Sligo Jazz Project 2013: Days 1-3
The first master class brought together two bassists from essentially different backgrounds; John Goldsby and Janek Gwizdala presented "Integrated Ways of Practicing." Together they demonstrated that no matter whether you plug your bass in or hold it upright, the fundamental building blocks to learning and the discipline required to master your instrument are the same.
"Eighty percent of my technique I learned through watching gigs every night of the week," said Gwizdala. "It's a super important element of all of this." Goldsby nodded in agreement. When he started out in earnest in Louisville at the end of the 1970s there was no You Tube nor were there the same opportunities to go to jazz school that exist today. Goldsby learned the ropes by playing with the likes of clarinetist Buddy DeFranco, guitarist Barney Kessel, pianist Jay McShann and singer Johnny Hartmanold-style schooling. Goldsby concurred with Gwizdala: "It's so important to be inspired by the music you're working on," he said "and by the people themselves."
Following a delightful duo recital of "Alone Together" a student asked Gwizdala how much of what he had just played was memorized phrasing or licks: "One of the things I learned at Berklee was not to think when playing," answered Gwizdala. "Can you remember the last time you used the words 'and,' 'if' or 'but'? Of course, I've learned every single note and combination of notes, but I wasn't thinking while I was playing." Having demonstrated playing over changes, Goldsby subsequently observed: "Playing changes is like going for a jog. There are a dozen different ways to get back to your house."
Both musicians stressed the importance of playing with other musicians as a learning strategy, and what was evident in some of the students, certainly at the start of the week was a degree of self absorption in their playing to such an extent that many would forego eye contact with their fellow musicians. Poor communication, with all the consequent pitfalls it brings, was particularly noticeable in some when it came time to hand over a solo.
Goldsby explained that for him a good gig is not about playing like a demon but about listening closely and hearing all the other players: "I'm a musician who happens to play the bass," he said. The two bassists agreed that when it comes to practice it's important to do so within restricted parameters and to bring focus to the practice.
On playing fast, Goldsby recommended keeping a straight wrist at all times and switching between one and two fingers on the upright bass to avoid the hand becoming exhausted. One student asked what to do if the drummer or keyboard player leaves you alone when it's your turn to solo, and judging by Gwizalda's animated response it was clear that such behavior is akin to walking away from someone when they're talking to you. You don't do it.
What was immediately noticeable about Gwizalda's playing was that it was constantly accompanied by wordless singing. He advised students to record themselves singing and to listen to it for ear training. For Gwizalda, singing with his bass lines is one and the same thing: "The music comes from here," he said, tapping his head, "not from here" he said wiggling his fingers. "If I play a two-hour set I come off the stage with absolutely no voice."
The bottom line, Goldsby and Gwizdala agreed, is practice: "It's hours and hours of practice," said Gwizalda. "What am I saying? It's years of practice," he quickly auto corrected. "I'm 17 years making this music as a professional and I'm still learning. I'm continually updating my mental software."
For the two hours of the workshop not a single note came from the dozen or so bass guitar students present. There are clearly times, and all present were acutely aware of this, that one can learn most by listening. Goldsby also told students not to beat themselves up if they think they don't sound so great, but also not to bask in self- approval: "You observe what you're doing," he said, "but you don't judge it." After the workshop one of the bass students commented on how useful the session had been: "It gives you confidence to have your ideas confirmed," he told me.
Jean Toussaint's Student Ensemble
Confidence was, understandably, not in great supply in the first, post-lunch ensemble classes, where tutors guided the students through a selection of songsstandards in the main. The students stayed with the same tutor for the duration of the week, practicing several compositions. The afternoon jam sessions in the center of Sligo gave gig experience, leading up to the students' gala performances on the final day of the week.