Winnipeg's Jazz Magazine


July/August 2010: Hank Jones

Summer Jazz Camp: Serious Fun

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When I was a student, the middle of August was that curious time of summer when I wasn’t quite ready to head back into the grind but I was starting to crave a little more stimulation. The U of M Summer Jazz Camp is set up exactly to satisfy that desire to take on a challenge without giving up the spirit of fun. It’s not quite school—but a whole lot more than play.

A typical day starts with a class on your own instrument. You get to learn alongside other musicians who face the same challenges as you do, and to get some insights from an experienced player about how to handle the particular demands of your instrument. You’ll learn some new techniques, and you’ll get to ask questions and share ideas.

Every day includes an improvisation class with one of the guest faculty. Improvisation is the art at the heart of jazz—it’s on-the-spot composition, and it takes time and practice and a strong knowledge base to become good at it. Learn from the best, then take those ideas into the practice room and shed.

In the middle of the day, all of the students gather for the day’s masterclass. One of the guest faculty gives a talk (usually with a pretty impressive demonstration component!) about some aspect of jazz that pertains to all players. Keeping good time, using the blues scale, Latin rhythms, the art of comping—all sorts of topics have heated up these masterclasses over the past few years. Expect some passion and a whole lot of insight.

In the afternoon, you’ll meet with your own ensemble and work with a coach to prepare a few pieces for the Saturday concert. This is hands-on learning—you’ll be putting into practice the skills you’re gaining from your instrument and improv classes, and getting coached about balance and styling and musicality. Some players will be more experienced and some will be less, but everyone is learning. Attitude is at least as important as skill if you’re going to make music together.

The Summer Jazz Camp also gives you a chance to see what you’re aiming toward. On Monday, come to the Cool Monday Night Hang and hear what the house band does with songs you know—or will want to learn. A hang is basically an open call to join the band, so if you have a piece in your repertoire that you’re confident about playing or singing with others, sign up and give it a try. The audience is supportive, and when the nerves settle down, it’s exhilarating. The Hang is part of Winnipeg’s jazz scene all year around, and a great place to get more informed about both the repertoire and the people who play it in this city.

On Thursday afternoon, you’ll hear the faculty perform the program they’ll be taking down to the Jazz on the Rooftop gig that evening. You can count on an eclectic line-up of tunes in a whole range of styles, and they’ll talk to you about what they’re doing to make them cook. It’s kind of like a guided tour of the inside of a concert. If you’re keen, come on down to the evening concert as well.

The Jazz Studies program at the U of M has been gradually expanding its rank of first-call players, and they’ll be bringing their expertise to this year’s Jazz Camp experience. Steve Kirby is the camp’s director—many people know him as a charismatic bass player and educator. Jimmy Greene, the new saxophone professor, is a soulful player and gifted teacher who moved to Winnipeg last year. George Colligan has been tearing up the piano and organ for the past year, and making waves on the trumpet and drums too. He’s known for his quick wit. Anna-Lisa Kirby, the jazz vocals instructor, has been getting rave reviews for her performances on Winnipeg stages over the past couple of years. Quincy Davis, an extraordinary drummer who is also no slouch as a singer, will be flying in from New York City. Curtis Nowosad, Will Bonness, Richard Gillis, and Janice Finlay expand the team, and are joined by a handful of other professional musicians and band leaders. With a faculty like this, expect to work and play hard!

The U of M Summer Jazz Camp should come with a warning: it’ll get into your blood, and you’ll want to come back, year after year. Lots of high school players are still attending several years later as they cruise through their university training. A few intrepid adults have decided to take the plunge as well—there’s always something to learn in this art form, and the Jazz Camp offers just the right mix of challenge and pleasure.


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