Jazz: a work in process
The seventh annual Vail Jazz Workshop kicked off Sunday, and the salon is used as a classroom/rehearsal room for the 12 gifted and driven high school jazz musicians attending the program. They study under the tutelage of five jazz gods, Director John Clayton (bass), Jeff Clayton (saxes, woodwinds), Terell Stafford (trumpet), Bill Cunliffe (piano) and Lewis Nash (drums). The caliber of instructors and students has made the workshop one of the leading jazz education programs in the United States.
The instructors are dedicated to perpetuating the art form of jazz. As for the students, they’re certainly not novices, but have been selected through recommendations on their technical aptitude, dedication and ability to absorb new ideas and music. It’s no easy schedule they keep, going from early mornings to late nights, and then going some more. They eat, sleep and breathe jazz during their stay.
The workshop includes group classes and individual lessons. During the group classes all five instructors put the students through their paces. Tuesday they learned the art of improvisation during open solo sections of a piece of music. The drums, bass and piano kept going but stepped down a bit, and one horn at a time sang its song.
“Be in control of the music,” said John to the students. “You can’t let the music be in control of you. Don’t just let anything come out of your horn.”
“Nothing drives me crazy like playing two eighth notes right after each other the same way,” admonished Nash, who then proceeded to sing a few different ways to play a couple of eighth notes, varying the accent each time.
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“Now I want you to rehearse something the professionals do,” said John. “Do the first chorus simple, then go from there. Simple is cool. Mediocre is never cool.”
And the music went on, the young musicians striving to take all the advice given to them. Usually it worked. The students are on the lineup there, baring bits of their souls as they refine their skills. It seemed nerve wracking at times, as the art of jazz improvisation can be an intricate and difficult business. Why do they do it?
“I love the fact that there’s freedom within structure,” said student Katie Pagenkopf, bassist. “You study scales and have these guidelines, but within that you have freedom. Foreign language never worked for me, but I like the idea of communicating in a language other than English.”
Another student, Gerald Clayton, pianist, shared his own composition, teaching it first to his bassist, then his drummer, then the rest of the horns. An ongoing theme of the day was rhythm players (bass, piano, drums) communication and working with the brass (sax, trumpet). They are each responsible for the other.
“Horns, turn around to the rhythm section and only play what they give you,” directed Jeff. “Rhythm section, remember that you need to play something the soloist can play off of.”
“That last trumpet player – he played the same line three times,” said Nash a little later. “He wanted the rapport. He was asking for it.”
In addition to Gerald and Pagenkopf, the workshop attendees include Adam Alesi (drums), Antonio Dell’Aglio (bass), Josh Evans (trumpet), Sullivan Fortner (piano), Chirs Gherman (trumpet), Marcus Gilmore (drums), Aaron Tomas Holbrook (sax), Tremayne Jones (trumpet), Matt Marantz (sax) and Roberto Scharon (sax).
“I like the communicating without talking,” said Alesi. “And the interaction with other musicians. In jazz you can improvise and create your own ideas. You’re not set to what’s written.”
And that’s a fundamental idea for the workshop instructors – jazz isn’t about what’s written down. It is a living entity, taking its shape from the players. Because of this, there is no written music for the kids to work from. They have to commit it to their minds and hearts.
“Until the end of the golden age of jazz, it was communicated only two ways: verbally and orally,” said Cunliffe. “When school’s began to take over, they transformed the music into a more academic form. You had textbooks, theory. That preserves the content but misses the spirit – that you must get from a person, not a book… When you read music you don’t experience it. Jazz isn’t written down, it’s oral.”
The teaching philosophy of the workshop stresses learning by transcribing the performances of the masters in order to understand their techniques. This helps students develop their own technique and voice.
Since 1996, the Vail Jazz Foundation has been organizing the Vail Jazz Workshop in conjunction with the annual Vail Jazz Festival in order to assist in the development of the next generation of jazz musicians. To date, 70 students have participated in the workshop and for the first time ever, this year’s Labor Day Weekend Party will include Brandon Owens, the first alumnus (1997) to return to Vail to perform as a professional with the Monty Alexander Trio.
Each year, workshop students are featured performers, along with their instructors, at the annual Labor Day Weekend Party. Their attendance at the festival not only provides them with multiple performance opportunities but the opportunity to see, hear and interact with the jazz artists who play.
The 2002 Vail Jazz Workshop Scholarship recipients will perform as the Vail Jazz All-Stars at the following times during the eighth annual Vail Jazz Festival:
Today at the Jammin’ Jazz Nights concerts with the Clayton Brothers Quintet, a free concert in Lionshead’s Sun Dial Plaza at 6 p.m.
Saturday, at the Labor Day Weekend Party, Marriott Mountain Resort and Spa Grand Ballroom at 4:15 p.m.
Sunday, at the Labor Day Weekend Party, Marriott Mountain Resort and Spa Grand Ballroom at 4:15 p.m.
For more information, contact the Vail Jazz Foundation at 1-888-VAILJAM (1-888-824-5526) or visit their Web site at http://www.vailjazz.org.
Wren Wertin can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com or phone at 949-0555 ext. 618.