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Live Reviews

Sligo Jazz Project 2013: Days 4-6

By Published: August 1, 2013
In 1996, pianist Kenny Werner wrote a book called "Effortless Mastery: Liberating the Master Musician Within" (Jamey Aebersold Jazz, 1996), which outlined his philosophy on teaching and learning music. Werner gave a talk about the book, which has influenced more than one generation, at the Hawk's Well Theatre in the afternoon. Sitting at the piano stool, Werner loosened up with a classically colored, quietly rhapsodic exploration that lasted ten minutes. His talk wove a similar spell.

"Everybody has effortless mastery at something they do," Werner said—"something you do with precision that you don't have to think about." For the next 45 minutes Werner made the case quite persuasively that students of music can achieve that same unthinking mastery of their instrument through a combination of mindset and discipline.

Growing up in Long Island, Werner talked about his early detachment from the arts in general, describing the cultural poverty of his environment as a blessing in disguise. "When I played I didn't feel so crushed by the weight of tradition and the things that had gone before me. Of course, later on I filled in all that stuff and studied it and loved it but I was already in the habit of not thinking about it when it was time to play. When I played, I had a natural state of mind that no-one has ever played the piano before this moment, which is a very freeing feeling."

Werner reiterated an idea that was made by several of the tutors during the week—to remove judgment from playing: "Judging yourself daily by how good you play is really a waste of a lifetime," he said. Werner spoke of deprogramming habits and reprogramming a different relationship to the music—one free from fear and free from judgment. He told the audience not to obsess about their music and to rein in the ego that inflates the importance of making music: "When we think of ego we think, oh he's got a big ego, but the person who puts themselves down also has a big ego—it's still self obsession. The problem with ego," Werner underlined, "is that it ruins your playing and it ruins your practicing."

For students who say they're too lazy to practice, Werner said provocatively: "No you're not. You're overwhelmed. You don't know where to start." Werner provided strategies for overcoming fear-based practice, fear-based playing and fear-based listening, and outlined ways of finding the mental space to play free of tension. All these ideas, and more, are dealt with more expansively in Werner's book and DVD. In addition, recordings of Q&As with Werner are freely available on his website

SJP All Stars

The evening concert in the Hawk's Well Theatre of the SJP All Stars brought together the entire teaching faculty under the leadership of Werner and Riley. Such thrown together ensembles are sometimes a disappointment at festivals but this wasn't the case at the Hawk's Well. From duos to large ensembles and everything in between, the musicians of the teaching faculty gave a scintillating two-hour concert that was a definite highlight of the week. From a local perspective, it was gratifying to see the Irish/Northern Irish musicians holding their own with their more famous American colleagues.

Saturday Festival Club: Blues Special with Nigel Mooney

The late night festivities at the Glass House Hotel began with guitarist Nigel Mooney leading his band through an entertaining set of blues tunes from his album The Bohemian Mooney (Lyte Records, 2013). The up-tempo numbers put bassist Dan Bodwell and drummer Dominic Mullan through a tremendous amount of work and it wasn't until the back-to-back ballads of "Old Folks" and singer/pianist Ray Charles
Ray Charles
Ray Charles
1930 - 2004
' "Hard Times" at the set's mid-point that either could take something like a breather.

Mooney's "I ain't Ready," saxophonist Joe Henderson
Joe Henderson
Joe Henderson
1937 - 2001
sax, tenor
's "The Kicker" and guitarist BB King's "Baby Don't you want a Man like Me" got the set off to a rocking start, with keyboardist Little Johnny Taylor
Little Johnny Taylor
Little Johnny Taylor
1943 - 2002
—the band's musical director—adding bluesy swing. Mooney impressed with both vocals and guitar. His vocals had the lived- in suaveness of singer Robert Palmer
Robert Palmer
and his guitar style owed a debt to BB King. On guitarist/singer Willie Dixon
Willie Dixon
Willie Dixon
1915 - 1992
bass, acoustic
's "I am Ready," the band was joined by saxophonist Jean Toussaint for a roaring version of the tune made famous by Muddy Waters
Muddy Waters
Muddy Waters
1915 - 1983
. Songwriter Harold Arlen's "Come Rain or Shine" and a lively version of "Early in the Morning" rounded out a hugely enjoyable set.

With the students' final ensemble session taking place in the morning followed by the public performance of their repertoires, most of the assembled dragged weary bodies off to bed. However, that still left a number of the usual suspects who jammed on for a further hour or so until the hotel, in what could be viewed as an act of kindness to all, pulled the plug.

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