By all indications, more and more teenage musicians are getting bitten by the jazz bug. They’re pumping Duke Ellington and Thelonious Monk and Avishai Cohen through their earphones. They prowl around YouTube watching musicians at work, then send the links to their friends. They hang out in the band room over lunch to work out new tunes. They explore harmonies and melodies on the piano before they call it quits at night.
How do I know this? Because I live with one, and I have another one standing in the wings.
How do we help our kids step into this demanding art form? After all, there’s just so much to tackle—harmony, history, technique, sensitivity, form, phrasing, nerves, repertoire, wit, stage etiquette…
As Steve Kirby has said a thousand times over, jazz is a language. The only way jazz musicians get more fluent, articulate, and eloquent, is by speaking this language. Working from charts is important—you learn a lot about harmony and structure and ensemble interaction in a band context—but the real richness of jazz rests in the ability of each musician to speak in his or her own voice in an unscripted way. Jazz charts are set up to support original voices saying original things. Improvising is at the heart of this music.
Improvising is both scary and exhilarating. There’s so much to remember—and then you are somehow supposed to let go of all that thinking and just express yourself. It takes a long time and a lot of practice. You start by hearing four-bar phrases and the bass notes that nail them down. You drop in a few notes that you think will fit. Maybe you test drive a motif you’ve heard. Gradually you master the basics.
But if you’re going to converse in this language, you want people who are more accomplished than you to feed you lines, support your efforts, and offer gentle redirection when you get off course. This is where Winnipeg’s newest jam session, Live at Massey Hall, comes in.
The brainchild of Bill Kristjanson—one of Winnipeg’s jazz heroes—Live at Massey Hall is an open jam session directed particularly toward high school musicians, but welcoming of musicians at all levels. Every couple of weeks, the band room at Vincent Massey opens its doors for a laid-back evening of music-making. With a dozen or so tunes on the set list, everyone gets together to work and to play. In that safe environment, our young musicians find their courage, focus their enthusiasm, and make their first forays into speaking this new language.
Already young musicians are coming to Fort Garry from all over the city. University students and pros are dropping in to join them. The fact that they’re all able to connect musically across differences in neighborhood and ability and age says a lot about the ongoing health of our community.
There’s still three gatherings before the summer break. Why not drop in and hear our next generation of local talent?