Friday, July 18, 2008

A New Direction (almost) - Courtesy of Miles

My highs a couple of weeks ago living in the bubble of Jazz Camp came crashing down with a healthy dose of reality when I came home. I'm still saddled with limited talent on a difficult instrument trying to play a complex genre that nobody really cares about anymore.

During this whole time I've been reading Miles Davis' autobiography Miles. It just happened that, while I was at jazz camp, he was telling me about his days with Bird and Diz and about recording my favorite Miles album, Kind Of Blue. But Miles didn't stand still. By the time Kind Of Blue came out, he had already moved on to something else. He seemed to have been like that throughout his career.

When I got to the last sections of the book, he was complaining about how everyone wanted him to play "that old shit." But he refused to play it anymore because he felt that everything was said that needed to be said with the music, and that the world had moved on and he did too.

This got me thinking. Yes, I love listening to jazz. This, of course, makes me want to play it. But the reality is that I will never be able to play it at more than a rudimentary level. I just don't have the time available for that kind of intense study. And that's ok. As Miles stated, it's all been said already.

I promised myself some time ago that if I ever started playing again, I would not play music I don't like or don't listen to. So what else do I listen to? Well, my guilty pleasure is hair metal from the 80's, but I don't want to play that. I've done that before. I also love the music of the 70's that always seem so much larger than life: Queen, ELO, Rush. And let's not forget the true rock of the 70's: Led Zep, The Who, AC/DC, Kiss, VH.

So where does that leave me? Well, I ain't quite worked that part out yet. I was thinking it'd be cool to play in a cover band playing music from the bands mentioned above. I don't know that Queen and ELO get touched on much at the local bars, but I could be wrong. But, that doesn't really agree with Miles' philosophy; I'm just trading standards from the 50's for standards from the 70's. The only difference being that I have a connection to the music from the 70's and can actually play it. Maybe it's a combination. Find people with similar tastes, learn some covers together, then start writing our own.

My compass is wobbly, but at least it's moving.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Summer Jazz Workshop 2008

Well, another week at jazz camp is in the bag. And what a week it was...

I was very worried about the audition. I really didn't want to be in bass lines 101 again. I auditioned for John Goldsby and Rich Armandi. All in all, I didn't do too bad. I was quite nervous and could hardly move, and my intonation was awful, but it was still better than last year, so I can't complain.

The weekend
For the weekend rhythm section primer, they divided us up into groups of similar skill level. We had 5 bassists, 4 drummers and about 6 guitarists. We ran through several songs: Impressions, Watermelon Man, Song For My Father, Satin Doll, Maiden Voyage, Cantaloupe Island, Doxy. All of the guitars comped together while the bass and drums traded off every couple of choruses. Rich Armandi was our instructor. He was my primary bass instructor last year. He has a very in your face approach, which hits a lot of people the wrong way (including me). But I remembered everything he told me last year, avoided making those same mistakes again and everything was fine. I had a good time and couldn't wait for the week to continue (which was very different from what I was feeling last year at this point).

Bass Master Classes
I successfully avoided bass lines 101 and was able to pick and choose which master classes I wanted to attend. Monday was an all hands lesson: an introduction to the faculty and a discussion on our role in the combo. Tuesday, I want to a class on jazz bowing techniques given by John Goldsby and Lynn Seaton. They discussed a lot what is covered in John's book on the subject, but it was nice to get it in person. We got to try some of the techniques, too, which helped me on performance day. Wednesday was another all-hands meeting to watch a multi-media presentation on the history of jazz bass. I saw it last year, but it was still fun. Thursday, I went to J. B. Dyas' class on how to learn tunes. I'm anxious to try out some of his pointers. Friday was a summary class when we got to see 3 bass duets performed by students, followed by the faculty playing a blues tune with 11 basses (plus Jamey took a couple of choruses).

This years' combo was an absolute joy. Eight pieces total. Us older folk were outnumbered by the youngsters 5 to 3, but we all got along very well. I was able to connect with the drummer immediately. We played several songs together during the week, including Sonny Rollins' "Pent-up House", Wes Montgomery's "Cariba" and Herbie Hancock's "Maiden Voyage." We also worked on a tune that the trombone player wrote. We tried very hard to make this tune work for our performance, but we just didn't have enough time to work out all the kinks. These young players are really amazing. I wish I had the commitment they have when I was that age. Maybe I'd be making music for a living instead of writing software.

As part of our combo experience, the rhythm section (piano, guitar, bass and drum) got to play with faculty horns. We played with Don Braden and Randy Salman. Don tore up the stage the night before. We played a couple of songs with them and they gave us some very helpful advice on our playing. It was a very positive experience.

Tom Walsh, our instructor, was great to work with. He really took the time to work with each of us on various aspects of our playing. He had the horns doing some really cool stuff. And he was very encouraging and helpful to me with my solos.

After much debate and voting, we settled on "Pent-up House" by Sonny Rollins. I was very happy with this decision, because I personally felt most comfortable with this song. Earlier in the week, I had played a solo which didn't completely make me want to cringe, and it was to this song.

The stage was quite hot and my finger were sticking together, making it difficult to play, but I think we did a good job. We were really tight and I don't think anyone got turned around too much. I was debating what I was going to do for my solo right up until my first bar. I knew the melody and knew that I would incorporate that into the solo, but I wanted to play it with the bow rather than fingers. I had only tried the melody with the bow a couple of times before our performance, so it was a risk, but during the first bar, I found myself reaching for the bow. I'm sure it didn't sound anything like what I heard in my head, but people applauded. The whole thing was over before I knew it, but I think we pulled it off.

Faculty Concerts
The faculty concerts alone are worth the price of admission. These are some great players. James Moody was absolutely fantastic. And to be given the opportunity to was some jazz greats such as Rufus Reid, Lynn Seaton, Anonio Hart, Don Braden, Steve Davis (trombone) , Steve Davis (drums), etc. The list goes on and on. There was a singer, whose name escapes me, who really impressed me. She quite often would act as a soloist, much like a horn player, and never assumed to be the "leader" of the band. Oh, and her voice was lovely.

A great week indeed. I can't wait to go back next year. I bought many books and many more CDs. I got another massive blister on my finger. I met (and played with) some really cool people. I learned a lot.

Please visit my photo album:
Summer Jazz Camp 2008