Winnipeg's Jazz Magazine

July/August 2013: Jon Gordon

Climbing the Mountain: Jazz Residency in Banff

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I distinctly remember standing outside a practice hut at the Banff Centre on my Grade 12 orchestra trip. Looking up towards the Music and Sound building at the foot of Tunnel Mountain, I declared to myself that one day I would return to Banff to do a longer residency. This year, that particular dream was fulfilled when I attended the 2013 Banff International Workshop in Jazz and Creative Music during May and June. It was a truly life-altering experience and when asked to describe the highlights, I hardly know where to start—the whole three weeks were a highlight.

The Banff Jazz Workshop has been running since 1974, when it was established by Oscar Peterson and Phil Nimmons. It has been directed by a succession of prominent creative musicians since then, including Dave Holland, Steve Coleman, Kenny Werner, Dave Douglas, and as of this year, Vijay Iyer. The workshop has a well-earned reputation and prestige, attracting about 200 applicants of all ages from all around the world, of which 60 are accepted.

The 8-person faculty rotates every week, giving exposure to a wide range of approaches and ideas. Unlike school, there is no set curriculum—our days consisted of rehearsals, masterclasses, and performances stretching from 9am until 2am every day. Exhausting days, but with faculty such as Esperanza Spalding, Ravi Coltrane, Linda Oh, Dafnis Prieto, and Ambrose Akinmusire, always enlightening.

One of my biggest highlights was being able to spend a lot of time with the one and only Esperanza Spalding. Upon arrival, I was thrilled to see that my assigned ensemble was being coached by her for the first week. During our first rehearsal, she asked what we were individually working on, and I told her I was learning how to sing while playing bass—her specialty. The next morning she came into rehearsal with a piece she had written for our group the previous night, featuring… me, playing and singing. Wow.

Among the many other highlights: Ravi Coltrane lecturing on the legacy of his parents, John and Alice Coltrane; cornettist and electronics pioneer Graham Haynes’ discussion on the nature (and non-existence) of time; watching the spectacular aurora borealis at Lake Minnewanka at 3am; Dafnis Prieto demonstrating his ability to play 4 rhythms independently while still holding a conversation; Rajna Swaminathan’s lectures and demonstrations of South Indian Carnatic music; and hiking up Tunnel Mountain at 5am to see the sun rise on the final morning.

Spending three intense weeks discussing and playing jazz and creative music with so many brilliant individuals has changed the way I think about music. I feel a renewed commitment to developing as an artist, remembering the core of what I took away from Banff: be compassionate, be honest, be open, stay curious!

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