se dell’eterne idee

Posted by: Dave Douglas on June 20, 2010 @ 9:17 am
Filed under: Banff Workshop, Dave Douglas (Artist Thoughts)

A few final remarks about the Banff Workshop. Next year there will be another edition of this event, from May 23 to June 11. If you have even the slightest curiosity about this workshop I urge you to apply and join us. Everyone learns from everyone up there. The more creative minds come together, the more we all expand. Here’s the link to the Centre with application process, etc. Banff Centre is also receptive to requests for more specific information, so please write with any questions. All forms of jazz and creative improvised music are welcome.

In the 2010 season there was an in-depth section on collaboratively conducted improvising ensembles. Myra Melford brought a spotlight to that work. Among many other things, Myra led multiple, increasingly detailed sessions on John Zorn’s COBRA. About thirty musicians were involved, and they got really proficient at all the twists and turns in the rules for that piece.

In addition, we were fortunate to have the Italian-Canadian composer and improviser Giorgio Magnanensi on campus. In one of his lectures he showed us the score to this piece:


Manuel Zurria flute/piccolo, Antonio Politano recorders, Claudia Antonelli harp

Giorgio works closely with improvising musicians, sometimes recording their improvisations and using their techniques and sonic ideas in constructing the piece. He says the players are often surprised at the complexity and the level of difficulty of what they played. Many initially see the piece and say it simply is not possible. For that reason, Giorgio also builds a set of instructions so the player can find his or her way back into the sound:


A lot of composers talk about recording, or simply remembering, their own improvisations and then isolating bits to use as a basis for composition. For a classical composer to be so open to the world of improvising performers is rare. Giorgio’s desire to deal quite personally with the language of the musician is one of the things that make his works so surprising and constantly inventive. The pieces are clearly his own works in his own language, but they are also a deep tribute to the voices of the players he is writing for.

On the final day of our workshop, Giorgio led 12 musicians in a performance of his works, including conducted improvisations, for the rest of us. Each ensemble then played for the others in turn: Mary Halvorson’s group (“Mary Had A Little Band”) played her works brilliantly; Ravi Coltrane’s group played their own compositions; Drew Gress’ ensemble learned several of his pieces; David Gilmore’s group nailed a few of his tunes; E.J. Strickland’s group played his twisted (in a good way) arrangement of Lazy Bird. I led two groups that week: one group absolutely killed on some Quintet tunes (Invocation, Earmarks, and, yes, War Room). The other group played Brass Ecstasy music: Orujo, Fats, Spirit Moves, and, amazingly, Bowie. We had a lot of fun.

It was an incredible afternoon of music that brought to a close another inspiring year at the Banff Centre. Thanks so much to everyone up there for providing such a wonderful space. Until soon.

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Transcendent Arguementum

Posted by: Dave Douglas on June 4, 2010 @ 7:01 am
Filed under: Banff Workshop, Dave Douglas (Artist Thoughts)

Darcy gives me a significant promotion in his Banffblogging.

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Parametric Pressure

Posted by: Dave Douglas on June 2, 2010 @ 10:08 am
Filed under: Banff Workshop, Dave Douglas (Artist Thoughts)

Mary Halvorson improvising with super-participants Angela Morris and John Lake.


Mary gave a great class on practicing improvising with intervals — limiting yourself to one interval or set of intervals, and working on coming up with ideas you like using them. Then practicing using only those ideas, with or without the metronome. Also, using those ideas in a group setting in which each player is given a set of musical parameters. These parameters eventually came to include interactive instructions (for example, shadowing, or ignoring, other players) and rhythmic ideas. The crux of her workshop was, for me, the value in working with small bits of information you come up with yourself. That is a unique perspective and not often talked about. Those of you who know Mary’s playing know how well she applies the lessons.

Drew Gress and E.J. Strickland gave a subtle and powerful workshop on rhythm section playing. It’s a hard area to talk about, and it was inspiring to see the honesty they each bring to the interactions within a group. Lots of played examples, including exercises they made up on the spot (seemed like a theme for yesterday), like inserting random subdivisions and odd metered bars into forms in order to practice awareness and interaction.


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Endings and Beginnings: Week Three

Posted by: Dave Douglas on June 1, 2010 @ 8:51 am
Filed under: Banff Workshop, Dave Douglas (Artist Thoughts)

Set List from Saturday Night:

In the first half:
Banff Big Band 2010 directed by Darcy James Argue
Segment from COIN COIN directed by Matana Roberts

In the second half:
Bow River Falls (Douglas)
22 Minutes (Cleaver)
Lighthousekeeping (Bates)
Wichita Lineman (Webb, arr. Monder)
Be Melting Snow (Melford)
Awake Nu (Don Cherry)

Dave Douglas, tpt; Matana Roberts, alto sax and clarinet; Myra Melford, piano; Ben Monder, guitar; Michael Bates, bass; Gerald Cleaver, drums.


Darcy with the big band at The Club on Friday night. A heroic effort by all to quickly learn his music, their own music, and just for kicks one of my pieces.

[It’s tough to get good quality photos of these events, first off because things move so fast up here. But I’ve been taking them with a Flip Video recorder, which is super handy and makes great videos with sound. BUT because the videos are in HD, the files are HUGE. So I’ve been clipping snapshots out of the videos of classes and rehearsals. Anyone have any tips for a fairly, but not totally, tech-savvy musician / documentarian?]

On the documentary side of things, I’ve been recording some conversations with visiting artists that will appear soon on the Subscriber page here. The Centre is also assisting me in making a podcast about the genesis of the music on Spark of Being. Those will also begin appearing soon.

Yesterday Mary Halvorson and Giorgio Magnanensi arrived in the program. The three of us played an improvised set–none of us had ever played together before. Sometimes that makes for the best discoveries, and this one was really a blast. Mary has a really old guitar. Giorgio plays Max MSP and sounds he generated from rewired 1970s toys. Nice blend.

Also this week, Ravi Coltrane is here with his Quartet. They played a powerful set, and talked about instant arranging, cues, beginnings and endings. Here are a couple shots from the master class:


David Gilmore, Drew Gress, Ravi Coltrane. (Note the 2009 photo of Don Byron in the background.)


E.J. Strickland. Just amazing.

In other news, this guy has been nosing around outside my hut:


Pine Martin.

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Rocky Mountain Outlook

Posted by: Dave Douglas on May 28, 2010 @ 7:42 am
Filed under: Banff Workshop, Dave Douglas (Artist Thoughts)

It’s actually snowing hard up here this morning. And this guy wandered into town a few days ago.


h/t Rocky Mountain Outlook.

Darcy has given a few wonderful classes on composition: one in which he dissected one of his pieces, as he has done at his site, and another which discussed pre-compositional work: how to lay out the palate for your ideas and massage the basic elements to generate the full range of possibilities. He is also rehearsing a big band which will perform tonight and tomorrow. He and the band have graciously agreed to play my piece The Presidents.

Michael Bates talked about his own work with composition which, while coinciding with Darcy as far as motivation and practice, resulted in some very different music. Two small groups had rehearsed pieces of his and they performed them in the workshop. Michael demonstrated some remarkably simple and clear ideas for how the groups could improve the impact of their performance. The changes were immediate and visceral.


Composers Workshops have met every Tuesday and Thursday at not very jazzy hour of 8:00 am. Darcy and Michael both committed to being there and brought so much to the exploration of new work. Matana Roberts also began giving remarkable additional workshops in graphic score notation. Perhaps the gold star goes to Myra Melford, who has been leading Cobra sessions going well past midnight.


Making the Phrase

Posted by: Dave Douglas on May 26, 2010 @ 2:19 pm
Filed under: Banff Workshop, Dave Douglas (Artist Thoughts)

Matana Roberts describes COIN COIN and talks about origins and practices. Behind her is a long list of mentors and inspirations.

Earlier in the day, Myra Melford gave a workshop on large ensemble improvising and conducting strategies, describing the work of Butch Morris and Fred Frith. She also led the group through the cueing system of John Zorn’s Cobra, and performed several versions of that piece.

We also had a “faculty” rehearsal with Myra, Matana, Michael Bates, Ben Monder and Gerald Cleaver which was a real joy.


Recommended Tools

Posted by: Dave Douglas on May 25, 2010 @ 7:21 am
Filed under: Banff Workshop, Dave Douglas (Artist Thoughts)

Sorry to steal your title, Donny.

C’est arrive´ — Banffblogging begins chez Darcy James Argue.

The only thing I would add to Darcy’s post is that Ben Monder returned to a perennial theme here: practicing extremely slow tempos. He recommends Ron Fleckner’s metronome app, (link is to developer’s site, contribute if you can) which I immediately downloaded and it is fantastic. It goes as low as 0.1 beats per minute. That’s one click every ten minutes, perhaps not so practical… and you have to turn off the “traditional tempos only” button. But at tempos below 40, like 20, 10, even 5, there’s a lot of fecund subdivision going on. And it seems infinitely flexible for other uses.

Fleckner Metronome

Ben was also talking about working on ear training in groups, playing notes back and forth, trying to reproduce and identify. I was reminded of a tool found at Rick’s Atlanta-basediwasdoingallright. It’s an iPhone app called Play by Ear that, among other things, produces random sets of pitches which you must play back for Guitar Hero style feedback on accuracy.


Other than that, lots of composing going on, composition workshopping, mountain air, birds.

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Banff Day of Rest

Posted by: Dave Douglas on May 23, 2010 @ 2:10 pm
Filed under: Banff Workshop, Dave Douglas (Artist Thoughts)

This Morning.

There’s almost no way of getting caught up on the blog about the workshop going on in Banff. I have had so much joy playing with my fellow co-conspirators here.

This week it seemed that the topic on everyone’s mind was motivic development, generating material, how to work on it, how to make it musical. How to make the most impact with the material you’ve got.

With one brief excursion by Hank Roberts into the intricacies of Bebop Laundry.


Hank talking about grooves and the personalities of intervals.

With apologies for the blurriness of my photos…


Donny McCaslin talking about generating ideas for intervalic practice and how to apply it in a musical context. He also went into how he worked on changing up his rhythm by teaching himself to phrase in unusual groupings of eighth notes. Among many, many other things. It was mind-blowing.


Jeff Parker gave a phenomenal class in which he, among other things, demonstrated how the advent of hard disc recording changed his approach to improvising. He also talked about the importance of Chicago to his own musical identity, describing the music and practice of many of the legendary forces coming out of the AACM. Jeff says that Sun Ra’s “My Brother The Wind 2” is the reason he bought his ring modulator.

Matt Brewer talked about listening to what your fellow musicians are playing, and grabbing onto that as a basis for new melodic permutations. Robert Rodriguez gave a great class on how to broaden vocabulary by taking small motives and rhythmically transforming them.

Between that, and the rehearsals, the studio sessions, and four sets a night in the club, there is quite a bit of music going on. I didn’t mention that the composers workshop decided to meet at 8am because there was no other time. Where else in the world?

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Redrum. Redrum. Redrum.

Posted by: Dave Douglas on May 18, 2010 @ 9:28 am
Filed under: Banff Workshop, Dave Douglas (Artist Thoughts)
Banff Springs Hotel

The Banff Springs Hotel. Rumor has it that The Shining was filmed here. Sadly, it’s not true.

We played my new large ensemble piece yesterday morning. It was fun — it needs some work, but everyone (roughly 60 musicians) got to play, and I told them honestly what changes I would make and got input from them. So I’ll make some edits and we’ll play it again next week.

I gave a short talk on writing, with some assignments, and Clarence talked about professionalism, time management and practicing. He says ever since he had Solato (Little Penn 2.0) he’s been thinking a lot about Time Management.

Did a short set with Hank Roberts, Jeff Parker, Robert Rodriguez, Matt Brewer, Donny and Clarence. These guys did an incredible job on music that was new to them and I feel really lucky that they are here to share their wisdom this week.

Informally showed Spark of Being in the theater. Wow, first time I’ve seen it, very intense. Looking forward to seeing this come out and playing it in shows this fall.

There are two or three elk that have decided that the lawn outside the music building is the place to be. They make a remarkable site, large and scruffy. The main room for music sessions here has a full wall of paneled windows, which makes for an astounding view, but causes occasional distractions when these friends come around. Haven’t been able to capture on camera… yet.

Tunnel Mountain Road

On Tunnel Mountain Road.

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Music in Action

Posted by: Dave Douglas on May 17, 2010 @ 8:28 am
Filed under: Banff Workshop, Dave Douglas (Artist Thoughts)

Today begins three weeks of jazz and creative music at the Banff Centre.

Last night as I wandered around the park-like campus (a little warily as there is a cougar on the prowl), I saw three elk hanging outside the music building. Lots of people were already inside playing. The amount of music that comes out of here is just astounding, and I’ve got a bunch of new things that I can’t wait to dig into. Clarence Penn, Donny McCaslin, Robert Rodriguez, Matt Brewer, Hank Roberts, and Jeff Parker are all here, too.


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