Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The Dappled Cat - The Music Place Jazz Summer School 2008

About two weeks ago I once again attended the annual Music Place Jazz Summer School hosted by the kind folk at The Cinnamon Club in Bowdon. It was another exhausting week of scales, arpeggios, triplets, grooves, vibes and mixed emotions. Don't get me wrong, it's a really great week but it can expose the raw side of one's ego when you realise what you (still) can't do, though it's all too easy to forget what you have actually learnt. I have to say I found this year quite a tough one as I wasn't really all that happy with my playing during the week. That's not to say I didn't have a good time and learn a good deal to boot. The evening jam sessions in particular were excellent, being expertly facilitated by Suzanne Higgins.

I had originally made the decision not to attend this year as I went on Mike Walker's fab guitar retreat in Andalucia, Spain. However my other 'arf, Jane has taken up jazz ivory tinkling and decided to do the course this year so I figured I'd go along partly to keep her company. The set up for most days is 'sectionals' in the morning which is based on your instrument, and ensembles in the afternoon roughly grouped by standard. The course tutors this year were Mike Walker (guitar), Iain Dixon (horns), Andy Schofield (horns), Les Chisnall (keys), Caroline Boaden (drums) and Alec Dankworth (bass).

Having been on the summer school before and having had one to one lessons from Mike, I suspected the guitar classes might be going over stuff I'm fairly familiar with but it was a pleasant surprise to find that he took a different tack this year. One thing that's been noticed is that the general standard has improved over the last few years and the bar has definately been raised. In the guitar class everyone had attended the course at least once before so we were able to look at some new areas including the finer subtleties of triplet swing feel. We went into this in quite some detail and it was clear there's a lot to getting this feel spot on. Mike employed the phrase 'Dave the dappled cat' to good effect to help master the timing of the swung '2 and' beat of the charleston groove landing on the word 'cat'.

Some interesting exploration of the melodic minor scale was very welcome too, with it's altered and lydian dominant modes useful over certain applications of dominant chords, and the Hitchcock/Debussy favoured mystical locrian natural two mode. For sure no one was left in any doubt as to how to swing the metronome on the 2 and 4.

There were some great players in my group for the afternoon ensemble sessions. This was good for keeping me on my toes and I was sometimes left for dead if asked to play the melody for a tune. Mike had us running down the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 5th notes of each chord of 'Solar' [I never got his "they say so-la in Liverpool" joke] and I came up with some particularly tasty 'clams' [= very wrong notes] when forced to improvise just using these notes of the scale. It's surprising sometimes how the slightest rearrangement of a scale or arpeggio brings you to a grinding halt. We did a lot of work on swing feel in the ensemble class as well, alternating between playing all of the '1 and a, 2 and a' triplet beats and then dropping playing but still feeling the 'and's to get the quaver swing feel.

The final evening of the week is always the school concert to which family and friends come. A nervous Jane did really well trading eights and fours on an Abdullah Ibrahim tune in Alec Dankworth's ensemble. In the end I think I chickened out a little by choosing to solo on the straightforward blues of 'Thing's Ain't What They Used To Be' a la BB King. Nevertheless it seemed to go down well so I guess it must have come across OK. The rather shattered tutors then sent us home with some mellow renditions of a few standards. Now it's time to practice...

No comments: