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!"
When Jazzworks was conceived 16 years ago, it consisted of a faculty of four. The 2009 edition featured a bevy of 16 mostly Canadian musicians, including bassist John Geggieone of the camp's founders, whose Geggie Concert Series each year at Ottawa's National Arts Centre provides a much needed infusion of programming throughout the yearand fellow Ottawan composer/arranger/Jazzworks cofounder Rob Frayne. From Toronto came guitarists Justin Haynes and Kevin Barrett, pianist Dave Restivo, trumpeter Jim Lewis, drummers Jean Martin and Nick Fraser and vocalists Christine Duncan and Julie Michels. From Montreal, saxophonists Remi Bolduc and Frank Lozano, as well as vocalist Sharada Banman and percussionist Aldo Mazza, rounded out the staff that also included Ottawa-born/New York-resident pianist Gordon Webster and, for the first time, New York saxophonist Ted Nash. The faculty represented a broad cross-section of jazz approaches, from left-of-center free jazz to down-the-center mainstream; what was remarkable, and was heard at the Saturday night Faculty Concert, is how they all adapted to situations that may have been out of their own comfort zones. At Jazzworks, even the teachers walk away with lessons learned and new relationships forged.
l:r: Jim Lewis, Judy Humenick, John Geggie
Behind the scenes, however, it's co-founder/Jazzworks coordinator Judy Humenick who was seen almost everywhere (seemingly at the same time) along with administrator Anna Frlan and technical coordinator Gavin McLintock, who made sure that every cabin and every room throughout the camp had all the instruments required, and that the sound for the Saturday evening Faculty Concert and Sunday afternoon combo performances looked and sounded great at Lake MacDonald's Lucy Hall.
"I was a singer, and a junior high school band director for 10 years while I was in Saskatchewan," says Humenick. "For three weeks every summer I was on the faculty of the Saskatchewan School of the Arts a teacher and there was a jazz week, where they came in...they brought in a whole faculty for a week, and high school jazz players from across the province came in and lived in a residence like this [CAMMAC]. They had absolutely marvelous faculty concerts and they also had great workshops. There were a number of local jazz musicians from Regina and Saskatoon, who would ask if they could come out to hear the faculty concerts, and these people who came out, they were all adults; they weren't kids, the kids were already there. And I could see how much they loved coming out and what they were getting from it, and I thought it would be a great idea to do something for adults, 'cause kids get this stuff automatically.
"So, when I moved to Ottawa in the summer of 1993, I heard about an art and painting workshop at the Christie Lake Camp. I heard about it on CBC Radio and I thought, 'I wonder if that might be a place where we could do a weekend?' At the time I was doing workshops for the [Ottawa] jazz festival, I was on the board, and people were always asking me, 'Can't they be longer?' Because an hour was never enough, they wanted more workshops and longer workshops.
Combo Rehearsal, instructor Rob Frayne (far right)
"I had an idea that this could work, and that afternoon I went back into Ottawa, and it just so happened that The Angstones [a now defunct Ottawa group that featured, amongst others, John Geggie and Rob Frayne, who also played in the jazz group, Chelsea Bridge] were playing at the Museum of Civilization, so I went to hear them play and after they finished playing I was talking with Rob and I told him about my idea to do a weekend workshop. He thought it was a great idea and suggested that Chelsea Bridge might be interested in doing it, and so that's how it started.
"The first summer was 1994 at Christie Lake," Humenick concludes, "and it was just two days, from Friday night to Sunday night, with 21 participants and four faculty membersthe members of Chelsea Bridge [also including drummer Jean Martin and singer Tena Palmer], and it was so successful that people wanted it longer so the next year we added an extra day. Since then it's evolved, we have guest faculty members and we've established this group that started with Chelsea Bridge and has grown now to a very solid faculty. Donny McCaslin loves the camp, he couldn't come this year but he'll be back next year."
Jazzworks' reputation has spread, largely through word of mouth, and has seen participants come from as far away as the Pacific Northwest of the USA, and even an aspiring musician from China. But the majority of the attendees come from the Ottawa-Montreal-Toronto triangle. As great as the camp has been, one of the best byproducts is that musicians who meet at the camp remain playing together throughout the year. "Another thing that happened," says Humenick, "people wanted to keep connected through the year, and so they started having jam sessions, and now they have them once a month and they've a host group who plays the opening set and they provide the rhythm section for the evening, and it's usually a group from the camp."
It's a challenge to organize a program for players with experience ranging from none to plenty, and there's no fixed process, as the demands each year vary with everything from experience to the number of people playing particular instruments. "For some people it's going to be their first experience with anything like jazz," says Geggie. "It's important to have combo rehearsals and enough time to allow people to work on stuff. There's a total of five rehearsals of at least two hours, that start Thursday night and culminate with their performing at the Sunday concert.
l:r: instructor Aldo Mazza, student Elizabeth Munn
"People fill out a questionnaire," Geggie continues, "where they have to self-assess; they also send in demos. Some people, on the questionnaire, say they'd like to play with people they know, or prefer not to play with certain people. So it's based on their suggestions and our interpretation of what their auditions are like. We look at their questionnaires and figure out where we think they should fit. We try to balance it out so that people with like ability will be together in an ensemble. It can be very difficult to do; some years there are many more advanced people, some years there are many more beginning people, it just goes in waves. So once we've figured out combos, we figure out workshops that will help them.