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Jazz Workshops in the 21st Century, the New Mentorship Process

Posted on: January 17th, 2012 by Dave Douglas 3 Comments

Every time I see a teaching artist talk about music I learn something new. Every time I look at a contemporary book or blog post explaining creative music work I find something I’ve never seen before. Not that I always agree. Yes, agreement about practicing scales and chords and patterns and rhythms is easy. But it’s in the fundamental conception of the creative process and how to address it that things get interesting. That’s where new jazz workshops around the globe are taking the lead in passing on this tradition in a way that used to be covered by working mentorships and touring.

The conversation in these workshops is often about lineage and tradition, about learning vocabulary and repertoire, how to practice, what to practice. And talk usually returns to the most elusive and perennial theme in jazz and creative music: ‘finding your voice.’ You could say the central question here is: How do I teach you to be you?

Young musicians are coming up better educated and more informed, with more opportunities for exposure to music than ever before. More professional artists are involved in workshopping, and you could say meeting artists in that context is slowly replacing the old mentorship model of touring, recording, and graduating to being a bandleader. Like not or not, the industry no longer provides those kinds of jobs in music. Musicians are learning another way.

I recently ran into Dave Liebman on an airplane and he confirmed this. He’s one of the most engaged artist educators out there. Without hesitation he said that the young musicians he encounters are coming up exposed to all kinds of music and modes of playing. And they have the materials to practice. There are more jazz programs at the high school and university level than there ever were, and the programs I’ve seen have evolved into a cross between a conservatory approach, a creative seminar, and some serious training about getting gigs and doing them well enough to make a career path.

A lot this is provided by independent, non curricular workshops around the globe. I have been fortunate to be involved with the workshop at the Banff Centre for the Arts in Banff, Alberta, Canada for the past 10 years. It’s a three week workshop that takes place in May/June at an arts campus situated in the Canadian Rockies. I stepped into the directorship in the shoes of previous directors Kenny Werner, Hugh Fraser, Steve Coleman, Dave Holland, Oscar Peterson, and Phil Nimmons.

What’s so special about the jazz workshops and why are they so important to musicians in a time of entrenchment in the industry?

First of all, and maybe most important, the thought of getting up every day and looking forward to a full day of music. The idea that you are in an environment where everyone else is doing that, too. The music facilities are waiting for you with minimum preparation or fuss. Food will be prepared and served for you close to the approximate moments you will need it. When the weather cooperates it puts the whole experience over the top.

This describes many of the workshops I have been involved in for the past decade or so. At Banff it’s the snow covered peaks. In Sienna the old part of the town and the Duomo at dusk. In Merano the thermal baths and the river. At Stanford the hills. But it’s most of all the music, and the free time to just be involved in music. All day long: practicing, rehearsing, studying, playing, listening, thinking, not thinking.

It’s a gift. And more and more these days, people and organizations are involved in creating and sustaining these workshops. In some ways, it replaces the old apprentice and mentorship system of jazz in clubs and on the circuit. Where else can musicians share knowledge in such an unfettered atmosphere? Where else can they hang out with practitioners and absorb through osmosis? And where else can audiences be exposed to such fresh interactions and discoveries?

Aside from just guidance, young musicians need to be heard, listened to, and encouraged in their own pursuits. After ten years directing the program at Banff I have started to feel like the best thing I can do is listen and learn from the students, stepping in when my own experience has something of value to add. The level of the students improves every year–they come in better informed all the time, a result of the availability of recordings and teaching methods, more music and jazz in the schools, and the encouragement of interactions with professional musicians.

It feels different than it did even 10 years ago. I think workshopping has a lot to do with that. Localism in music is getting both more focused and more inclusive. That is, musicians bring a part of where they are from and express it proudly. At the same time, the local music they grow up with is more and more exposed to current practice worldwide. The Banff Workshop is particularly international in scope, and one of the wonders is seeing Koreans, Australians, North and South Americans, Europeans, Israelis, and more discovering and learning from each others’ tendencies.

In workshops, there tends to be an urgency. Urgency to play, network, perform, and learn. Maybe it’s because there is limited time and everyone will go their separate ways. Sometimes I wonder if it is because there is no degree coming at the end. It’s like, Man if I don’t work on music here, then what the heck am I doing? And teaching artists in this environment let the younger musicians know that they may never find an environment of inquiry like this again in their professional lives.

Maybe the most profound effect is the exposure to a multiplicity of ideas. Diversity in the creative arts is like a spark in a dry tinder pile. Jazz and creative music workshops I’ve been to tend to welcome different viewpoints and because of this the participants are forced to confront their own feelings about a broad spectrum of music. One of my favorite moments in the workshop last year was when Brandon Ross was describing Henry Threadgill’s compositional system and how it influenced his work. Every single student was rapt, following this fairly radical re-imagining of melody and harmony. Within five minutes everyone was shouting and arguing, personally involved in the meaning of the system and its implications. Bright moments!

Teachers and students have to be partners in the enterprise, something that’s more difficult in a curricular atmosphere. Interestingly, St. John’s College, with two campuses in Annapolis and Santa Fe, uses system that makes teachers teach subjects they have to learn as they go. From The Times:

As much of academia fractures into ever more specific disciplines, this tiny college still expects — in fact, requires — its professors to teach almost every subject, leveraging ignorance as much as expertise… as St. John’s president, Chris Nelson (class of 1970), put it with a smile only slightly sadistic: “Every member of the faculty who comes here gets thrown in the deep end. I think the faculty members, if they were cubbyholed into a specialization, they’d think that they know more than they do. That usually is an impediment to learning. Learning is born of ignorance.”

There are no majors; every student takes the same 16 yearlong courses, which generally feature about 15 students discussing Sophocles or Homer, and the professor acting more as catalyst than connoisseur.

To me that sounds a lot like the workshop approach. Inquisitive, open-minded, participatory.

Teaching, especially in jazz, has to be interactive. The communication only works if the relationship goes both ways. Jazz Workshops I have seen encourage that interaction, where both parties are exploring and learning. In a sense, I feel like that is why workshops have become somewhat of a replication of the mentorship process.

In jazz, you are supposed to be you. How am I going to teach you how to be you if you don’t tell me? And who am I to tell you who you are?

The prevalence of these workshops is a good thing for the music, for the community, and for the long range growth of our increasingly international culture.


Banff Workshop application deadline, January 23rd

Posted on: January 17th, 2012 by jim No Comments

Banff International Workshop
in Jazz and Creative Music
Celebrate a decade of director Dave Douglas

Program dates: May 21, 2012 – June 9, 2012
Application deadline: January 23, 2012

Under the leadership of trumpeter/composer Dave Douglas and his hand-picked group of leading jazz faculty, this unique program leaves the rigid academic environment behind, encouraging creativity and facilitating leaps of artistic innovation. Participants benefit from daily master classes, small ensemble rehearsals, and common sessions with some of the world’s most inspiring jazz musicians.

Club and concert performances, recording sessions, and opportunities to workshop new compositions allow artists to further develop original music in a collaborative and supportive environment.

*Financial assistance is available.

Apply today


Banff Workshop: Celebrate a decade of director Dave Douglas

Posted on: November 23rd, 2011 by jim No Comments

As many around the jazz internet saw yesterday, Vijay Iyer has been announced as the successor to Dave as the director of the Banff International Workshop in Jazz and Creative Music starting in 2013. Details on the Banff Workshop for this, Dave’s last year as director, are below.

Banff International Workshop in Jazz and Creative Music
Celebrate a decade of director Dave Douglas

Program dates: May 21, 2012 – June 9, 2012
Application deadline: January 23, 2012

Under the leadership of trumpeter/composer Dave Douglas and his hand-picked group of leading jazz faculty, this unique program leaves the rigid academic environment behind, encouraging creativity and facilitating leaps of artistic innovation. Participants benefit from daily master classes, small ensemble rehearsals, and common sessions with some of the world’s most inspiring jazz musicians.

Club and concert performances, recording sessions, and opportunities to workshop new compositions allow artists to further develop original music in a collaborative and supportive environment.

Apply today


FONT celebrates Kenny Wheeler at Jazz Standard

Posted on: October 5th, 2011 by jim No Comments

The 9th annual Festival of New Trumpet Music celebrates Trumpeter/Composer Kenny Wheeler at the Jazz Standard, October 20 – 23, 2011

THURS, OCT 20: Ingrid Jensen + Brass
featuring Kenny Wheeler

Ingrid Jensen – trumpet, Jonathan Finlayson – trumpet, Tony Kadleck – trumpet, Shelagh Abate – french horn, Elliot Mason – trombone, Jennifer Wharton – tuba, Kevin Hays – piano, Matt Clohesy – bass, Matt Wilson – drums.

$25, 7:30, 9:30 PM


FRI & SAT, OCT 21 + 22: John Hollenbeck Large Ensemble featuring Kenny Wheeler

John Hollenbeck – drums; Shane Endsley, Jon Owens, Tony Kadleck, Nate Wooley – trumpet; Alan Ferber, Jacob Garchik, Mike Christianson, Rob Hudson – trombone; Chris Cheek – tenor saxophone/reeds; Dan Willis – tenor saxophone/winds; Jeremy Viner – alto; Ben Kono – alto saxophone/winds; Bohdan Hilash – baritone saxophone/reeds; Matt Mitchell – piano; Kermit Driscoll – basses; Brad Shepik, guitar; Theo Bleckmann – voice; J.C. Sanford – conductor. Special Featured Guests: Nate Wooley and Shane Endsley, Chris Cheek, Brad Shepik $30, 7:30, 9:30, 11:30 PM


SUNDAY, OCT 23:
Kenny Wheeler Quintet

Kenny Wheeler – trumpet, Jon Irabagon – alto saxophone, Craig Taborn – piano, Dave Holland – bass, Rudy Royston – drums $30, 7:30, 9:30 PM

 


In addition to the events at the Jazz Standard, on Saturday, October 22, from 3-6 PM, Dave Douglas will lead an informal reading session of Kenny Wheeler’s Music at NYU Steinhardt Jazz Studies, located at 75 3rd Ave., (at East 11th St.). All instrumentalists are welcome, trumpeters encouraged. Sheet music will be provided in concert and Bb keys. A rhythm section will be provided, but rhythm players are also welcome to participate. The session will also be attended by trumpeter Nick Smart, director of the jazz program at the Royal Academy of Music, London, UK. This is a free event, however advance registration is required through the festival’s website: www.fontmusic.org.

Dave Douglas and Curtis Macdonald: Q&A & Q&A

Posted on: August 1st, 2011 by jim No Comments

Dave asks Curtis.

DDQ: What do you consider the relationship, if any, between your music for saxophone and bands and your computer-created “from the box” music?

CMA: To me, composing “in the box” is not so different than composing “on the page”. Performance and improvisational considerations must still be taken into account. This proves the need to imagine form; how will it all take shape? In all cases, I trust my ears in the final say-so. If one were to rely on the ears of a computer, the music would sound more like white noise. I feel that “computer-created” music is a misnomer, as it always requires the knowledge and aesthetic of humans in order to generate any worthy output.

As a tangent to that idea, teaching a computer how to improvise is only in some ways possible, as it will always lack intuition. Its biggest strength is how it performs pragmatic routines. Even “interactive” computer-music is limited to if/then functionality. Computers need to be spoon-fed information very clearly with defined variables and parameters. They have a language, yet sometimes language needs to be put aside in order to let the creativity in…

When I’m composing for a band I treat the computer as a tool to model ideas. Metaphorically speaking, I throw a can of paint onto the screen and start brushing by hand, learning and discovering as I go. Once I’m happy with the design, I translate it into notation, bring it before a band and forget that it ever touched a computer – making adjustments as needed.

When I’m composing a piece for film, dance or other non-improvised music, I get very detail oriented in order to yield the most control and variance in the sound. I am also conscious of “default” settings, and have developed a practice of manually adjusting common parameters; i.e. I rarely use a rigid tempo map, and always play with articulation, transients and envelopes to program as much humanistic nuance as possible. This largely relates to the processes of arranging and orchestration at the micro-level.

Both analog & digital mindsets have something in common; the idea of squeezing as much information out of source material as possible.

DDQ: OK, poor choice of words on my part. By “computer-created” I didn’t mean that the computer actually creates the music. What I meant (and you’ve spoken to some of this) was the music that you make in solitude–you and the nonhuman computer–as opposed to music you write out to be played by human musicians. There must be a major divergence between the way you think about what goes on the page for a band and what goes on on the screen in your dance scores and film pieces. To me, the basic difference there is that there is no improvisation in the latter; once the piece is done it is simply performed by the computer or digital device. In the former the information you give to human beings can only be an approximation of the final result. Does this dichotomy affect process for you?

CMA: Yes, the dichotomy is a macro vs micro perspective shift. With performing musicians, I provide macro information (the form, an initial direction) and with performing computers I provide micro information (all the nuance and subtleties). The difference is feel. Composing on a computer with a sense of feel is where one’s musical and emotional experience comes into play.

Additionally, computers are a powerful tool in that you can manipulate and instantly hear back your concoctions. In “Composing Interactive Music” Tom Winkler says a few things along these lines:

“Composers have always used processes to generate large musical structures from simple musical material… Many types of musical processes can be easily represented in software by an algorithm, step-by-step instructions used to accomplish a specific task… This immediacy in generating and manipulating musical materials provides the composer with an interactive laboratory where musical ideas and time-varying compositional processes are quickly realized and refined. The benefit of getting immediate aural feedback from this kind of experimentation cannot be overemphasized. Within this laboratory environment composers can generate scores for acoustic works, create situations for improvisation with other musicians, or compose solo pieces to be played directly from the computer.”

I think it’s similar to how a modern architect creates their plans. A blueprint model is drawn up digitally, taking into account all organic things that exist in our world: environment, building materials, climate, load, etc. It’s then built underneath the direction of an engineer, (the performer in our case). During construction, the engineer may interpret or adjust the plans somewhat, and this may inform the architect of a required amendment or revision in the design.

DDQ: “squeezing as much information out of source material as possible,” I like that idea. But when you deal with live musicians isn’t the process more, well, complex?

CMA: Actually, I feel that the process when working with computers is more complex than working with real, live people. Telling a computer to perform in such a way is a technically complex process, whereas giving a skilled, experienced musician a set of guidelines or source material is rather straightforward. Of course, bringing a band to a level of ensemble where a collective synergy has been developed is a phenomenon of group dynamics, which is either a complex, or simple undertaking depending on how you perceive it. Generally speaking, I find that source material is expanded and developed naturally among musicians, whereas on a computer the development of a source material must be programmed, with added layers of complexity to create the desired results.

DDQ: To shift gears a little, then: Does your work with computers have any effect on the way your write tunes for your band? It’s interesting to hear that the music you create on the computer requires an additional layer of complexity in order to develop. Do you consider that added layer of complexity in thinking about how musicians will respond to your pieces for the band? And what about you as a saxophonist: How does this compositional process affect the way you practice and play?

CMA: I think one of the best things about working with a computer is that you can model ideas that are not yet technically available to you on a instrument. Programming helps me make imagined or theoretical material more concrete and easier to grasp. This way, the computer is a great practice tool – by changing just one variable there is more territory to explore. I first play with an idea digitally to understand the concept and then choose to adopt it in some way into my playing.

Dealing in complex terms on a computer often means working in simple terms for musicians. When I bring music to the band, I have imagined what roles the musicians can fulfill. But when it comes time to play, I forget that the music was ever on a computer and we make it our own. Musicians will always respond to the material in a complex way, it’s in their nature. It only requires grasping the overall arc of the piece, which is something that even as a composer I rediscover each time we play.

Curtis asks Dave.

CMQ: What routines do you put yourself in when you’re deep in composition mode? What tricks, if any do you try when you hit a road-block, or need more material, etc? What editing processes do you exercise?

DDA: First of all I throw out everything that I think I know and try to deal with the material as internally and honestly as I can. But I don’t want to pontificate here. It’s still really difficult.

I’ve always loved this quote from Anthony Braxton and used to keep it over my work table.

“Since coming into academia, I came to understand very early that I would have to build an alternative system to help me, because in academia you’re constantly talking about your music and that’s dangerous. You’re constantly talking about the science of the music in a two-dimensional way. So I started to move the ray of focus in my model into the poetic logics, as a way to not know what I’m doing. Because I’m not interested in a music that’s two-dimensional, that I can talk about as being the “it” of the music. By that I’m saying that I want the undefined component of my music to be on an equal par with the defined component.”

There are not really any tricks because any technique that gets you past a road block is composition.

Last year I asked a group of students in Holland what they do to overcome writer’s block and one of them said, “Drinking!”

He would certainly have a lot of company among composers.

Bottom line, it ain’t easy and it takes a painstaking examination of biases and limitations and a funneling and winnowing of what we want to say.

One of my favorite books about composition is Strunk and White’s Elements of Style. For example, they say:

“Clarity, clarity, clarity. When you become hopelessly mired in a sentence, it is best to start fresh; do not try to fight your way through against terrible odds of syntax. Usually what is wrong is that the construction has become too involved at some point; the sentence needs to be broken apart and replaced by two or more shorter sentences.”

“Muddiness is not merely a disturber of prose, it is also a destroyer of life, of hope: death on the highway caused by a misplaced phrase in a well-intentioned letter, anguish of a traveler expecting to be met at a railroad station and not being met because of a slipshod telegram. Think of the tragedies rooted in ambiguity, and be clear! When you say something, make sure you have said it. The chances of your having said it are only fair.”

Sometimes stepping away from a work to consider all the elements is the only way to make sure we are getting at what needs to be got at.

CMQ: In regards to Braxton’s quote, what do you leave “defined” in the bandstand? What do you leave “undefined”?

DDA: Well if I could answer that it would defeat the purpose, wouldn’t it?

To me, that quotation is powerful because it is a reminder that many of the forces in motion in music are beyond our rational control. Especially when we begin to talk about music, which I believe is important to do, it’s easy to lose sight of the mystery in creation. The unknown quotient is a major element in music whether we like it or not.

So, yes, work hard on your music and defining the contours as much as you can. But also respect the inevitable unknowns at work and leave them a place at the table.

Accept that some of the elements you think have defined may become undefined in the crucible of performance. Accept that some elements you think are mysterious and unknown may become obvious and repeatable after one reading.

CMQ: I love the quote from the Elements of Style. Clarity, space and perspective seem to be somehow inter-connected… Can you talk a little about what you do (or don’t do) to ensure clarity of perspective for composition? For performance? For practice?

DDA: As I’m writing I look at the piece from as many different perspectives as I can. I have used the analogy of a sculptor. Every few cuts you step back and make a three dimensional assessment of the work from various angles.

One perspective would be that of someone asked to perform the piece. One could be an imagined audience member. Another might be an old friend. Or an enemy. A character in a novel. Et cetera.

I love languages, and the analogy of writing something that could be understood regardless of a listener’s experience with languages is another idea. Not that a listener should be absolved of all responsibility to know the language of a work, rather, that as composer/performers we have available a variety of means in the form of traditions and lineages that we can use as languages. It gives us flexibility in reaching out to a listener.

The biggest perspective would be to look at how you are using all the basic musical elements. For me, revisions most often come from an examination on that level.

Clarity is the process by which we reveal our innermost thoughts and re-write our pre-written destiny.

CM: I’m reminded of Charles Mingus’ quote: “In my music, I’m trying to play the truth of what I am. The reason it’s difficult is because I’m changing all the time.”

I like the impermanence of it all, whether it’s on page or improvised, stage or studio, everything is a fleeting moment and the beauty of improvisation is that we can paint a scene from an immense variety of perspectives and experiences. Moments of clarity are truly universal, infectious to the audience and band members alike. That’s why I continue to explore technology – to gain further clarity on musical and ultimately universal concepts. It too works in a universal language, one that can help us grasp ideas and bring them into awareness, which is a key element of my musical practice.

 

 


Help the musicians at Joplin High School

Posted on: June 6th, 2011 by Jim Tuerk No Comments

We received this appeal from Chamber Music America:

We’re all aware of the recent tragedy that devastated Joplin, MO. To find out how CMA might help, we called Cynthia Schwab–our former board member and the founder of Pro Musica, the classical music presenter in Joplin and the surrounding four-state area. Cynthia assured us that she is fine, as is Pro Musica, but told us that among the casualties of the tornado that swept through town was the Joplin High School. All of the school’s musical instruments were lost; none can be salvaged.

CMA members can help by contributing to Chamber Music America and designating the gift for the Joplin High School Instrument Fund. One hundred percent of the funds will go to the school to purchase replacement instruments. We will accept monetary contributions (no instruments, please) until July 15.

Help support the effort by making checks payable to Chamber Music America, and sending to 305 Seventh Ave., New York, NY 10001, or go to the CMA homepage to make a contribution online.


Monday morning pep talk.

Posted on: May 16th, 2011 by Jim Tuerk No Comments

Based on a letter by the artist Sol LeWitt, written to the artist Eva Hesse.


The Sound Of Community

Posted on: December 14th, 2010 by jim No Comments

Setting aside all the CD sales going on everywhere you look and click, if you are thinking of giving to a great cause this year…

Sound Of Community

There’s a great video over there to check out.


Banff: Call for Applications

Posted on: November 18th, 2010 by jim 1 Comment
Banff International Workshop

Banff International Workshop in Jazz and Creative Music
Program dates: May 23, 2011 – June 11, 2011
Application deadline: January 14, 2011

Under the leadership of trumpeter/composer Dave Douglas and his hand-picked group of leading jazz faculty, this unique program leaves the rigid academic environment behind, encouraging creativity and facilitating leaps of artistic innovation. Participants benefit from daily master classes, small ensemble rehearsals, and common sessions with some of the world’s most inspiring jazz musicians. Club and concert performances, recording sessions, and opportunities to workshop new compositions allow artists to further develop original music in a collaborative and supportive environment.

More information ›››


JazzInkBlog: Elements of Style

Posted on: October 19th, 2010 by jim 1 Comment

From elsewhere on the blog-o-sphere, blogger Andrea Canter writes up the Dave Douglas residency at Walker Art Center in Minneapolis at her JazzInkBlog. Reading it made me want to go back to my college days and sit in those classrooms again. Here’s an excerpt…

Douglas proved to be as articulate and down to earth as an educator as he is in his music. He elicited respect and returned it readily. This was serious business but Dave made sure it was relevant and enjoyable. Everyone had a chance to participate, everyone’s work was worthy of evaluation and suggestion. The workshop proceeded from some brainstorming about the components of music composition to trying out simple ideas and variations on paper and then on stage, mostly the Dakota Combo playing out the concepts on the first night, adding groups of other young musicians the second night as students presented their fledgling compositions. For each composition, Douglas identified at least one kernel of creative energy that he turned into a lesson in vivo, a suggestion for expansion, an opportunity to experiment. And always, a reminder that jazz is a collaborative process, that they are composing for improvisers. “Some of your best ideas will come from members of your band,” he said.

By the end of the second night, at least ten student compositions had debuted on stage, often with Douglas right there in the horn section. And keeping up with his students, Dave also brought in a composition in progress, offering self critique and seeking student comments. A theme throughout the workshop was summed early when he told the young composers, “I don’t want to get technical at the expense of emotion.”

Amen.

Plenty more to read over there. Plus a few pictures from the workshops. Thanks for posting, Andrea.


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