Archive for July, 2010

UBC Summer Music Institue 2010 - Week 2

The students attending the senior week of the UBC Summer Music Institute ranged from about 14 to 70 years old. For this years senior jazz band, aged 14 to 20, we ended up with 7 saxes, 4 trombones, 5 trumpets, 2 drummers, 3 basses, 2 guitars and 1 piano.

Given that this is a summer camp I tried to have all the kids playing as much as possible. This did mean, as horrible as it sounds, that I had all 3 bass players reading through the charts at once, but with only one of them running through an amp. Both guitar players, each running through his own amp, played at the same time, with the more experienced student playing sustained chords and single note lines while the other played in the Freddy Green style. Multiple drummers always presents a problem. While I’m not big on adding extra percussion, such as shakers and tambourines, on swing tunes, there were a few charts where I had one of the drummers playing congas. For the last 3 days I added a second drum set and 2 more bass amps. To show the students how it can work with multiple drummers I played them some Kenny Clarke-Francy Boland recordings, which featured both drummers, Kenny Clarke and Kenny Clare, playing at the same time. The big thing to avoid when doing this is duplicating the cymbal work. The best combination is for one drummer to play with brushes with no hi hat pedal work and the other as normal.

For the first day and a half I simply handed out charts, reading them down and making comments as we went. Sight reading seems to be a big problem for many high school students and I tried to help them with this essential skill. I feel there are several components to successful reading skills, which I constantly pointed out:

  • Feel the pulse, like it becomes a part of you, or allow the pulse to make you feel like moving, nodding or dancing.
  • Always know where beat one is.
  • Play with confidence. This means to not hide behind soft, inefficient playing. It is always better to play out and loudly step in a hole, or miss read a pitch or rhythm, than to hide and try to follow someone else. Strong confident playing is easier to correct than weak playing.
  • The more reading you do the better you get. I’m sure that if I were to hand out the same charts at the end of the week the students would fair much better.

Besides helping the students learn to play large ensemble jazz I also want them to experience music that they probably do not play in their school program. In addition to the charts we performed we also read through: Lullaby of the Leaves - arranged by Francy Boland, Chunga’s Revenge - arranged by Fred Stride, Sax-Accord - Fred Stride (we had a very nice sax section), Old Man River - arranged by Bill Holman, Michelle - arranged by Chico O’Farrill, Stereoso - Bill Holman, Ring of Fire - Fred Sturm, Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue - Duke Ellington, Waka Jawaka - arranged by Fred Stride, Perdido - arranged by Duke Ellington and Opus In Pastels - Stan Kenton.

For the last 3 days of the camp I had the band playing the Clark Terry/Jimmy Hamilton Perdido Line as an ensemble warmup. This was a great way to get the horn players playing with the proper jazz/swing articulation, as well as helping them learn to play together. I would sometimes have the rhythm section stop and have the horns continue on. It is interesting how a horn section quickly begins to focus as a single unit when you take away their rhythm section crutch.

As the week went on I had the bass players and drummers pick out the charts they might like to play, and we went down to a single bass player and drummer for most charts. For the Saturday afternoon concert I knew I had to do at least 2 charts for each bass player and one with all 3. I also had to do a similar thing with the drummers. Since the guitar players were working very well I left them alone to play together on every tune.

On the last day of the “camp” we were given from 40 to 45 minutes to perform the music we had been working on. Beginning the concert program was a concert band, directed by John Van Deursen, made up of very young students from Taiwan. We followed with our set and the Senior Concert Band directed by my colleague at UBC, Robert Taylor, ended the program. All three groups were excellent.

Here is a rundown of the charts we performed on the final day.

Don’t Get Sassy - Thad Jones; adapted/arranged by Mike Carubia

This is a wonderful simplified version, for young jazz players, of the Thad Jones classic. Like the original, this chart in Bb instead of the original Db, includes some challenging ensemble work. The tutti melody includes broad gestures as well as a little figure that requires the horns to play lightly, almost catlike. The solo section is fairly loose in structure and allowed a fair degree of latitude to include several soloists. While a Bb blues scale can be used throughout the solo section, a couple of our soloists worked on playing through the changes. Keep in mind that the summer institute is not an honour band so for many of the students it is their first foray into more advanced literature and solo work. Some soloists had never played an improvised solo before. For me, given the very short time frame, I prefer to encourage the students to play out, or speak up, be pleased with their playing and to not feel that a good jazz solo is measured by the number of notes per bar or displays of virtuosity.

Dragonwyck - Gene Roland; transcribed/adapted by Fred Stride

I’ve always enjoyed Stan Kenton’s Adventures in Blues recording. The entire disc was written by multi-instrumentalist/composer/arranger Gene Roland, who is also featured on both soprano saxophone and mellophonium. Several of the charts had always seemed like they would adapt easily to younger players. Dragonwyck is one of my favourites so I started with that one. The A sections of the tune are quite simple and are great for the beginner soloist. The bridge however, requires use of the diminished-whole tone scale [aka the altered scale]. I did spend some time explaining this particular scale, to more than a few glassy-eyed students.

Malaguena - Ernesto Lecuona; arranged by Bill Holman; adapted by Fred Stride

I wrote this version of this Stan Kenton/Bill Holman classic, which is down a fourth from the original, in 2003 or 2004. I’ve used it with many ensembles since. The kids love playing this high energy chart. We had strong leads in the trumpets and the trombones, as well as a fine rhythm section, so it seemed like a no- brainer. I also had both drummers playing on this one. Drummer #1 played the part as normal while #2 played with felt mallets during the inro and added cascara-type playing throughout the latin section. The 2nd drummer did not play during the swing section. I also had all 3 bass players playing, except for the swing section where we went down to a single player. Multiple players on a walking bass line is not a good idea.

The Shortest Dissonance Between Two Points - Les Hooper

This one doesn’t seem to be particularly popular, but is, nevertheless, a typically excellent Les Hooper chart. I’ve never played or heard a bad, or even mediocre, Hooper chart. Les is a consistently first rate writer. This chart features bass throughout and so was a natural as a “bass section feature.” All three bass players played on this one, both melody and improvised solos. The horn parts are not hard to play, but do require work with blend, tuning and especially releases.

One Big Happy Family - Les Hooper

I did not intend to feature a Les Hooper set. But as I went looking through my library for a fairly easy-to-play blues, I ended up with this one in my hands. I always like to include something that I can get multiple soloists playing on, especially something that is harmonically straightforward, like a blues. I also wanted something that I could put together quickly and that would be relatively easy for the band, something they could relax on, as many of the other charts were tough on the face and brain. This chart fit the bill perfectly. This also seemed like the perfect choice to have my rehearsal assistant, Adam Gough, get his feet wet directing. He did well and the kids obviously liked him, he has a bright future ahead of him as a music educator. One of the enjoyable experiences during the week was watching one of the kids in band do an impersonation of me helping Adam with his directing.

After Six - Fred Stride

For roughly the past 10 years, of the 18 years the UBC Summer Music Institute has been in existence, I have been writing originals and arrangements for the camp. The main reason is write things that high school students will not have not played before and for me to deal with the challenge of writing with the limitations of your average high school student in mind. This year I thought I would write something in 7/4, not fast, using straight 8ths (latin?) and somewhat modal. I also wanted to have the horns start the piece playing a groove on a single pitch (G), which would become a pedal point against which I could set a melody, then eventually add the rhythm section. The resulting sound for this section of the chart is one of a somewhat busy and rhythmic texture. It then struck me that a contrasting section would be most welcome and should feature a single horn section, possibly voiced, over a simple groove. I then played with these ideas throughout the chart.

Harmonically this piece is quite different from your average high school jazz chart. The first chord that is heard is a C/Ab. These types of chords have quite a dark colour, which appeals to me. With this dark hue happening along with the rhythmic texture I felt the B section should at least start with a lighter, or sunnier, harmony, something from a major key source. I ended up with Fmaj7/G. Of course I’m never one to stay too long in a single harmonic territory, so I made my way back to the darker sounds of the A section, giving the chart an AAB form of 12,12 and 22. To help tie it all together the end of the B section uses the final 6 bars of A.

The solo section, which is not based on A and B, uses a combination of chords from both A and B. I also decided that since these chords are unusual for high school students I should spend a little longer on each one. I also felt I should not use the C/Ab types of chords, that I should restrict myself to using those chords that involve familiar scales and modes, Bb natural minor for the Bbmin7(b6) chord, D dorian for Fmaj7/G, B natural minor for Bmin7(b6) and F lydian for Cmaj7/F.

After Six - Solo changes

After Six - Solo changes

To be honest I didn’t think we would get too far the first time through, but the kids really surprised me, especially the drummer. They got the overall concept of the alternating bars of 4/4 and 3/4 quite quickly which allowed us to work on phrasing and the overall feeling of the piece.

Finally, I’ve never felt that great coming up with titles so After Six seemed convenient as a working title. So, on the last day of the camp I asked the students if they could think of anything better and one of them suggested Before 8, which I thought was quite funny. But, after some discussion they all seemed to agree that After 6 was a good title, as you could read other things into it.

Black Friday - Walter Becker, Donald Fagen; arranged by Fred Sturm

I simply love Fred Sturm’s writing, whether it is for pros or young students. A number of years ago I acquired a disc of Fred’s arrangements of Steely Dan tunes for the HR Big Band in Germany. Black Friday was a perfect vehicle for our 2 guitar players. There is a significant amount of written lines for them to deal with and the solo section is over an E pedal, giving them quite a bit of room for solo work. The first few times we went through the chart both guitarists were playing their favourite rock/blues licks for their solos, but I put a challenge before them of forbidding any such licks and for them to play a little more freely, to go for harmonic colour. They were encouraged to think of E only as a home base and as a place of resolution, not as a chord. They were set free to journey anywhere in their solos and solo exchanges. They were both wonderful and rose to the challenge, of course I let them use their distortion and delay pedals. Another challenge in this excellent chart is the first trumpet part which presents several high F#s and one high G# above high C. It’s amazing, that when a piece of music is this well written, that playing those notes down the octave did not harm the energy level of the chart at all.

For the 18th time I had a great time working with the kids at the summer institute. It was obvious they really wanted to play challenging music in a great band. Pushing them hard and not allowing them to settle for anything less than their absolute best never seems to be a turn off for them. They definitely came through on the final concert. The energy on stage was exhilarating. I’m already looking forward to next year.

For more information about the UBC Summer Music Institute click here

After Six - Score - page 1

After Six - Score - page 1

UBC Summer Music Institute 2010 - Week 1

I just finished up 2 weeks of teaching at the UBC Summer Music Institute which my now retired colleague at UBC, Marty Berinbaum, started 18 years ago. While there have been orchestra, choir and junior string programs over the years, the centerpiece of the camp has always been bands.

The camp is set up for day campers or overnighters. Most of the students are local, with a few coming in from other parts of the province. For the last 8 or 9 years we have had a group of students from Hong Kong and this year we had a large group from Taiwan.

My job at the camp (or “institute” for those wanting to avoid saying “band camp”), has always been working with the jazz students. For the first week I worked with students ranging in age from 12 to about 14 or 15. This years intermediate jazz band consisted of 5 saxophones, 5 trumpets, 3 trombones, 1 guitar, 2 bass players and 3 drummers, with a junior councilor (a senior high school student) in each of the horn sections. I played piano only when it was really necessary. I needed to be free to direct and teach. The philosophy of the summer institute is to help students better their musical and ensemble skills. This is what is foremost in my mind as I work with my students.

On the first day, Sunday, I had the band read through various charts so I could get a feel for what we might be able to play during the week and possibly perform at the Friday afternoon concert. Choosing repertoire is always a tough thing. Showing up for the first rehearsal I have no idea what the students might be able to play. You ask yourself a hundred questions. Can the drummer read? Can anyone read? Can the bass player read chord symbols? Can the first trumpet play above the staff? Can anyone improvise? So, I come prepared with a wide range of styles at varying levels of difficulty.

I like to have the students play as wide a range of repertoire as possible, particularly things they are not likely to play in their own school bands. As I pass out new music I play recordings and tell them a few things about the bands they are hearing and especially about the composers and arrangers. On that point, it’s been interesting over the years to note that many young musicians never look up at the top right hand corner of their part.

We began each day around 8:50 a.m., attendance was taken, decisions were made regarding recreation activities (swimming, playing games, practicing, going home, hanging out at the dorms, etc), then it was right into the music.

The daily rehearsals centered on specific pieces and the usual issues attached to playing ensemble music: reading and interpreting swing rhythms, jazz phrasing, articulations, attacks, releases, sound, falls, bends and balance and anything else that may show up as we play. I also like to spend time helping them learn to tune. The smaller number of students in the jazz band (as opposed to the concert band) allows me the luxury of having the time it takes to talk about this important performance issue. I go through the entire horn section, one player at a time, and deal with the common tuning issues as they occur. The rhythm section gets to take a break (supervised of course). The students learn to try to absorb the sound of the principal pitch source (a piano, which is very difficult, or another horn, which is much easier), to listen and try to hear the same pitch colour in their mind, take a big breath and play out. They then learn to listen for wobbly sound waves or “beats” that might indicate they are out of tune. I also talked about the confusion that can happen during this process, how easily we can become confused. Am I flat or sharp? Equally important is for them to learn to not listen to those around them telling them if they are flat or sharp. They need to learn to trust their own ears. As each student tunes I never tell them if they are sharp or flat, only that they need to make an adjustment (happily, most young players can tell when they don’t match the pitch source). I encourage them to experiment with their tuning and to follow the old adage “when in doubt pull out.” This procedure helps a player clear the air and clear up a confused state of mind. The resulting very flat, and out-of-tune, playing can be quite amusing.

When the students see that most cannot tell the difference between flat and sharp they begin to become comfortable with the process. Any young player can learn to tune properly given patience and confidence and the constant reminder from the director to not accept anything less than in tune playing. This constant reminder gets them to listen and adjust when necessary. This reminder has the added benefit of keeping them involved with the music even when they have a rest. Once a tuning session has ended and they play they start to hear the difference and begin to want to play in tune all the time. They become a little more conscious of their sound. What I have observed over the years is that the students quickly take this issue very seriously and will take it upon themselves to tune before their performances without being asked or for me to even be involved.

The musical portion of each day gave way to the recreational activities at 3:00 p.m., except Tuesday when the faculty performed for the students and their families. This “concert” is always eclectic. The students hear solo flute, opera arias, brass quintet, solo marimba, a jazz quintet and pretty much anything you can think of in between. All of this is crammed into less than an hour and a half.

I neglected to make note of all the charts we read through earlier in the week, but here are the charts I chose for the final concert.

Easy Money - Benny Carter; arranged by Michael Sweeney.

This chart, which I recently learned is out of print, is a great, non-stressful, opener. The main melody, as in the original version for the Basie band, is in unison and octaves and gets everyone playing together right off the bat. This was the line I used to work on the legato-slur combinations jazz players use in their swing phrasing. This is an excellent chart for the young jazz player. I hope it comes back into print.

Manteca - Dizzy Gillespie; arranged by Fred Stride

I wrote this arrangement about 10 years ago. This chart allowed me to have both bass players on the latin groove and shifting to a single player for the swing sections. I was also able to have 2 drum sets going with the 3rd player playing various percussion during the latin sections. While multiple drummers takes more care and attention, it does allow more players to be involved and stop kids from sitting around. After all, this is a summer camp and I want to keep everyone involved as much as possible.

The Minor Goes Muggin’ - Sy Oliver; transcribed/adapted by Fred Stride

I’ve always loved Sy Oliver’s writing. The original version of this chart written for Tommy Dorsey had him playing a solo rendition of the melody. Our version, down a minor 3rd, assigned all the trombones to the melody. For some reason the trombone players liked playing this one.

Watermelon Man - Herbie Hancock; arranged by Mike Kamuf

This is a new arrangement of a classic tune. I heard it in Calgary last February and pickup a copy when I got home. A nice feature in this chart is the horns-alone chorus. This section was fun and forced the students into providing their own inner groove, without the aid of the rhythm section.

Blue Monk - Thelonious Monk; arranged by Michael Sweeney

I always try to put something on every program that is not too hard to play. This is one such chart. The only tricky aspect is the across-the-bar-line triplet figure in the melody. While this sounds a little daunting, it always seems to come together without too much pain. It just requires patience and diligence from the players and the director. I had the students sing the phrase quite a few times, then had them try to play what they heard in their mind, from when they sang the phrase. I realize this is fairly close to Professor Harold Hill’s ”think system” (from The Music Man), but this way of learning helps remove the intellectualizing of the concept and gets them closer to feeling the phrase, which is when the best music is played. This is also a great chart for assigning solos to those that missed out in the other charts, or those that are soloing for the first time.

Do Nothin’ ‘Til You Hear From Me - Duke Ellington; arranged by Sammy Nestico

There are no real solos in this beautiful ballad treatment of this Ellington classic (which started out life as Concerto for Cootie). This chart can be played as either a slow swing ballad or with even quarter notes. I choose the latter this time out. There is a short written piano melody on the bridge of the second chorus which I reassigned to the guitar, who then went on to improvise a beautiful solo.

Chameleon - Herbie Hancock; arranged by Michel Sweeney.

This chart made for an exciting program closer and also allowed me to have both bass players and all 3 drummers play at once. I talked to the drummers about taking care to not duplicate what another drummer was playing, especially any cymbal work. They also moved the lead spot between them, on their own I might add. The lead drummer was the player who played the main groove and ensemble figures. This worked like a charm and seeing 3 drum sets on stage at once is an impressive site.

The band really peaked on the concert. They were concentrating and trying to play everything as they had in rehearsal. Another wonderful Intermediate Jazz Band concert.

For more information about the UBC Summer Music Institute click here

Stan Kenton - 1976

I graduated from the University of British Columbia with a BMus in May 1976 and, typically for most young people just finishing their schooling, I was trying to figure out what to do next. So, at the urging of my dear friend Brian Fairholm we decided, along with another friend, Rodger Owens, to attend the Stan Kenton Jazz Clinic in Sacramento, California. Brian had attended a Kenton Clinic at York University in Toronto the year before and was full of enthusiasm for attending another one.

The clinic was held at the University of California at Sacramento and we were housed in the dorms with the sound of the Kenton ’76 LP seeming to come from of every room. It seemed everyone was into the experience. We then had to audition for placement in one of the many big bands. Tim Hagans, who was about the same age as me, handled my audition.

Besides playing in one of the bands we also took theory and arranging classes. I ended up in the advanced arranging class with Hank Levy (I still have the class handouts). I don’t remember too much, but I do remember Hank as being a very nice person and quite open with his knowledge. I was happy just sitting there, soaking it all in.

At the beginning of the week all the students were encouraged to write something for the Kenton band to play sometime later in the week. I remember the reading day as being a marathon event, with far too many arrangements of Barry Manilow’s I Write The Songs written in the Kenton style. Yikes! A number of other students just wrote a single chord. I guess that was enough for them.

Typically for me (even then), I wrote an epic. It was one of those slow-fast-slow things. I had written a tune just before leaving Vancouver and I wrote the arrangement during the clinic, being inspired by the Kenton band. In the double time section I included space for some solo work by Jeff Uusitalo and Tim Hagans. I remember handing out the parts and Dick Shearer, on noticing Uusitalo’s solo spot, telling me that he could solo as well. Of course he was smiling as he made the comment.

The chart came out fairly well and after I collected my parts and started to leave the stage Stan motioned me over and congratulated me on my chart. I was in heaven.

In front of the stage was a table. I don’t remember everyone that was sitting at the table listening to the student charts but I do remember Bob Curnow. He motioned me over and asked me what I was up to and was I going to school. Little did I know that many years later I would get to know Bob fairly well and that he would publish some of my big band music.

Here is a picture of me conducting the Stan Kenton Orchestra in the summer of 1976. Seated in the chair attentively listening is Stan Kenton with Dave Bardhun playing piano. The saxophones are Terry Layne (alto), Roy Reynolds (tenor) is behind Ramon Lopez (congas) and Alan Yankee is on the end playing baritone. I cannot remember the other visible saxophone player’s name. Gary Hobbs is the drummer and John Worster is playing bass. You can just make out Tim Hagans, Steve Campos, Dave Kennedy and Joe Casano in the trumpet section (I’m standing directly in front of Jay Sollenberger). The tuba/bass trombone player is Doug Purviance and Dick Shearer is just barely visible. I have a cassette of my chart around somewhere.

Fred Stride conducts the Stan Kenton Orchestra

Fred Stride conducts the Stan Kenton Orchestra

On the last day of the week long clinic all the student bands were to perform a few tunes (I remember our program included Jerry Dodgion’s arrangement of Marian McPartland’s Ambiance and Pat William’s Mr Smoke). Well, there were so many bands (20 I think) performing on the final day that the Kenton band never played their final concert. Still, while that was a bit of a disappointment, we did get hear them play quite a bit during the week, especially their rehearsals of the music for their upcoming recording - Journey to Capricorn.

That week was a great experience. I loved every minute of it and it is burned into my memory.

Inspired!

Have you ever gone to a concert knowing you will hear some good music, but then when its over you feel like that you have just had one of the best listening experiences ever? Well, that was my experience last Sunday evening at The Centre in Vancouver for Performing Arts. On the first half of the double bill was drummer Terry Clarke’s trio with Don Thompson (bass) and Phil Dwyer (tenor sax). Both Don and Phil moved over to the piano on occasion, but this was essentially a chord less trio. Terry has long been one of my favourite drummers and I looked forward to hearing his group.

They did not disappoint. Their playing was excellent throughout the set, particularly the bass-less ballad, where Don had moved over to the piano. They ended their portion of the program with an exciting performance of Sonny Rollins’ Freedom Suite. My only quibble was the sound man had added a little much “high end” on the cymbals which tended to detract at times.

After an intermission, which is never much fun in the cramped lobby of the Centre, a new Steinway piano and Chick Corea entered. I’ve seen Corea perform several times over the years, but always with a band of some sort. This time he was on his own.

I had never heard, or at least I don’t remember hearing him, address the audience. He was very casual and funny, sometimes referring to his performance as personal practice time. Well, if that is what it is like to hear him practice…

I could run through all the titles, but I don’t know if that is really necessary. What hit me most was the range of expressiveness he has. His impeccable time and rhythmic sense, his beautiful touch and melodic inventiveness and his impressive harmonic vocabulary.

Besides playing some of his own music, including some wonderful improvisations on some of his Children’s Songs, Chick also played tunes by Thelonious Monk, Duke Ellington and Bill Evans and Alexander Scriabin. Actually I feel a little uncomfortable referring to Scriabin’s piano work as a tune. Anyway, I guess we tend to forget that players, like Corea, who write and play their own music, can also play the classics. But in the case of these standards he did not play straight up versions following the form. In each case he deconstructed the original structurally, melodically and harmonically, breathing some great new life in to them. Of course I never mind hearing yet another version of ‘Round Midnight, or any of the other tunes he played. Corea’s solo piano versions of these very familiar tunes were something else.

At the end of his performance I wanted to run home and practice. I was truly inspired. Sunday, June 27, 2010, will go down in my book as one of those great, memorable concerts I have attended over the years.

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