Sligo Jazz Project 2013: Days 1-3

Ian Patterson By

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One of the challenges for students and tutors alike at the SJP was to find some down time. With 10am starts and school lasting to 4pm or beyond, jam sessions from 6.00- 7.30, festival gigs from 8.00-10.30/11.00 and late-night jam sessions going on into the wee hours, there was little respite. So, the Zen ambiance of singer Ian Shaw's al fresco workshop on Wednesday morning provided a soothing tonic.

Standing in a semi-circle, the students listened as Shaw invited the instrumentalists to sing, echoing Gwizdala's comments the previous day: "This week, sing everything you play," Shaw encouraged. "It's part of you. It's about communication, isn't it?"

Beginning with a rhythmic Brazilian melody, Shaw directed the assembly like a choir, layering interlocking harmonies in warm celebration of the human voice. It was just a warm-up, however, for an utterly inspiring multi-part rendition of singer Mary Fagan's "Where is the Snow Queen?" Layer upon layer of pretty harmonies wrapped themselves around each other, rising and falling in intensity as the students walked slowly in snaking patterns, closing the circle and becoming one beautiful voice of many parts, and one powerful resonance.

John Goldsby Workshop: Outliers, Jugglers, Musicians: Developing Your Practice Schedule

Back in the classroom, John Goldby's curiously titled presentation once more urged student to think seriously about their relationship with their instruments. And that man Obama got in on the act again, in a slide show that presented outliers, or in other words, people who are at a point way outside the norm. Other faces to pop up on the screen included author J.K. Rowling, Bono, Lady Gaga and trumpeter Louis Armstrong. Goldsby read out a quotation from Armstrong: "If I don't practice for a day I know it. If I don't practice for two days, the critics know it. If I don't practice for three days, the public knows it."

With quiet, missionary zeal Goldsby also attempted to dispel the commonly held notion that certain of jazz's most iconic figures were born with an innate musical genius, thus bypassing the hard hours of grinding practice. Referencing a 1954 radio interview with bassist Paul Chambers and saxophonist Charlie Parker (see You Tube video at end of article), Goldsby read an extract where Parker told the presenter in answer to a question about his technique: "I put quite a bit of study into the horn, that's true. In fact, the neighbors threatened to ask my mother to move once when I was living out West. They said I was driving them crazy with the horn. I used to put in at least from 11-15 hours a day...study is absolutely necessary...."

Even if that was an exaggeration, Goldsby commented, and Parker actually only studied three or four hours a day, it at least suggests that Parker was absolutely serious about studying his instrument. A quotation of a similar nature from pianist Bill Evans followed. A slide of a happily disheveled Albert Einstein popped up next, the legend declaring: "It's not that I'm so smart, it's just that I stay with problems longer."

Goldsby emphasized that passion for one's instrument and perseverance go hand in hand. Drawing from and citing Daniel Coyle's best-selling book "The Talent Code: Greatness isn't Born, It's Grown," (2009) Goldsby reiterated Coyle's idea about what the author calls "deep practice," or in other words practicing on the edge of one's ability. Goldsby recommended 30 minutes a day: "It doesn't sound like much, but I guarantee you'll be twice the player you are in a year," he stated. "It's less time than you spend on Facebook," he added sneakily to clinch the deal.

And, for the third time in a day and a half, the advice to sing while playing your instrument came up. And what, asked Goldsby rhetorically, does Lady Gaga have in common with pianist Thelonious Monk, apart from the cool hat? "Originality," he said. "They practice their originality. The ultimate goal is to sound like who you are." Tricky to achieve, however, when all the students were singing from the same hymn sheet—that's to say jazz standards. It would probably have been fair to warn students that unless they develop their own music over time, or can bring an extremely distinctive voice to the standards repertoire then they'll most likely not venture much further beyond playing their local bars and restaurants.

However, as Goldsby pointed out, musicians have to start by imitating. Without doubt, the easiest international jazz language that stokes the engine of jam sessions around the world is that of the jazz standard. The problem in jazz, however, is when imitation becomes the norm.

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