Friday, July 20, 2012

The Shed Day 3

Dan Balmer gave an excellent clinic on the Blues
It's hard for me to believe that it's over, but we have completed our first ever Summer Jazz Camp! By most accounts, it's been a success. I'm hoping to get more feedback in the days and weeks to come, but many students have expressed interest in returning next year, and there were also some suggestions of having more than one "Shed" during the year! That might be a tall order. Nevertheless, I'm interested in expanding a bit next year; perhaps we could do four days, five at the most. It might be nice to have some classes which are more instrument specific, although the idea of working around a controlled set of tunes makes our camp unique. Still, most of the comments seemed to favor our schedule. I got the feeling that the "intensive" aspect was really fitting of our camp compared to other camps; it sounds like other camps in the area allow for much more free time. Our days were packed for almost 12 hours a day with an hour for lunch and an hour for dinner. It didn't feel long at the time, but not that I think about it, I'm exhausted!

Our last day began with another  9 A.M. "Morning Shed", a kind of open practice session led by Darrell Grant. We then split into our combos for two hours of coaching. I worked with an ensemble of mostly beginners. (Another cool thing about the camp is that there was a huge range of abilities, but there was no undue opposition or negative vibes; all levels seemed to coexist pretty well. I certainly tried to encourage everyone to play during the evening jam sessions; the prevailing wisdom was that anyone who wants to play should get up and play. Also, since we had charts for all of the tunes, there was never the lull created by the typical "uhhh, what do YOU want to play? Ah, I don't wanna play that...." type of thing.) We worked on keeping the form on "Footprints". I insisted that when playing in a group, the most important things involve making sure you are playing together. This means rhythm and form. Which means you have to listen! "As a drummer, I don't think about chops of flashy ideas any more," I stated, since I was playing drums with the group for most of the coaching session. " I think about playing WITH the band and making sure my time feel is good for the music." I'm hoping that these beginners will be inspired to continue to grow in the next year, hopefully taking with them some of the concepts they have learned during "The Shed."

David Valdez' clinic on motivic development was brilliant
Our featured guest artist, guitarist Dan Balmer, gave an excellent clinic on playing the blues. "Every night I play with Mel Brown, at some point in the night, he leans over and says, 'Dan, let's play a slow blues in G.' So that's part of my job. I need to be able to play the blues. And the blues is the foundation of all of American music. So you need to learn how to play the blues." He offered some different harmonic options and also scale ideas (including something he called the "Superscale", which is a combination of the Mixolydian scale and the Blues Scale.) The next masterclass was given by alto saxophonist David Valdez on the subject of motivic development in improvisation.(You can check out some of the concepts he discussed here on "The Shed" website.) Valdez' ideas were very conceptual, however, they were also inspirational. Valdez asked me to demonstrate using two contrasting elements in my improvisation over "All The Things You Are"; rushing and dragging. I was a little stumped at first, but once I got the hang of it, I could see how this kind of thought process would enhance the quality of your improvising by leaps and bounds. I think overall, the masterclasses were all a big hit with the students.

I coached another ensemble in the afternoon. This ensemble had worked on "Nica's Dream", and they were feeling pretty confident about it. We also worked on "Red Clay", which was the only tune that no one had played in the camp. I asked them what they would like to play as a group  in the evening jam session, and they insisted on "Nica's Dream." However, in the evening jam session, the preceding group performed a very unique arrangement of "Nica's Dream". So I convinced my group to try "Red Clay," although they hesitated a bit. However, the performance went quite well, and I was happy that we had officially played every tune in our list of twenty tunes. The jam ended with a rousing rendition of Duke Ellington's "Cottontail" which featured pianist Darrell Grant, drummer Alan Jones, and some of the students.

I look forward to another edition of "The Shed" next year. It's a long way away, but I think it's going to be even better next year. At this point, Grant and I agree that it works better on the smaller side; however, I could see something like this expanding a bit over the next five years or so. It seems like it is a very informative and useful endeavor. Let's see what happens.........

I leave you with a surprise jam session featuring Liam Colligan which occurred before the dinner break on day 2.....

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