Saturday, June 30:
My first day there. I came early for the Bass & Drum workshop before the week long Jazz workshop. They included guitar this year as well, basically to give rhythm section members a head start. I started the day with the audition, the purpose of which is to place the student in the correct level. Mine was a disaster. I was asked to play a standard blues in F, and I couldn't get through it without stopping to correct mistakes, which were many. After that mess, they placed the chord changes for Autumn Leaves in front of me and asked me to play. Fortunately, I have worked on this song in the past, so I wasn't completely lost. Bill Moring, one of the instructors who listened to my audition, assured me that I played some nice lines, learned from my mistakes and was in the right place.
After that, they divided us into groups. My group consisted of 5 bassists and about 12 guitarists. They put music in front of us and walked us through playing changes. After a couple of hours of that, they brought in a few drummers to play with us. We each took turns playing changes to the songs. We must have played through 10 standards that day. Unfortunately, I don't have a pick up installed on my bass, so I had to play that much harder to try to be loud enough to be heard. I had the makings of a nice blister by the end of the day.
That night, I went to a local club called The Jazz Factory to hear Jim Snidero, Lynn Seaton, Steve Allee and Steve Davis play. The first night of many great nights of jazz.
Sunday, July 1:
After taping my index finger to try to control my blister, it was another half day of playing standards with various drummers and guitarists. After Saturday, I was feeling pretty down. My playing was awful and didn't seem to be getting any better. The instructor was trying his best to help me out, telling me that the rhythm was more important than the notes and that bassists can get away with a good bit, so long as they do it in time. I, on the other hand, was questioning my ability to play jazz and even the upright itself.
After my last bass class, I completed my theory test (another aid in placing me), I had some dinner, did some shopping at the book/music store and went to the theater to hear some more great jazz. They divided various members of the faculty into 3 combos, who played from 7:30 - 10:30. Lynn Seaton did a fantastic bowed solo where he scatted his solo line as he played it. Very reminiscent of Slam Stewert.
Monday, July 2:
This was the first day of our full jazz workshop. The day was scheduled as: breakfast, theory class, ear training class, combo rehearsal, lunch, instrument master class, combo rehearsal, dinner, faculty concert. I was placed in the intermediate theory class, held by Dan Haerle. The first part of Bass Master Class was Rufus Reid and Lynn Seaton performing a duet, after which we were split into our various levels. I was assigned to Bass Lines 101, taught by various members of the faculty.
My combo was made up of two pianists (about my age), two guitarists (one teenager and one older), two sax players (13 and 17) and a drummer (also 17). The drummer was very, very new to jazz and didn't really have a clue of what to do. Fortunately for me, his instructor was Steve Davis, who asked to play a few choruses of "Take the 'A' Train" with me to show him. That was a nice way to start my combo experience. We spent both of our rehearsals just running through various standards, getting a feel for each other. This was the first time I actually felt comfortable with my playing.
The concert was another amazing time. I could tell already that each concert was bound to out-do the previous.
Tuesday & Wednesday July 3-4:
While Monday's theory class was mostly review for me, Tuesday immediately moved into unknown territory. The classes dealt mostly with identifying which scales work best over which chords. We also worked a lot on recognizing ii-V-I progressions in major and minor and how to play over the changes.
Ear training was with Jamey Aebersold himself. We spent time listening to various tunes and while Jamey would show the transcription on an overhead. Then, he would go to the piano and test us on identifying major and minor chords as he played. I used to think I was pretty good at this, but clearly I have some work to do.
For combo, we usually spent each session working on a couple of songs. We played with the arrangement a bit, adding shout choruses and trading fours (band plays 4 bars, drummer plays 4 bars). I could feel myself getting more comfortable with my playing as the days went on. Solos were still giving me fits, but at least I was no longer panicking when it was my turn.
Bass master class dealt mostly with creating bass lines to fit the chord changes. At this point, I had already discovered most of what they were teaching, but it was nice to have the confirmation.
The faculty concerts were amazing. They were all really great players, and some of them would just knock your doors off every time they took the stage:
- Antonio Hart is simply and amazing sax player. He never ceased to amaze.
- Jim Rotondi is a fantastic trumpet player
- Rufus Reid is the definition of cool
- Lynn Seaton constantly made my jaw hit the floor
- Steve Davis uses every inch of a drum kit and never misses a beat
This was the money day. Since Friday was going to be spent preparing for combo performance, this was the last day to get real information. And for me, that moment was when our combo's rhythm section played with a couple members of the faculty. Every day, rhythm and horn sections were selected to play with faculty members, and this was our day. I showed up, nervous and excited, wondering who we'd be playing with, when in walks Antonio Hart and Shelley Yoelin. To my great delight, Antonio worked very closely with the drummer and me, helping us to get a tight sound. He gave me some very good advise on time and rhythm.
In our afternoon combo rehearsal, we voted on our song for the Friday performance: Blue Bossa.
Friday, July 6:
The big day! Bass master class featured three duets performed by students selected earlier in the week followed by an 11 bass blues jam by all of the bass faculty. Our last combo rehearsal was spent working on our Blue Bossa arrangement. We worked out an intro with syncopated rhythms, everyone taking two choruses for their solos except me; I managed to talk myself down to one chorus.
Our performance was scheduled for 2:40, so after lunch I sat and watched some of the other combo performances. A half hour before our performance, I met the rest of the combo back stage. Before I knew it, it was time to go on - no time for nervousness. The drummer and I started the intro, but one of the sax players started right in on the melody. Oh well, the rest of us followed and no one was the wiser. As the song went on, it was interesting to hear the applause between the solos - quite exciting actually. Then it was time for my solo. I had worked out some of it before hand, being sure not to write the whole thing so that I'd be forced to improvise some of it. The chorus was over before I knew it and I started to play the last chorus. Unfortunately, the sax players didn't follow suit. I figured they forgot I was only taking one chorus, so I started soloing some more. Half way through my solo, the sax players caught their mistake and started playing the head - right in the middle of the second chorus. Oh well, the rest of us picked up on it, played the head and finished the song. That's jazz, right?
Despite my early anxiety and depression (not to mention the massive blisters on my fingers), the week was a truly wonderful experience. I think with a lot of work, I might actually be able to do this thing.
Pictures will be posted soon.