I spent last weekend at a camp located on a small lake somewhere half way between Ottawa and Montreal. Like most camps there are cabins here and there, spread out among the trees; people making temporary homes in tents of various sizes; there is even a main lodge, as rustic as it needs to be to remind you of where you are.
But what makes this camp out of the ordinary is that in every cabin is a piano and a set of drums. In the tents and rooms are people interested not in fly fishing, or hunting, or canoeing - no, this campsite is filled, in fact overflowing, with people who want to play jazz.
Every year, for the past 18 years, people from all ages - from the youngest teenagers, to those in their 80s - have been coming out to learn, share, sing, talk and play everything jazz. I have been able to join the roster of more than fifteen teachers, spending as much as ten hours a day running ensembles, teaching clinics, participating in improvisation classes, giving private lessons and overseeing jam sessions that go deep into the wee hours.
I have attended three out of the past four years at Jazzworks, which is run by John Geggie, Judy Humenick and Anna Frlan. (I missed last year due to a tour with Wynton Marsalis, recording and performing music for the silent film “Louis”.)
This is a truly soulful, down-home experience. The day starts at 8:00 AM when the over 100 students, teachers and staff meet in the large hall for breakfast. Ensembles begin sharply at 9:00 (or maybe dully for those who had jammed very late the night before). This year I was in charge of one of the “originals combos,” which featured compositions by members of the ensemble. My group, which the musicians affectionately called the Nash Ramblers, met five times over the three-and-a-half days. By Sunday’s concert, our ensemble was burning through it’s 15 minute set. Yeah, not a lot of stage time, but we did have to share the five-hour concert with about fifteen other ensembles.
David Glover, our alto saxophonist (a regular at the camp) wrote the first tune, a very catchy thing based on the changes of Jobim’s Triste - so catchy, in fact, that didn’t stop signing it in my head for about four days after returning to New York, which I did just in time to record a Christmas record with Michel LeGrand - but that’s a subject of perhaps another blog.
The next tune was something our bass player, Alrick Huebener (another Jazzworks regular), was reluctant to bring into the rehearsal. We talked him into into doing so, which was provident, as this simple little groove tune turned out to be certainly one of our hits. Our closer, written by our guitarist Jerry Battista, was a slightly complicated boss nova that also needed a little work to become performance-ready. We came to the consensus that it would be better as a samba, which had our drummer Andrew Price consulting with drum instructors Jean Martin and Nick Fraser for technical advice on how to properly play a samba groove.
Our ensemble was rounded out by the classically-trained trumpet player Laurel Ralston (who at one point casually mentioned she also played flute, which, borrowing mine, she used to great effect on Jerry’s samba); and young pianist Deniz Lim-Sersan, a teenager who really has it together.
This year’s Jazzworks had the highest attendance in it’s 18-year history, which I believe reflects the wonderful dedication of those who run it, and the enthusiasm and open-mindedness of those who attend. A great experience for all who make the trip - students and instructors. I am looking forward to next year.
For more information about Jazzworks: