Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Never Alone in Monteton

I feel so fortunate to have been able to be part of DJSS two years in a row, because it allowed me to deepen the relationships that I had begun last year, and to make new friends. Rehearsing together is a great way to get to know each other, so I gathered a group to run through a tune of mine titled, “Never Alone.”

I already had a yes from Guy, a drummer from London, who was a great encourager to me throughout a very rough year. He was the first to hear every new piece I wrote, and always cheered me on, keeping me excited about the writing process. Paul, a sociology professor, said he would play bass, and Graham, who was in my group last year, offered to play trumpet. New to me was Ollie. After hearing my music at the seminar, he asked to join us on sax. So we scheduled a rehearsal for Tuesday night.

On Tuesday night, Paul took me aside and apologized to me that he had hurt his fingers from playing electric bass all day, and needed to give them a rest. But he still wanted to play with me, so could we move the rehearsal a day? Paul kept apologizing, over and over. Then he says something like, “You know, I bought your CD last year. Well, I listen to it all the time. Your music makes me feel like I’m not alone.” Paul was someone I didn’t really talk to last year until the course was over. We happened to sit together in the van on the way back to the train station. He’s kind of quiet, and I guess we just never were at the same table or had an opportunity to get to know each other. But after that van ride, we because fast friends. His comment was one of the nicest I’ve ever received, and it brought back a memory. About 12 years ago, before I started writing music, I was teaching music appreciation at the University of Indianapolis. One night, when discussing Tchaikovsky’s 6th (Pathetique) Symphony, I broke down in tears right in front of the students. (Not a gentle mist, but heaving sobs.) Delaney was four at the time, and I had just learned that day that her diagnosis was cerebral palsy. I said something like this to the class, “When I listen to this piece, it makes me feel like I’m not alone.” Tchaikovsky put his deepest emotions on paper and shared it with the world. For Paul to say the same thing to me was an amazing, “full circle” moment.

On Wednesday night, the five of us finally got together. Graham had looked at the music earlier, and pulling me aside, told me that the piece had great emotion, and was excited about playing the main theme, the “A” section. I actually had the reverse in mind, sax on A section and trumpet on B, but I was happy to try his idea. When Ollie heard the tune, he said he loved it and couldn’t get it out of his mind.

A bit more about Graham. I met him last year, and he was a rather quiet guy from England who rode a motorcycle and always wore sunglasses. Kind of a tough guy, hard to get to know. I spent more time with him this year and found out how funny he is. So all I knew of him was his tough exterior and his dry wit. After the performance on Thursday, Irene, a sax player and friend from Austria said she had never heard a more emotional performance from Graham before.

When creating “Never Alone,” I was on a three-day personal retreat, alone in a chapel in Nashville, Tennessee, to focus on composing. But people kept interrupting me. Groups kept coming in to tour the building. (Even though I had to be let in with a key, somehow, other people found their way in through different, mysterious, hidden door.)

Speaking of “never alone,” after the course I spent some time alone in Paris. But I was rarely alone, because people kept offering to help me along the way. While watching the Tour de France, I met a woman with an American accent who had just moved to Paris from Indiana, and we had lunch later in the week. At dinner, I was seated by a mom and daughter from the Bahamas. We had a lovely meal and great conversation, and they walked me back to my hotel since it had gotten dark. One day, when I felt very lost and was standing on a street corner staring at my map with a confused look on my face, a gentleman drove up on his motorcycle and stopped in front of me. He pulled off his helmet and began speaking in French. I said I didn’t understand, I spoke English. Very slowly, with a low voice and thick accent, he said, “I can help you. That’s north. That south.” Then he drove off. It was just what I needed to find my way again.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Practice Room Highlights and Premieres

Part of my role as composer-in-residence at the Dordogne Jazz Summer School was to present new music in a seminar setting. I arrived Saturday, and my presentation was to be on Monday morning, so I had to rustle up some players quick for a rehearsal Sunday night. Out of the eleven new jazz pieces that I brought, I figured we would have time for 3 tunes, so I picked ones that were inspired by people I met at jazz school last year. I grabbed Guy Clapham, a drum student and dear friend for whom I wrote “Wise Guy.” I twisted the arm of David Marlton, who introduced me to the contrabass clarinet, and who inspired a really cool clarinet/trumpet piece titled “Deux Chapeaux.” And I pleaded with Quentin Collins, world class trumpet player/tutor, who I immensely enjoyed working with. I knew that he would be amazing on a very fast tune titled “LVB-Bop” which I wrote at the train station in Bergerac just following the course last year.

The four of us got together late Sunday, and I know that I’ve said that other times were very special that week, but this was one of my favorite moments. There was such a high in the room. The music came together so quickly, because each player had all the right instincts. I was so excited to see and play with the people that inspired the music, and it felt like they were happy to be my “muses.” I thought about the distance everyone had come from to be there - David from Russia, Guy and Quentin from the UK and me from the US. After a great rehearsal, we stayed in the room and chatted. You know, music talk. Wonderful!

(Two other people performed with us the next day – the one and only Dorian Lockett, fabulous bass tutor who runs the jazz school, and Jonathan Bratoeff, the French guitar tutor who I raved about in a separate post. Yeah!!)

Monday morning I was still jet lagged, lacking sleep, and feeling a bit surreal about the fact that I was even there. And then to have opportunity to play my tunes with such amazing artists in front of the school was, well, hard to put into words. (Which is why it has taken me 3 weeks to write about it.) I remember being so happy to be surrounded by Quentin, David, Jonathan, Guy and Dorian, and hearing how all the sounds merged together and worked. I remember that we laughed when one of the tunes ended a bit different than what we rehearsed. I remember just feeling good, and feeling very supported by the students in the audience. Afterwards I received such positive comments, and the good words continued throughout the week. Yeah!!!

Get Over the Blues in Monteton

After getting my pictures made and sharing them with a few friends, I noticed what stories I was most excited about telling. On Tuesday night at DJSS, a guest saxophone player from England, Mornington Lockett, stopped by to perform. He was a mix of wild and calm. He played faster than I’ve ever heard anyone play, he was amazing. When he was listening to someone else solo, he was so focused on them, listening so intently, but calmly. Great stage presence. Afterwards, I introduced myself. He said “I think you’re in my group tomorrow. . . what’s your favorite song?” I was embarrassed to admit that I’m still so new to jazz that I don’t know that many standards. But I told him I’d written a few things. “Let’s have a look,” he said. I just happened to be carrying my scores on me (they were with me at all times, just in case) and Mornington carefully looked at piece after piece, telling me how much he liked what I had written. He finally settled on “Get Over the Blues” and said he would conduct the piece for our group the next day.

I loved the way Mornington lead our session. The calmness, again, was so impressive. He spent a good 20 minutes getting us in tune. Making good music is all about good sound, and he didn’t rush in helping us achieve the best sound we could have. ML kept telling the group how much he liked the piece, explaining the chord changes, commenting on the tune. Since we had a big number of sax players in our group, he suggested 4-part harmony on a couple of measures. That seemed ambitious, since we only had this one rehearsal prior to the concert later that evening. ML asked me to play the chords, and then he came to piano and played them in a tighter arrangement to fit the ranges of the different saxes. He called out the notes to each part while I wrote them down as quickly as possible (I’m not quite as calm, but I’m learning. . .) And then it was done and sounded really cool. The performance went really well (I have it on tape!) and Mornington said very nice things about the work and the great playing (we had a terrific group with 6 saxes, trumpet, violin, guitar, piano, bass and drums.)

Fridays at DJSS are quite an event. The locals from surrounding towns and villages come in for the big concert, which lasts from 6:30 until after midnight (including a dinner break in which Patrick, the owner of the Chateau, serves an amazing paella.) Friday mornings, each group chooses one piece that they have performed during the week to showcase that night. I was so happy that my group chose “Get Over the Blues.” This time, Ingrid Laubrock, another amazing saxophone player/tutor from Germany, conducted our rehearsal. She had new ideas about the piece, suggesting strong accents on the offbeats, especially on the 4-part harmony sections. It sounded great, and it was cool to hear how one piece could change with every new interpretation.

After the performance (I think my group was called The Sharp 9’s) and after the fabulous paella, it was time for my other group to play. Throughout the week, each student is assigned to 2 groups, one chosen by the tutors, and one of their own choosing. I lead the composers group, taking the students through the writing process by sharing the stories and playing through some of the music I had written, and by writing and performing a piece together. One of the pieces we planned was, of all things, Get Over the Blues. But this time we had a vocalist, the amazing Scott Vicari, one of the drum tutors, and a much smaller ensemble (trumpet, sax, flute/harmonica, guitar, piano, bass, drums) so it was a very different sound than the “big band” we had earlier in the evening.
Scott had just the right voice for the piece. Here are the lyrics:

“Get over the blues if you want me.
Get over the blues if you need me.
Get over the blues if you love me.
I don’t wanna be with a crybaby.
You don’t have to have to blues if you don’t want to have them.
I don’t wanna be with a crybaby.”

And he threw in these great adlibs at the end, it was very cool.

As soon as I arrived in Monteton, I was a very happy camper. And then things got better and better throughout the week. If I had any blues, I certainly got over them there.