Wednesday, January 9, 2013

JEN Conference Part II, Electric Boogaloo

I'm safely back in Portland after a whirlwind trip to Atlanta for the Jazz Education Network Conference. Although half of the time I was not in the best physical or mental condition; I flew through the night from PDX, arrived in Atlanta at 6:30 AM with no sleep, couldn't get into my room at the Hyatt until 10 AM, and then really didn't get a chance to nap because I didn't want to miss the conference. ( I think I'm still not 100 percent recovered!)

In a previous post, I compared the JEN conference to the IAJE (International Association of Jazz Educators), and lamented that attending the IAJE always seemed like an overwhelming shmooze-a-thon. Every musician you talk to would always be looking over your shoulder, checking to see if there is someone in the industry who can help you with your career! Well, this was much less of that. I actually had focused conversations with everyone that I saw. It's always nice to see old friends and to make new ones.

It's impossible to go to every event at a convention such as this. They seemed to have 4 or 5 different seminars or performances every hour. You either have to pick one or run around the hotel like a madman to all the different rooms. I didn't get to see as much as I would have liked. I did see enough to be inspired; I think Jazz Education is still alive and well. It was nice to see a lot of young, enthusiastic young players.

In fact, the first thing I heard after I finished my breakfast was the American Music Program, which is a jazz band based in Oregon for middle, high, and some college students. The program is led by Thara Memory, who has received accolades for mentoring jazz star Esperanza Spalding. I heard them play some Duke Ellington and Thad Jones charts; boy, were they swinging! (I found out later that the drummer is only in middle school!) I was impressed not only because they played all of the charts from memory, but also because they somehow had the money for an entire big band to fly from Portland to Atlanta!

I snuck into a few clinics; one was giving by a guy named Matt Falker called "Jazz Piano Voicings for Beginners." Another clinic led by Matthew Pivec was called "It's Not Just Scales and Chords: Equipping Your Beginning Improvisors with Tools of Expression." Pivic demonstrated some easy concepts, taken from the jazz solos of major artists, which beginners could use right away to make creative solos. It's always nice to see other other educators are approaching the teaching of jazz.

Now it was 10 AM, and I was now able to get into my room. Instead of going to sleep, like a normal person, I went down to the Exhibitor's hall to look at merchandise. After spending a great deal of my own money on the trip to Atlanta, I had very little intention of making any purchases. However, it's always fun to browse. I tried a nice Roy Benson pocket trumpet. I stopped by the Chuck Sher booth, and had a nice conversation with both Sher and the great pianist and educator Mark Levine.
Mark Levine

During the two days I was in Atlanta, I saw two really great clinics. One was given by trumpeter and educator Michael Mossman, entitled "Get Your (Ensemble's) Groove On!" Mossman talked about clave, and tips on how to get young rhythm sections to play latin grooves in a more authentic fashion. Drummer Carl Allen gave a wonderful clinic about how important the ride cymbal is to jazz. Allen played recorded examples of different jazz drumming legends( in a sort of blindfold test fashion....I guessed pretty well...) and talked about the subtle differences in their approach to the ride cymbal beat. It was cool to see drumming legend Joe Chambers(who has an AMAZING ride cymbal beat) sitting in on the clinic.

Earl MacDonald, David Valdez, and I gave a panel discussion  called "Blogging With A Purpose." We had a decent turnout, although Dave Liebman was giving a clinic at exactly the same time, so I'm sure that was where most people ended up. However, our presentation went well. In fact, I actually learned much about the technical aspects of blogging from MacDonald and Valdez. Saxophonist and historical expert Loren Schoenberg happened to attend the panel discussion, and he gave me some great feedback.

Antonio Hart
I heard some nice groups; I heard Antonio Hart play with a wonderful student group from Chicago High School of the Arts. I also heard the University of Manitoba faculty ensemble (I used to teach there) which featured bassist Steve Kirby, guitarist Larry Roy, trumpeter Derrick Gardner, saxophonist Craig Bailey, pianist Will Bonness, Quincy Davis on drums, and vocalist Anna-Lisa Kirby. I was extremely impressed with the overall  sound of the band. The U of M band, billed as the Northern Alternative, has the luxury of performing at a jam session(they called it the Wednesday Night Hang when I was there) every week; there is no substitute for this regularity. Furthermore, I was especially enthralled by Will Bonness' virtuosic abilities.

I wish I had gotten to hear more music. I also wish I had gotten to PLAY! (It's quite odd for me to travel somewhere and not touch an instrument of any kind.) I had some nice conversations with friends new and old; I met Bobby Brown, one of my favorite guitar players. We ended up talking about our kids, mostly. And I spoke at length with Davey Yarborough, saxophonist and beloved educator from Washington D.C. ( He was there to accept the John LaPorta Jazz Educator Of The Year Award.)

I had a really great time at JEN. I think it's a welcome replacement to the IAJE Convention. I still think that these things tend to be too expensive, especially when you consider how much flights and hotels cost these days. Still, I think I would go in the future. Hopefully I'll get to play as well as present next time....

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