club scene these days, the fee for the jazz camp is incredibly reasonable. Campers pay $440 CDN, while those looking for a room with a bed in one of the site's many cabins pay an additional $130 for the three nights. Food is included, and is surprisingly good, considering it's a mass production affair for over 120 people. Tuition fees cover approximately two-thirds of the weekend's actual costs; the rest comes from grants at the municipal, provincial and federal levels, vary from year-to-year, and are heavily dependent on the economy, politics and who feels, at any given time, that it's important to support an effort like Jazzworks. It's no mean feat for Humenick, Geggie, Frayne and McLintock, who work all year on planning the next edition, from looking for grants to last minute calls to potential students in order to ensure, for example, that there are enough drummers for the camp's ensembles.
Spending Saturday afternoon wandering from rehearsal to rehearsal, perhaps most immediately striking was the differing approaches that the faculty took to achieve the same result: getting their ensembles rehearsed and ready to perform. Percussionist Aldo Mazza's approach was loose, as he played a version of "Seven Steps to Heaven" that traversed a number of Latin rhythms. Saxophonist Remi Bolduc, on the other hand, was more like a drill sergeant, albeit one with a terrific, self-effacing sense of humor. Ted Nash had to play mediator, as one member of his combo challenged the time of another; still, it was a direct lesson in the kind of negotiation that is a fundamental part of any working group and was an absolutely relevant experience.
Christine Duncan's Big Jazz Choir
Three afternoon seminars on improvisation took the students, after their individual combo rehearsals, towards dinnertime. With Fraser, Haynes, Martin and Lewis working on free jazz, it was not just an opportunity for the participants to learn how to open their ears and minds, it was an important lesson in one of the fundamentals of any improvising musician: that not playing is as much an active choice as playing is, and that, by making that choice, the musician is still shaping how the improvisation goes, also setting the stage for his/her entry. Webster and Barrett's reharmonization class was remarkable in its ability to make sense to players of all levels, explainingand demonstratingthe concept of back-cycling in ways that gradually became clear to everyone. Duncan's "Big Jazz Choir" was a lesson in cued improv, as the singer gave individual subsets of her 18 member choir individual instructions that ranged from clear melodies to voice as percussion instrument; creating an ebbing and flowing, long-form piece that, like all the classes taking place, also put an emphasis on fun. Whether it was with the beginner group working its way through "Blue Moon" or a more advanced group taking on standards of greater challenge, enjoyment was key; but there was plenty of sweat, and some very promising players amongst this year's 93 students.
Following dinner, more rehearsals found Bolduc teaching the rhythm section of his class the concept of playing behind and on top of time; demonstrating clearly how nervous a rhythm section will sound if everyone is approaching time exactly the same way. He also worked with his two guitarists in the area of accompaniment, encouraging them to exchange military precision for something a little looser, a little less predictable. These were players capable of reading charts, but what Bolduc was aiming to demonstrate was how to take the notes on the written page and bring them to life...and swing. It was another encouraging example of how the faculty addressed various levels of expertise, getting key points across to all.
Faculty Concert l:r: Christine Duncan, Remi Bolduc, Ted Nash, Frank Lozano, Jean Martin, Jim Lewis, Nick Fraser
Each year the Saturday night Faculty Show is one of the most eagerly anticipated parts of the camp. After the late-night performance, a campfire and jam sessions ensue, although some years the concert inspires the students to get up and play; other years it scares them offbut only for the evening, as on Sunday morning it's back to preparing for the afternoon student concert.