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:
A couple great nights at the Kitano. It was one of those gigs you hate to see come to an end. What a great reunion with my Jazz Composers Collective colleague, trumpet player Ron Horton. I think the last time we played together was a year and half or so ago with the inventive mini big band he co-leads with drummer Tim Horner. Playing with Ron is like putting on a favorite glove - a perfect fit.
Paul Sikivie on bass and Ulysses Owens on drums were swinging, always listening, and willing to stretch.
The gig was called “Inspired by Ornette,” and was less a tribute and more an expression of respect and inspiration for this iconic alto player's music. Although we did touch on some of Ornette’s originals, we played mostly music written by myself, as well as compositions by Frank Kimbrough and Sherman Irby. Several pieces I wrote for a film by Douglas Chang, in which I play a character loosely based on Ornette. The film is called “Chaography: Variations on the Theme of Freedom,” and will be in production for a while.
In anticipation of this gig at The Kitano, I wrote a couple new pieces. We had a rehearsal a couple days before, and just as we were finishing I realized I had completely forgotten to bring the new music, so we ended up basically sight-reading them on the bandstand. In retrospect, it was probably fortunate it happened this way, because we didn’t have a chance to preconceive any ideas as to form, solos, endings, etc., and it heightened our awareness, putting us on edge, in the most positive sense.
I plan to record this music soon for a release sometime in the spring, so look out!
A man contacted me the other day to sell me a bass clarinet. It might seem strange that someone would contact you out of the blue to sell you something. Well, that’s not actually true: my spam folder is filled with junk about pills that help people achieve something they want to achieve very passionately. But a bass clarinet is not a common item for a sales pitch.
But this sales pitch was different. The bass clarinet in question belonged to my uncle, Ted Nash, who passed away three months ago, and the man selling it was Les Rose, a musician who used to do recording work in the Los Angeles. Les bought this bass clarinet, a vintage Selmer low E-flat (a rather coveted instrument these days) from another studio musician who played the Merv Griffin show with my uncle.
Now, I wasn’t particularly in the market for a bass clarinet, not even the coveted vintage Selmer, Low E-flat. In fact, my other bass clarinet is an even MORE vintage Selmer, Low E-flat, with a converted double-octave key mechanism, that had belonged to the late Wilbur Schwartz, saxophonist/clarinetist with the Glenn Miller orchestra during the late 30s and early 40s. He also was the alto saxophonist on the famous “My Three Sons” TV series theme (no, it wasn’t Fred Macmurray).
Anyway, in the market or not, how can you say not to your Uncle Ted’s coveted Selmer, low E-flat bass clarinet?
Now, this sale came at a remarkably perfect time, as Bill Schimmel (who plays in my group Odeon) asked me to play a piece he wrote for accordion and bass clarinet, which we performed last night at his annual seminar and concert series, called Walton the Imperial: Crowned. Dr. Schimmel is the undisputed King of the accordion. In fact, Tom Waits made the statement: “Bill Schimmel doesn’t play the accordion, he is the accordion.” This was my first live performance with my new instrument, and I have to say my new ax is fantastic. I actually enjoyed playing the bass clarinet for the first time.
Bill’s piece is titled “The Tango accordion to Brahms.” Wild stuff. To give you an idea, when we were rehearsing it the other day, reading through Bill’s hand-copied score for the first time, we started improvising wildly - percussive squawks, outbursts of runs, intervalic jumps. When that came to an end I turned the page and saw:
I asked Bill, “What is this?” and he said, “That’s what we just played.”
In addition to our duet, the concert featured at least a dozen fantastic accordionists, with squeezeboxes of varying types - some with keyboards, some with just buttons. Gary Larson, in the Far Side, said “Welcome to Hell. Here’s your accordion.” He should have come out to this concert last night. He would have been in accordion Heaven!