Thursday, August 18, 2011

Notes from Summer (NAFME Article #5 for Voice Magazine)


By now you are definitely back into the “Swing” of things and summer is long gone, but hopefully not forgotten.  Reflecting on my fun filled summer,  I thought there might be benefit in sharing my first hand experiences at several summer music events. I realize summer 2012 seems far off, but hope this series of upcoming articles may help you plan for some inspiring opportunities in the year to come. This first installment I want to focus on the great things happening at Centrum Jazz Port Townsend during the last week of July.  The main themes here are:  there’s always more to learn, it’s not too late to take up a new instrument, set a goal and stick to it, go see live music as often as possible and have fun in the process.

As I’ve mentioned in earlier articles I’m trying to learn to play guitar in addition to the rest of my busy life as teacher, Dad, husband, performer (trumpet and voice), etc.  In order to put myself in the hot seat, I decided this year to apply for acceptance to the Centrum Jazz Camp in Port Townsend.  Simply preparing the audition was a huge undertaking!  I took many private lessons and practiced every day.  Sorry to say I don’t learn as fast as I used to.  I got the mp3 files emailed off by the deadline of April 15th and waited to hear back.  In late May I learned I was actually accepted.  So I kept practicing in order to make the most of the week coming up in late July.  

As you know, there are many great camps in Washington that would benefit you and your students.  In future articles I plan to expand on them as well as tell you about my amazing New York Adventure which was another camp type experience that is colorful enough to fill it’s own article.

The Centrum Jazz Workshop in Port Townsend turned out to be a great week of playing and learning.  Although I have dropped in over the years I haven’t truly attended as a student since 1989 when it was the Bud Shank Jazz Workshop.  Not too much has changed actually.  It’s still remarkably beautiful and the vibe among campers is really supportive and warm.  The roster of artists/teachers combined with the location make Centrum a prime choice for a summer camp.  Part of the positive vibe is due in no small part to the sermonettes shared by figurehead John Clayton each afternoon as part of the Faculty Presents concerts. Thanks to John and all of the staff for helping take players where they are and encourage them to stretch.

A great strength of the Centrum Jazz Port Townsend experience is the audition packet and placement system.  Even if you don’t apply, you owe it to your students to look over the audition requirements and recommended listening assignments. A great deal of work goes into placing each player in a similarly skilled small group.  I was placed in a combo of players, many of whom were more advanced than I am currently on guitar.   My combo coach was Dan Balmer who is a fantastic guitarist from the Portland area.  We spent time reading new tunes in each rehearsal and then Dan gave the group the charge to narrow down selections to perform at our performance on Thursdsay in the Wheeler Theater.

This camp is excellent for anyone hoping to get deeper into jazz because there are so many different channels of training. Students have quite a bit of choice as to what they would like to focus on during elective sessions.  Here’s a sample schedule that students follow: 7:45 breakfast, 9:00-10:30 combo rehearsal, 10:30-10:45 break, 10:45-11:45 special options like theory, blues, how to practice patterns, pathways to arranging, ear training and much, much more, 11:45-12:45 lunch, 1:15-2:45 master class (instrument specific), 3-4 combo rehearses again, 4:15 faculty presents concerts with artists like Stefon Harris, Benny Green, George Cables, Terrell Stafford, Jiggs Whigham, Matt Wilson, Jeff Hamilton and many more, 7:00 pm special lessons or jamming, 8:00 optional big band rehearsals.  Sadly, Bill Holman, who was scheduled to be a teacher and presenter could not attend this year.  Special interest to me was a performance by one of my former students who happened to be touring the Northwest.  My family all loved the Yesberger Band as they played a late night show at the Upstage Bistro.

My final performance on guitar at the combo presentation was about what I expected and I’m glad that I took on the challenge. This process helped me to empathize with my students more.  Guitar is a really challenging instrument in many ways.  The goals along the way of preparing the audition and then actually showing up and preparing 4 tunes to play in a concert helped me stay motivated.  I gained a greater understanding of my own gear and how to best use it; things like amps, cords, effects are all new additions from my life as a trumpeter.  Being a student under someone else’s direction helped me to think about how I do things as a director and what I would like to improve on.  One of the main reasons for going was the pressure it would put on me to practice. I find I still need extrinsic motivation to stay focused.  One of the handy “take-aways” for me was the use of the Real Easy Book volume 2.  I plan to buy these and put them to good use next year with my combos at Edmonds-Woodway High School.

In addition my guitar focus, I was also excited to learn more about some other wonderful youth jazz community organizations like BuJazzO (German Federal Youth Jazz Orchestra) and the Monterey Next Generation Jazz Orchestra.  The BuJazzO group is a troupe of 17-24 year musicians that come together for 10 days two times each year to perform and learn from visiting dignitaries. This group is similar to the American Grammy Jazz Band some of you are familiar with.  Jiggs Whigham, who was also involved with this group last time I heard them in 1989, directed BuJazzO. They played at a very high level and were fun to get to know too.

The Monterey Next Generation Jazz Orchestra was a thrill to hear.  They are filled with the best high school aged players from around the US and played a rousing performance on Friday afternoon.  It was cool to hear them open up with a Vern Sielert arrangement of Driftin’ and then proceed to play barnstorming tune after tune.  Dr. Paul Contos directed and even played a great solo on soprano sax with the ensemble.  I recommend sending your students to hear this caliber of playing by checking out some videos on youtube.
The Centrum Camp ends with a splash of big concerts. This year included Paquito D’Rivera and the Bill Holman Big Band and many more in theaters and nightclubs.  We were not able to stay for the weekend in Port Townsend because another great jazz event was taking place in Ellensburg: The Jazz in the Valley Festival.  Of note this year was the release of the John Moawad All-Star Big Band CD.  This album was recorded by an all volunteer group of alumni players. I was proud to be a part of this project led by CWU Jazz Professor Chris Bruya.  The CD, “For You” features CWU alumni and is worth checking out. Highlights include Jim Sisko’s rendition of “Beautiful Love”, Bruce Babad’s soulful “Georgia on My Mind” and Greg Lyons’ take on Maynard’s “Maria”. Proceeds from sales go to the John Moawad Memorial Scholarship fund.

Camp is only one small part of the system for helping develop a thriving jazz program for you and/or your students.  I hope you might consider encouraging your students to get involved in a summer experience to help expand their horizons and get more into the bigger jazz community.  Next time I will tell you about my fabulous New York Adventure attending the Jazz at Lincoln Center Band Director Academy and participating in the National Endowment for the Humanities workshop on Duke Ellington.

Finally, I hope you are enjoying the challenges that fall brought and that you’re all planning to attend the conference this February in Yakima. It’s our Diamond Jubilee and you won’t want to miss it.  Please drop me a note if I can be of help to you in your quest to be more successful with jazz or if you’d just like to say hello. I’d especially like to hear from you if you are holding a festival or camp anytime during the year.  Until February, keep up the great work!