UBC Summer Music Institute 2011 - The Jazz Bands

It has taken me a while to get around to writing and posting this blog, but here goes.

ubc-summer-logo-2011-small

We recently wrapped up UBC Summer Music Institute #19. It seems like yesterday that my old UBC associate Marty Berinbaum (now retired) began the camp. We’ve had many talented kids go through the program over the years and this year was no different. And, as always, my job was directing jazz ensembles.

Week 1 - Intermediate Jazz Band

The first week I worked with younger students in the intermediate jazz band (big band). This year we had students ranging in age from 12 to 17, with 14 probably being the average age.

Interestingly, the numbers were down this year in the saxophone section (go figure that one!). I ended up with 1 alto (a real mystery), 2 tenors and a bari. There were 4 trumpets, 3 trombones, 1 guitar, 1 bass and 2 drummers (no piano). I also had some junior counselors (senior high school students) helping out and filling in some of the holes in the sections (alto 2 and piano).

As I always like to do, we read through a few charts on Sunday afternoon and again on Monday morning before I decided on a final concert program. The first week of the camp goes very quickly so there is not much time to spend on reading, although I feel strongly that this needs to be done.

Tuesday afternoon was the faculty recital with some of the jazz faculty ending the concert. I played piano, which is something I’ve been pursuing with a little more intensity in the past couple of years. Joining me were Adam Jones (bass), Alex Flock (guitar) and Bernie Arai (drums), who became a dad for the second time the very next day. Congratulations to Bernie!

kenton

Stan Kenton

To help give this years camp a stronger musical focus, we celebrated Stan Kenton’s 100th birthday (December 15, 1911) by listening to a few recordings and reading through some pieces associated with his bands.

Since the music performed by Kenton’s band was beyond the technical capabilities of such young musicians, we worked from my new junior band arrangements of Artistry in Rhythm and Intermission Riff. Also on the concert program were Work In Progress by Gordon Goodwin, Paul Murtha’s arrangement of What Is Hip?, Winter Poem by Sammy Nestico and Michael Sweeney’s arrangement of Mas Que Nada.

The final concert was a great success with the band really peaking on What Is Hip?. It’s great to hear such young players concentrating on the details and still bringing substantial energy and fun to the performance. The Intermediate Jazz Band was then followed by the Intermediate Concert Band, directed by Bryan Knapp, another original UBC Summer Music Institute faculty member. Bryan is a marvelous conductor and he can really get the younger musicians following his every move. To use a little “jazz speak” - “they were very tight.”

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

Week 2 - Senior Jazz Band

Week 2 was with the older students, with a wide range in age, from 14 to 69. And, because the enrollment was up this year for senior jazz, we ended up having 2 bands. My colleague Dennis Esson directed the “other band.”

As a first order of business, Dennis and I had to divide up the students to create 2 big bands of equal ability. To help us recognize the abilities of the students we had them read through two of Sammy Nestico’s great charts - A Little Blues Please and The Blues Doctor. Both charts are relatively easy to play, with just enough reading challenges to help us gauge their skill level and with the flexibility to be opened up for solos. Because we had 8 alto saxophone players, we had them play in pairs and in various combinations. The other instruments switched off, sometimes returning in a different combination. Helping us with this task were my RA (rehearsal assistant) Adam Gough (saxophone) and guitar instructor Alex Flock. After hearing all the students play we chose 2 lead altos, 2 lead trumpets and 2 lead trombones. We then filled in each section making sure to spread out the soloists. We did not want to have any band ranking, no #1 and #2 band.

Dennis’ group ended up with 4 altos, 3 tenors, 1 bari, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, 2 guitars, 1 piano, 2 basses, 1 drummer. My group had 4 altos, 2 tenors, 1 bari, 3 trumpets, 4 trombones, 2 guitars, 1 piano, 2 basses, 2 drummers and 1 mallet player (vibes, marimba with some latin percussion). We were a little lean on trumpets this year, but all 6 six were excellent players topped by 2 very superior lead players. BTW - all the performers dressed in blue shirts in the photos below are councilors who function as camp assistants. Their help contributes greatly to the success of the camp.

Each band then set off to their respective rehearsal spaces to spend the remainder of the first day reading through various charts. Rather than start working right away on the music for the Saturday concert I prefer to read (as does Dennis). By doing this the students become exposed to many more writers than they would in their school bands. This also has the added benefit of helping them work on their reading skills, which can be a serious issue for many high school students. Another benefit is I can really get to know their skill sets, including who likes to solo and how well they might be able to solo. There is no point in choosing repertoire that has solo sections beyond the capabilities of the available soloists.

On Monday and Tuesday mornings Dennis and I worked with our own groups and after lunch we changed places. I felt this was important to all the students and would go a fair ways to help eliminate the inevitable perspective of an A band and B band. We preferred Dennis’ band and Fred’s band, although the office used red and blue.

This year only Monday and Friday afternoons were set aside for 3:00-5:00 recreational activities. The Tuesday rec. period was given over to the faculty concert, which was composed of solo pieces and assorted small ensembles performing an eclectic mix of classical music and jazz. The faculty jazz band was made up of myself at the piano, Adam Jones on bass, Alex Flock on guitar, and stepping in on drums, for an absent Bernie Arai (a new father), was current UBC student Jeremy Lawi. Our front line was Dennis Esson on trombone and Mike Braverman on tenor sax. I had a great time playing with the guys and hearing their great solo work. Mike, as always, set the room on fire with one of his solos.

Wednesday afternoon was set aside for master classes for all instruments. I was in charge of all the rhythm section instruments. Perhaps playing would have been nicer, but we ended up talking about practicing, music education, life and many other things both musical and non-musical. Recreation period on Thursday had sessions for flutes and brass, with the brass session being a mouthpiece manufacturer demonstration and tryout. Most days ended at either 3:00pm or 5:00 pm, but Monday and Friday were long days beginning at 9:00am running until noon, then another 2 hour rehearsal from 1:00-3:00. We would then meet again at 7:00pm and finish at 9:30. Still, I always felt good at the end of each day. The kids were great to work with, both serious and willing.

With my group we read through various charts on the first 3 days of the camp including: Machito (Pete Rugolo), Artistry In Metal (Artistry In Rhythm) (Stan Kenton arr. Fred Stride), Groovemeister (Les Hooper), Artistry in Rhythm (Stan Kenton), Big Dipper (Thad Jones), Time Waits For No One (Sammy Nestico), Street of Dreams (Victor Young arr. Stan Kenton), Chunga’s Revenge (Frank Zappa, arr. Fred Stride), Black Nightgown (Johnny Mandel), Shadrack (McGimsey arr. Bill Holman), Dancing Nightly (Bill Holman), Rompin’ At The Reno (Benny Carter), Riba (Duke Ellington arr. Ron Collier), Bags (Bill Holman), Intermission Riff (Ray Wetzel/Stan Kenton), Blues Express (Shorty Rogers), Michelangelo (Astor Piazzolla arr. Fred Sturm), and Pacific Swing which was composed by our lead trombone player, Jared Richardson.

This group of students turned out to be quite decent in the reading department, which allowed us to plow through all this music. It seemed that most of the kids, in both weeks I might add, loved the reading experience and many of them told me they don’t read very much in their school band and they could feel their reading getting stronger. I think we could have easily read new charts every day. But there is a point when it is better to concentrate on a few pieces and work on conceptual and performance skills.

The final concert at the Chan Centre on Saturday afternoon began with Dennis Esson’s group performing Les Hooper’s The Residual Fire Dance, Ascending by Fred Sturm, my version of Willie Maiden’s A Little Minor Booze, Bill Holman’s Kingfish, Bob Curnow’s beautiful arrangement of Pat Metheny’s Always and Forever, poignantly played by trumpet player Thad Mai and my arrangement of Earth, Wind and Fire’s Runnin’. Dennis’ rehearsal assistant was Cam Golinsky, who also taught trombone lessons and took care of all the jazz ensemble library needs. Thanks Cam! Cam is dressed in the yellow camp shirt seated in the trombone section. My rehearsal assistant Adam Gough filled in on tenor to cover for one of the students who had to leave that same morning.

Thad Mai soloing on Always and Forever

Thad Mai soloing on Always and Forever

Dennis Esson's Jazz Band - aka Blue Band

Dennis Esson's Jazz Band - aka Blue Band

My band followed and we began our set with Ernie Wilkins’ arrangement for the Count Basie band of Moten Swing. I think there are very few greater moments in big band music than that first ff horn figure going into the bridge in the first chorus. Wow!

Ol’ Man River is Bill Holman’s rousing arrangement of Jerome Kern’s classic tune. This chart features several soloists, particularly tenor sax and drums. The drummer on this chart, Miles Wong, was in great form throughout. Holman’s independent writing can be a little disconcerting for younger players that are used to full sectional work or block-type voicings. His approach demands that everyone play with strength and conviction and not to just follow the lead player, not unlike playing Ellington or Mingus.

sierra-radiohead

Steve Owen’s new arrangement of Radiohead’s Kid A was up next. This chart is part of a new series published by Sierra Music Publications of the music of Radiohead.  The students were really into playing this one. Overall the parts aren’t too hard, but the chart does require a skillful drummer and a strong trumpet soloist. Our trumpet soloist was Alex Gambrel, a recent recipient of a Fraser MacPherson Scholarship.

Loco-Motion is my 2009 UBC Summer Institute composition (published by Sierra Music Publications). This is a straight ahead blues chart that can easily be opened up for solos. We did find that it was better to open up the the trumpet solo section, where the rhythm section can be looser and really groove. This chart was directed by my rehearsal assistant, Adam Gough, a current UBC music major and aspiring music educator. I have always tried to create opportunities for students to get their feet wet directing the big band in both rehearsal and performance settings.

Adam Gough directing the Red Jazz Band

Adam Gough directing the Red Jazz Band

My newest UBC Summer Music Institute jazz band piece is It’s Just You And Me. This chart is a slow ensemble outing based on a reharmonization of an old standard. I alternated 4 bar phrases of a rhythm section-less chorale with a Li’l Darlin’ style ensemble melody. Between each 8 bar section I inserted a 4 bar phrase, or interlude, which I had intended the piano to solo over. For our performance I had the vibes take those short solos. The second chorus consists of a 16 bar piano solo with no interludes. The final B and A sections are more alternating chorales and swing feels, but occurring in different places than in the first chorus. I was fairly pleased with this one and it didn’t require too much work from the students. The main focus in rehearsal was tuning, blend and releases. When those things happen the group really becomes a much more mature sounding ensemble.

cuban-fire-2

Johnny Richards’ El Congo Valiente from Cuban Fire concluded our portion of the concert. This arrangement was written by Richards in the early 1960s for high school bands, but it’s still a challenge and closely resembles the original. We had all the necessary percussion on this one and they really added to the performance.

El Congo Valiente

El Congo Valiente

For a “really big band” finale we combined both jazz bands and played Pete Rugolo’s Artistry in Percussion featuring all 3 drummers at 3 different kits. We also had all 4 basses and all 4 guitars playing with both the piano players sharing the bench. This was quite the visual and aural experience, especially the trumpet soli played by 7 trumpets and the 3 drummers.

Massed Senior Jazz Band - Artistry in Percussion

Massed Senior Jazz Band - Artistry in Percussion

The week was very successful and both jazz bands were in excellent form throughout the concert. We were followed by a concert band directed by John Van Deursen, made up of visiting students from Hong Kong and Taiwan as well as some local students. They were followed by the Senior Concert Band directed by my colleague Dr. Robert Taylor (UBC Director of Bands) and Yeh Shu Han a very fine trumpet player and conductor from Taiwan. Like the jazz bands, these groups really played well. It is always a treat to hear all the groups on the final concert.

I’m looking forward to #20.

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Comments are closed.

Categories

Archives