Saturday, October 31, 2009

The "Swingin' on a Pumpkin Blues"

Hallowe'en 2009 at McRae Park: Swing and Latin and Bossas, oh my! Despite the holiday festivities pending tonight, 14 of us got together to play some jazz while the frost settled on the pumpkins, the hay got into the barns and the little ones got ready for tricks and treats. Hanging out at the workshop today were Annie and Toria (vocals), Wes and Ira (tenor sax), Peter (bari sax), Owen (high tech accordian with built-in synth controller), Jack and Steve (trumpets), Jeff and Margo (bass), Ken and Gene (drums), Norman (piano) and Tim (guitar). Since we had doubles of drums and basses, the drummers and bassists switched back and forth as the songs went by.

For anybody wondering how the workshop operates, what will happen is that someone will call a song to be played. They also call the style (swing, latin, bossa, etc.) and set the tempo. If the song is called by a singer, they will sing the tune through, then the instrumentalist (s) will solo (usually one chorus, possibly two and for longer forms the one chorus might be split between two soloists). If the song is an instrumental, then whoever called it plays the first solo and then the rest of the players take a solo in turn. The purpose of the workshop is for people to learn to play jazz which means learning songs, tempos, styles and how to improvise. Jazz is a unique art form in that it is a group improvisation- while one player is soloing, the accompanists are also improvising on the accompaniment rather than playing a strict rote form. As the soloist plays, the accompanists shift their playing in anticipation of where the solo is going; and the shifts in the accompaniment may influence where the soloist is going. It's a conversation when it goes well. Jazz is a fluid art and jazz musicians must learn to float and flow with the changes. Most of this is a learning-by-doing experience- you can learn the various theories but you still have to hear it and feel it to get good at it. The Jazz Workshop has existed for more than 30 years to provide exactly that kind of learning experience in a supportive environment.

We didn't play any of Linus's pumpkin carols nor did the Great Pumpkin rise out of the pumpkin patch. Songs we did play included "Little Sunflower," "Smoke Rings," "I Should Care," "Sometime Ago," "Blue Monk," "What Is This Thing Called Love," "Strange Fruit," "It's Been a Long, Long Time," "Sugar," "All Of Me," "Soon It's Gonna Rain," "My Foolish Heart," "Don't Go To Strangers," "Out of Nowhere," "I Thought About You," "Make Someone Happy," "How Deep Is the Ocean," and "Let's Cool One."

Tim took a few photos from the guitar chair and Margo roamed around with the camera to find unique perspectives of the players. From top to bottom we have Annie, the Workshop's coordinator; Ken's hands and drums, and Peter, Ira and Steve from left to right.


"See, all we have to do is transpose from one flat to one sharp and play a whole step up from the melody... on a tune we've never played before. Should be easy."

Saturday, October 24, 2009

"Time After Time" we have fun!

For the first time in what seems like months, we had a bit of sunshine this morning in the Twin Cities. Our cold, rainy, unseasonably nasty weather continues and appears to be set to carry on for yet another week which will put us over a month of amazingly unpleasant autumnality. Sigh. It almost makes one wish for an invasion of alien reptiles from outer space just to break up the monotony. Wait, that's on TV this week with Morena Baccarin as spokeslizard. Who's in charge of the weather, anyway? Is it Paul Douglas? Do we get to blame him for our premature misery? Isn't it bad enough that November is coming- did we really have to have two Novembers this year?

However, music can put a smile on your face in spite of the weather and pending lizard domination and it did again today for the folks to came out to the Jazz Workshop at McRae Park. An even dozen of us got together to work on our chops, learn some songs and have a great time. We started out with a bit more than an hour of instrumentals with Ira (alto sax), Wes (tenor sax), Steve (trumpet and flugelhorn as well as today's photographer), Ken and Gene on drums (with two complete kits set up today), Jeff and Margo on bass, and Tim and Bob on guitar. Our vocalists included Annie (who is the workshop coordinator), Dick, Toria and Sheila. Once again we had a ball today!


Today's set list included "Equinox," "Jordu," "Yardbird Suite," "Au Privave," "Autumn In New York," "Autumn Leaves," "Impressions," "Time After Time," "Strange Fruit," "What Is this Thing Called Love," "I've Never Been In Love Before," "Shadow of Your Smile," "What More Can I Say" (an original by Dick), "Groovin' High," "Early Autumn," "Falling In Love With Love," "B├ęsame Mucho," "Georgia On My Mind," "Nature Boy" and a couple of others I forgot to write down. Suddenly it was ten to four and time to pack up and go.

So there you have it- another fun Saturday afternoon playing jazz. We have some returning old hands most weeks and some new folks most weeks. Maybe you can be one of them sometime! We'll be back at it next week, 10/31/09. Drummers, trumpets and singers, oh my!

In the photos, that's Gene playing drums, Margo playing bass with Jeff behind her, and Ira playing alto sax with Toria and Dick behind him. As noted in a post a week or ten days ago (see below), Ira's Jazz Quartet is playing at the Coffee Grounds in St. Paul tonight.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

But it gets really good 'round noon.

According to the news, the first two weeks of October 2009 were the coldest on record, as well as the snowiest. It's been a reminder of the fact that we live in Minnesota. According to my wife's Scandinavian family, this is what keeps the riffraff out of state. While the temperatures are supposed to go up over the next few days to something approximating seasonal, the Jazz Workshop decided not to wait and heated things up at McRae Park this afternoon. We had a few new attendees today, Ron and Patrick both on guitar, as well as the usual suspects: Dick, Toria and Sheila (vocals), Steve on (trumpet/flugelhorn), Gene and Ken (drums), Owen (accordian), Pete (bari sax), Ira (alto sax), Wes (tenor sax), Tim (guitar) and ________ on trumpet. I've got to do a better job of remembering names.

We played about 22 songs over the course of four hours: "All of Me," "All of You," "Autumn Leaves," "Recordame," "I Should Care," "I'm Back" (an original by Steve), "Recycling Day" (an original by Tim), "What Is This Thing Called Love," "Ornithology," "How High The Moon," "Tune Up," "The Very Thought of You," "'Round Midnight," "I Remember You," "Lullaby of Birdland," "In a Mellow Tone," "Nica's Dream," "Flintstones," "Gone With The Wind," "I could Write a Book," "Stolen Moments," and "Georgia On My Mind" for the closer. I think that's the complete set list. If I might add an unsolicited editorial comment, "'Round Midnight" is- in my opinion, anyway- the pinnacle of jazz composition and it was a thrill to play it today. Chuck Wayne said the same thing about it, so at least I've got company.

Let's see, we need one more photo to close things out. By the way, the top photo is Ken playing drums and the middle photo is the sax lineup of Ira, Pete and Wes from closest to farthest, along with Patrick's left hand and guitar neck. The bottom photo is Owen and Rob.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Upcoming Jazz Gig- Ira's Jazz Quartet

Our regular alto saxophonist's group, Ira's Jazz Quartet, will be playing a gig at The Coffee Grounds in Falcon Heights on Saturday October 24 from 8:00-10:00 PM. No cover.

The Coffee Grounds
1579 Hamline Ave
Falcon Heights MN

The location is on Hamline Avenue south of Larpenteur and north of Como Park. The Coffee Grounds has been a supporter of jazz over the years, having hosted a Monday evening Real Book open jam session for a long time (I don't think that's still on the calendar any more).

If you can, get out to hear Ira's group and support live jazz in the Twin Cities!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Swingin' in a Winter Wonderland

This morning Minneapolis and St. Paul woke up to snow on the ground, a bit early in the season even here. But that didn't cool things down at the Jazz Workshop! The usual suspects got together- Annie (vocals), Sam (trumpet, bass and trumpet synthesizer), Wes (tenor sax), Toria (vocals), Gene (drums), Dick (vocals), Tim (guitar), Ken (drums) and Steve (trumpet and flugelhorn)- to play some jazz and were joined by Owen (our first accordionist), Chip (bass and a former workshop regular) and Ed (piano and vocals). I managed to take one photo, which was of Owen and I'll get it uploaded to the blog in a little while (Edit 10/17/09: And here he is!)

The set list started with the "instrumental hour" including "All Blues," "Sunny Side of the Street," "Little Sunflower," "St. Thomas," and then segueing into the workshop with the vocalists we covered "I Can't Get Started," "Never Been in Love Before," "Yesterdays," "Watch What Happens," "Here's That Rainy Day," "Green Dolphin Street," "Moon Alley," "Gee Baby Ain't I Good to You," "Day By Day," "As the Night Flies," "Ornithology," "At Last," "I Don't Know Why," "Jeannine," "But Beautiful," "Dancing on the Ceiling," and "A Foggy Day."

We had a great time- lots of laughs, some good music and the occasional train wreck. All part of having a jazz workshop. Hope that you can join us next time, which will be Saturday October 17 from 12:00-1:00PM for instrumentals and then 1:00-3:45PM with the vocalists.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Fun in the... clouds?

It was a grey and chilly day in the city on the edge of the plains, rainy cold weather that hung on for a week like Gorilla Glue in nose hair (don't ask, that was a bad day)...

Wait a minute. Jazz blog. Oh yeah.

We had ten intrepid jazzers turn out for the Workshop today. Vocal duties were covered by Annie, Toria and Dick as usual. We also had a new guy- yes, another new guy whose name has escaped me (turns out his name is Ed)- who played piano and sang and original song (called "As The Night Flies"). On drums we had Ken and Gene with Tim on guitar rounding out the rhythm section but, today, no bassist. On the various horns we had Wes (tenor sax), Pete (bari sax) and John (trumpet). This was John's first time with us and Pete and Ken's second times.

We had an awful lot of fun again today. Pete and Ken were both in a groove on the drums, which really helped make up for the lack of a bassist. After a slow start due to chatting while setting up, we got down to playing some songs. That's what it's all about, right? We played "Again," "What Is This Thing Called Love," "Forest Flower," "Recycling Day," "East of the Sun," "This Can't Be Love," Here's That Rainy Day," "This Masquerade," "Nature Boy," "Out of Nowhere," "Nancy," "The More I See You," "I Can't Get Started," "The Night Has a Thousand Eyes" (wasn't that a horror movie? No, that was "The Hills Have Eyes," I guess), and "Work Song." There were several others which I can't remember.

Well, that wraps up the report from La Ville des Lacs for this week. We had a great time and hope that you'll be here next week (10/10/09 from noon to 3:45 or so).