This is the final blog about my time spent as a piano student on the Jazzwise Summer School 27 July - 1 August 2008.
So we've reached the final day and the daily schedule (Theory Class - Jamey's Musicianship Class - Combo - Masterclass - Combo) was revised slightly to allow for a 10-minute performance slot for all 15 or so combos, from 1:30pm. I'm sure I wasn't alone in that my attention today was mostly on mental preparation for the performance. So my questions during the theory and masterclass sessions were geared to getting advice/ideas that would help me with our combo's performance of Duke Ellington/Juan Tizol's 'Caravan' (that's us above). We'd agreed on an arrangement for the intro and 'head', an order for the soloing and a treatment for the ending.
For this piece, I'd learnt that the opening C7b9 chord (sustained for much of the A section) can be found in an F harmonic minor scale (starting on the 5th): C Db E F G Ab Bb. So I'd explored a range of harmonic and melodic shapes which I'd hopefully deploy in some way when comping and when it was my turn to solo. From my days as a pro keyboard player, the old pre-gig nerves returned, like an inevitable though unwanted visit to the dentist's. Fortunately my old pre-gig de-stressing routine also kicked in automatically, with some deep breathing to control my heart rate, which helped me keep my thinking clear and muscles relaxed and in control.
1:30 came and as the first combo bravely kicked off I reflected on how well everyone had done. Without exception, and from whatever instrumental skill level we'd each begun the week, everyone had progressed audibly. Jamey Aebersold's superb curriculum had been a central part of this - and I recommend his playalong books, available from Jazzwise, without exception. We'd all learnt how to develop a creative facility with these scales, way beyond just playing them ascending and descending. We'd learnt how to shape a solo so it tells a story; we'd learnt how to restrict material initially and focus in on thematic development - themes taken from within our own soloing or borrowed from the previous soloist - a kind of musical Chinese whispers.
As it turned out the piano was to be the first solo, straight after the whole combo had played the head. The count-in came and then the drum intro filled the void. Before we knew it the rhythm section was laying down the groove and the famous middle-eastern flavoured melody began. The objective for a jazz musician is to become so familiar with the scalic and harmonic material that using them during a solo is almost a subconscious activity, with well rehearsed fingerings and shapes that may therefore seem to come from elsewhere. Well, like most of us on this course, my subconscious was not yet pulling its weight, still leaving my brain to the donkey work! However, my solo came and I remained in reasonable control, beginning with a phrase based around that wonderfully characteristic augmented interval (Db - E), before building the energy a little. As the B section kicked in, with its extended periods on dom7 chords I remembered some of the exotic alterations I'd learnt and practised this week. So out came my F7#11 chord (from the Lydian dominant scale) - basically the LH can just play A(3rd) and Eb(7th) while the RH plays a G major triad with G (being the 9th), B(#11) and D(13). My soloing was then based mostly around RH arpeggios on the RH chord shape with some occasional passing tones or chromatic notes to help create my musical narrative.
Our frontline players all did superbly but the sense of relief when the applause finally came was palpable!
What a week! My milestones this week:
Yamaha, as a major partner with Jazzwise, had provided some early booking bursaries and concessions as well as some much appreciated Yamaha pianos for use during the course. We do this because we think it is important to help people of all ages learn more about the music that inspires them. Inspiration was in abundance this week and I would personally like to thank Charles Alexander and his staff at Jazzwise, along with the superb faculty of world-class jazz educators from the US and UK. Finally a big thank-you to Jamey Aebersold for his vision in creating some pathways that enable anyone to take their first steps in jazz, at whatever point and age they choose to begin them.
For this participant, it's revived my (lapsed) love of playing the piano and I've found a new musical avenue to explore that I'm sure will give me a lifetime of challenge and reward. For instrumental and class teachers who feel that they have hit a glass ceiling with their own skills in jazz - especially now the new KS3 Music guidance requires style- and instrument-specific skills - I can't recommend this course strongly enough. You'll make some new friends, be totally challenged on a deep personal and musical level and emerge with some new skills and ways to develop them further which will transform your musicianship and teaching. It will also remind you (in case you needed it) why you got into music in the first place. Go on, you deserve it!
written on 29-Aug-2008
A model blog, if I may say so, Bill. Charles Alexander would no doubt love to be able to cite from it. But more importantly, you spell out just how good and useful an experience the best jazz sujmmer school can be. We should indeed seek to persuade more classroom music teachers and instrumenatal tutors to take the plunge!
written on 26-Apr-2009
Alicia Gardener-Trejo says:
Hey Bill, I was playing tenor in your combo group (middle of the horns). Mike (2nd sax from left) found this and sent me the link- I've enjoyed reading through your blogs. It was a great week!
written on 01-May-2009
Thanks for your comment. It was a great week, wasn't it! I'm completely hooked now and and making steady improvements to my playing. How about you?