Sunday, January 31, 2010

Who plays jazz?

I was thinking about this as I was reviewing the weekly post. We've got quite a selection of folks coming to the jazz workshop. About half of us are retired from our careers and now have enough time to pursue avocations like playing music. We've had college students, high school students, a divinity student, a nurse, a medical doctor, a psychologist, a hospital administrator, a commercial artist, an artist artist (for lack of a better way of putting that), a bookkeeper, a hotel manager, a college professor, a couple of building painters... it's a wide variety of folks who are interested in playing jazz. We've also had people come through the workshop who have gone on to be professional gigging musicians.

What we don't have is people who are going to harshly criticize you. You might get some tips and advice but you're not going to get yelled at if you flub a note or six. We've all done it (and yours truly continues to do it every so often).

Whatever your reasons for wanting to develop your abilities at playing jazz, come on down and give the workshop a try. You might feel like a fish out of water, as one e-mail inquiry put it to me earlier this week, but that's OK. We've all been there, we know how it feels, and this is an opportunity to get past that awkward phase. Once you're a little bit comfortable with it, jazz is a lot of fun!

Skating in McRae park

For the last jazz workshop of January we had a compact turnout with Gene making a return to the drums and Craig stopping back in to play guitar (Craig has also been playing with the big band workshop at the Nokomis Community Center in Minneapolis). Jazz bands come in all sizes from solos to 40 piece orchestras (and maybe bigger); today we explored the smaller size with a slightly untraditional selection (drums, no bass, two guitars, sax and trumpet). Today's lineup included five instrumentalists and four singers including Craig (guitar), Gene (drums), Wes (tenor sax), Todd (trumpet), Tim (guitar) and vocalists Annie, Paul, Toria and Dick.

The songs du jour included "Blue Bossa," "Blue Moon," "Straight, No Chaser" and "Doxy" concluding the instrumental hour. "Georgia On My Mind" was the transition song and was followed with "Day BBy Day," "Watch What Happens," "My Funny Valentine," "It Had To Be You," "Skylark," "Here's That Rainy Day," "Maybe September," "West Coast Blues," "The Night We Called It A Day," "Stardust," "I don't Know Why," "Eb Blues (a.k.a., "Down Home Blues")," "What Is This Thing Called Love," "Unchain My Heart," "I Remember You" and "For All We Know."

With so few instrumentalists there was no time to take photos, so the folks who were still there at the end posed for me by the drums. In the photos: up top we have Annie and Paul; next is Gene on drums; then we have Wes on tenor sax; and finally the bunch including Wes, Gene, Paul (whose voice matches his stature, by the way) and Annie. Tim was behind the camera and so remains elusive.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Here's That Rainy Day

Jazz in an inexhaustible resource. Even songs that have been played thousands of time can still reveal something new, some different angle, some unexplored possibility. Jazz musicians are alert for these opportunities and adventurous enough to follow them. Just listen to Thelonious Monk play a blues. The purpose of the Jazz Workshop is to let people learn to explore those alleys and byways of the songs, to find the confidence and establish a platform from which to launch and to which to return. I've been there almost every week for two years and can attest that it works.

Turning up on a sloppy, rainy January day to explore the fields of jazz were Ken (drums), Ira (also sax), Todd (trumpet), Steve (trumpet and flugelhorn), Tim (guitar), Tony (bass), Jack (trumpet), Kevin (guitar), Lisa (piano), Candy (viola), Margo (bass), Toria (vocals) and Annie (vocals). A baker's dozen of jazzers!

The songs du jour included "Groovin' High," "Birk's Works," "Heaven," "Have You Met Miss Jones," "Alfie," "East of the Sun," "Mean to Me," "Dear Old Stockholm," "Wave," "Nature Boy," "It Had to be You," "Lover Man," "West Coast Blues," "The Song Is You," "I Thought About You," "My Funny Valentine," "Embraceable You," "How Insensitive" and "Got My Mojo Workin'."

In the photos: Up at the top is Candy playing viola (very nice on "My Funny Valentine"), followed by Todd and Jack on trumpets, then Annie and Ken and finally Kevin's guitar.

And a last note: get well Gene!

Sunday, January 17, 2010


It's hard to write dazzling prose week after week, which is why I don't. I shoot for workmanlike and sometimes get to passable. So, here we go again with another installment of the Jazz Workshop blog. I arrived a bit late and the group was already working through "How Insensitive," so I snapped the photos you see here and got my axe out to jump in.

We started out the instrumental hour with Ira(tenor sax today instead of alto), Steve (trumpet and flugelhorn), Todd (trumpet), Ken (drums), Kevin (guitar) and our youngest participant, Jack (trumpet). Wes (tenor sax) rolled in a few minutes later and then over time were joined by Toria (vocals), Annie (vocals), Dick (vocals), Margo (bass) and Thaddeus (baritone sax). Kevin popped out for a bit to watch his son's basketball game (good priorities there).

The songs du jour included "How Insensitive," "Blue Monk," "My Romance," "Once I Loved," "Jordu,""Autumn Leaves," "I Remember You," "It's Been a Long, Long Time," "The Very Thought of You," "I Cover the Waterfront," "Alfie," "Come Sunday," "By The Time I Get to Phoenix," "Con Alma," "Here's That Rainy Day," "Sugar," "I Should Care," "What Is This Thing Called Love," "Solitude," "I Could Write a Book," "Sandu," "I'll Remember April" and "Just Friends." 23 tunes on a warm (relatively) sunny Saturday afternoon.

In the photos we have (from the top) Ira looking contemplative, most of the lineup during the instrumental hour (Jack, Todd, Kevin, Steve and Ira), Kevin playing what looks like a C7b5, and the view over Ken's shoulder.

So there it is. Next week, it'll be the instrumental hour form noon to 1:00 and then with the vocalists from 1:00 to 3:45.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Every Song Is An Experiment

The thing about jazz, for the musicians and audience alike, is that you never know in advance how the song is going to turn out. There's always improvisation going on from the soloists and the accompanists. It is a fluid art form that is created in the moment. The most rewarding jazz is created right at the intersection of "I know this" and "what the heck is going on?" For about 32 years the jazz workshop has been providing an opportunity for musicians to experience that intersection every week.

Despite the dip in the mercury (hmm, like many of our metaphors that one is outdated- like "taping" music or TV shows- because hardly anyone uses a mercury based thermometer any more) we had 14 lucky folks come out to McRae Park to engage in the experimentation that is jazz.

There were a couple o' newbies today in Paul (vocals) and Lachel (trumpet); a few relatively new folks in Ann (vocals), Todd (trumpet); returning old hands in Sam (trumpet and trumpet-synth), Annie (vocals and workshop coordinator), Steve (trumpet and flugelhorn); and the regulars including Ira (alto sax), Wes (tenor sax), Gene (drums), Kevin (guitar), Margo (bass), Ken (drums) and Tim (guitar). We crowded all these folks and their equipment into the classroom at McRae Park, which is actually an easier room in which to hear than the gym-sized room we're usually in.

Songs for the day included "Gentle Rain," "Don't Get Around Much Any More," "Beautiful Love," "How Insensitive," "Tough Talk" and "Blue Monk" during the instrumental hour. Paul was the first vocalist to arrive and started off with "Fly Me To The Moon," not bothering to use the mike and the PA. From there we played through "Jordu," "All of Me," "Bye Bye Blackbird," "I Should Care," "Wave," "Pick Yourself Up," "Georgia On My Mind," "But Beautiful," "Desafinado," "Dolphin Dance," "Sophisticated Lady," "Don't Go To Strangers," "It Might As Well Be Spring" (wishful thinking there!), "Ain't Misbehavin'," "Satin Doll" and then Sam called "St. Thomas" for the closer. This song has often been the closer although since Sam has been on hiatus with the workshop we don't play it often.

So there you have it, another fun afternoon with the jazz workshop!

In the photos: at the top we have Margo, Ann, Ira and Sam from left to right. Next are Kevin (left) and Steve (right). The third photo is Margo laying down the groove- the relationship between bass and drums is one of the defining things about jazz. And the fourth photo is Sam with his trumpet synth controller.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Auld Lang Jazze

The Jazz Workshop opened its account for 2010- by the way, this is the 32nd year for the Workshop!- in style with 14 musicians braving subzero (Fahrenheit, that is) temperatures. The room was nice and warm with all the tunes, though, so we didn't give a thought about the ice and snow until we were packing up and leaving. Attendees included Steve (trumpet), Sheila (vocals), Gene (drums), Bob (guitar), Annie (vocals), Jonathan (bass and a first-timer), Peter (baritone sax), Candy (viola and vocals), Ira (alto sax), Kevin (guitar), Toria (vocals), Thaddeus (baritone sax), Ken (drums) and Tim (guitar).

As usual we began to gather about noon and started out with a set of instrumentals including "All of Me," "Alone Together," "All The Things You Are," "Stardust," "Blue Bossa" and "Jordu." Sheila led off the vocals with "Dearly Beloved" and the rest of the session included "Pick Yourself Up," "It Could Happen To You," "In Walked Bud," "Autumn In New York," "Blue Room," "I Don't Know Why," "A Foggy Day," "Shiny Stockings," "All Is Love Is Fair," "How High The Moon," "Song for My Father," "Summer Samba," "Got My Mojo Workin'," I Thought About You," "Four" and "This Masquerade."

Lots of laughs, some good playing, a few flubs and a few things learned along the way. That's what happens at the Jazz Workshop.

Next week (1/9/10) we'll be back: 12:00-1:00 for instrumentals and then 1:00-3:45 with the vocalists.

In the photos: at the top are Steve, Peter and Ira from closest to farthest; the middle photo is Toria; and the bottom photo shows jamming in more way than one- it's what happens when you have four musicians and one chart.