The workshops have proven to be an undoubted success, with some of the students going on to study jazz at Newpark Music Centerthe only educational institution in Ireland that offers jazz studies.: "We have people who have been coming right from the word go and they're still coming," says Hansom. "It's extraordinary to be able to see how much people have improved over the years." Hansom underlines that whilst the atmosphere of these workshops is informal and laid back, the emphasis is very much on study: "It's a different philosophy to a summer school. It's lovely to go away for a week but then people tend to put their instruments away again until the next summer school. What we do is two twelve week terms each year and if you come in twelve weeks twice a year and practice you are in real danger of improving."
As part of the Limerick Jazz Festival students from the jazz workshop gave a performance in the Hunt Museumone of Ireland's most celebrated museums. With teachers, drummer John Daley and bassist Peter Hanagan providing a rock solid rhythm section three students performed a series of standards: "Blue Bossa"; "Straight No Chaser"; "Perdido"; "Mercy, Mercy, Mercy" and "Song for My Father." Unbeknown to saxophonists Connor O'Brien and Laura Ryan, and guitarist Emmet Ryan, Daly asked each of them to take a solo improvisation. It must have been fairly nerve racking for the young students but they all rose to the task well, with Ryan in particular impressing with his Jimi Hendrix
-inspired lines. Hitting the occasional bum note in front of an audience is painful, but as Daly said, "You've got to play lots of wrong notes first before you learn the right ones."
Afterwards the students spoke about their experience in the Limerick Jazz Workshop: "It's such a great community," said 15-year old O'Brien, who has been attending the workshops for three years. "I definitely feel more confident." Playing before a public is one of the aims of these workshops, a slightly daunting task for most young musicians, but Ryan was full of praise for the LJW teachers and the confidence they help inspire: "They build you up to it. It's getting easier. It's grand now," says Ryan, who has been attending the LJW for five years.
A notable alumnus of the LJW is Slovakian guitarist Andreas Varady. Though something of a child prodigy in the tradition of Django Reinhardt
, Varady learned his jazz chops at LJW and has since gone on to perform with Martin Taylor, Louis Stewart and Tommy Emmanuel
. He recorded Questions
(Lyte Records, 2010) with top Irish drummer David Lyttle
, has toured Asia with Quincy Jones
' Global Gumbo All-Stars, and has just signed a contract with Verve.
Varady is an exceptional talent to be sure, but LJW can take pride in the role it has played in helping nurture this gifted musician. It can also pat itself on the back for all the other students it nurtures who maybe dare to dream of becoming professional musicians thanks to the workshops. Day 3: Street Jazz; Larry McKenna/Tony Miceli Workshop; Christine Tobin
Any festival worth its salt has to reach out to the citizens of the town or city where it's being held and the LJF did just that by staging a number of free concerts on the street and in one of Limerick's busiest shopping malls. In the latter, a small crowd was impressed by vocalist Connor Ryan. Backed by the indefatigable John Daley on drums, bassist Peter Hanagan and keyboardist Bryan Meehan, Ryan's nuanced delivery on a number of standards, and most notably on a jazz version of Michael Jackson's "Billy Jean," marked him out as a talented interpreter with a rather special voice.
Later on Saturday afternoon McKenna and Miceli gave a joint workshop-cum-demonstration in the Hunt Museum. Veteran English jazz writer and radio broadcaster Brian Priestly compered the session during which McKenna spoke of the influence of vocalists in his phrasing. He also spoke of his earliest forays into jazz and the art of improvising on a melody. McKenna has taught jazz theory in numerous institutions in Philadelphia and he made one telling comment about virtuosity: "There are plenty of students who are technically better than me but they don't know how to carry the tune. They forget about the tune and show off what they can do."
In between tunes, and encouraged by John Daley (who's dangerous without sticks in his hands) McKenna and Miceli shared anecdotes about unusual gigs. The marital fight caused by a stripper was a good bad-gig story, playing for gay nudists was better, but both were trumped by the tale of playing for a guy who was quite possibly dead the whole time. It's all in a day's work for jazz musicians; students be warned.