Every year for the past 16 yearsfirst at Christie Lake Camp, located about 60 miles from Ottawa, Canada, but for the past four at the peaceful CAMMAC (Canadian Amateur Musicians Musiciens Amateurs du Canada) Lake MacDonald Music Centre, situated within spitting distance of the world-renowned Mont Tremblant Ski Resort in the Quebec LaurentiansJazzworks Ottawa puts on a three-day intensive jazz camp for players young and old, novice and advanced.
Lake MacDonald Music Center, CAMMAC
World class musicians, most from Canada but with occasional guests from the United States, convene to provide instructionranging from basics like how to improvise to more complex concepts like reharmonizationto players, some of whom are retirees who just want to get better, but also younger musicians who may be experienced on their instruments, but are encountering jazz for the first time. The goal, at the end of three days of intensive instructionthis year from August 20-23is for a series of ensembles (hand-picked by Jazzworks' core staff based on experience, degree of jazz knowledge and instrumentation) to meet, learn, rehearse and, finally, participate in a mammoth five-hour concert where everyone gets to play, everyone gets to solo, and everyone gets to feel great about it.
David Jones, now one of the retirees, has been coming to the camp for nearly all of its 16 years. "I came here the first year it started," he says, "and I missed about three or four years. I was a guitarist initially, and I switched to horn about six years ago. Most of the focus is on combos, so it's set up so that most of the time you get to play with people you've never met before. They match you up pretty closely with skill levels, but everyone has different backgrounds. I've met a lot of people here that I've carried on playing with during the rest of the year. You get a real sense of accomplishment by the end of the camp, because you've got a pretty short time to pick some tunes you're gonna play at the concert, and what's really neat are the kinds of arrangement ideas that come up.
"Most of the tunes are not terribly complex, they tend to be a lot of standards," Jones continues. "It's almost open-ended what you can do with them, so there's actually quite a lot of inventiveness that goes on during the weekend, and you can really see the evolution between the first couple of days and the final concert, which is absolutely amazing. In fact, one of the ones that everybody looks forward to is the beginner class, because you never know what they're gonna do, and because they're beginners sometimes they're extremely restricted in what kind of technical stuff they can play, but the faculty focuses on what you can do without a lot of technical knowledge. You can still do a lot of stuff that's inventive and has some musical integrity. You can just tell, by looking at the eyes of the people after their combos have finished; the people are ecstatic.
Combo Rehearsal, instructor Remi Bolduc (far right)
"The faculty changes periodically, occasionally you get different people, but the camp has evolved tremendously since the beginning. They refine it every year, and even in the last couple of years, for example, they've changed the way of doing the saxophone master classes, so it's really great now. There's much more activity; it's easy to fall into just a gab session, and no matter how great the ideas are, it doesn't replace doing them. They've also been pretty good, over the years, in responding to suggestions.
"The thing I find so attractive about this camp," Jones concludes, "is that the faculty are really good at taking what you can do now, and turning it into a performance that you feel great about. It's so easy to get overwhelmed with all the stuff you need to work on, and it's easy to loose sight of the fact that often, within what you've developed already, you're not exploiting it anywhere near its potential. This way you get a lot of really helpful ideas, because the faculty doesn't really get after you to point out all the things you can't do; they'll give you practical suggestions. It's a great setting, and it's neat seeing people of different ages. There was this red-haired, freckle-faced kid standing up at the mike; man, he was astounding!"