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Sligo Jazz Project 2018: Days 3-4

James Fleming By

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High heels clicked on the concrete outside the Hawk’s Well Theatre. Cigarettes were lit, smoke went to the sky. Inside the bar-staff handed wines and pints across the counter, shouting prices over the conversation. The talk was of jazz. And the different accents bullied each other for the airwaves. The song of a night that has yet to begin. An atonal, arrhythmic overture. —James Fleming
Days 1-2 | Days 3-4

Sligo Jazz Project
Various Venues
Sligo, Ireland
July 24-29, 2018

July 26, 2018

When the wind died down the day turned humid and heavy. Clouds hung low in the sky, grey and oppressive. And as Sligo's people sipped their coffees and settled down at their desks, the electricity cut out at Sligo IT. Amplifiers and keyboards were rendered powerless. Putting a halt to the morning's planned classes.

Instead, Paul Clarvis led an impromptu percussion class outside on the college grounds. The low-slung sun moved across the sky as he directed the participants armed with a tambourine. And as the sun reached its noonday-apex, the power was restored. Allowing the afternoon's ensemble sessions to go ahead as scheduled.

In the heart of the college, Ciaran Wilde awaited the members of his ensemble. He chatted in-between running up and down scales on his alto. Telling self-deprecatory jokes and discussing jazz-journalists in his Northside Dublin accent. He told a story about how Charles Mingus would play his new compositions to jazz-writer Nat Hentoff down the phone. And talked about how in 1939, Duke Ellington stopped calling it jazz "because there's so many different styles of it."

His flow was interrupted by the arrival of his ensemble -"Youth Academy Two." A group of teenagers filed into the classroom, each one fist-bumping Wilde and saying "respect" in a display of mutual admiration. Just as the students admired Wilde's skill and expertise, he admired their dedication to learning. None of Wilde's instructions or insights were wasted. Instead, each direction was taken onboard by his band. And recognised for its knowledge, value, and wisdom.

The instrumentalists ranged from a trumpet, a clarinet, and flautists, to a bassist, a guitarist and a drummer. Who was the twin brother of the sole vocalist. Wilde directed them through the tune-up, running over some of the finer details of their chosen song for Sunday's approaching Big Bash.

He paced the room with his head bowed in concentration as the kids ran down their reggae-inflected version of The Zutons'/Amy Winehouse's "Valerie." Over the course of an hour he stopped and started them, making adjustments and giving advice -..."tempo tends to drag," "Brass was lovely." But most tellingly, after a successful run-through he went around to each ensemble-member and asked them "What are you happy with?"

It's rare in any classroom situation for the master to ask for the pupils' opinions. For as accomplished a musician as Wilde -who has worked with Van Morrison, The Pogues and many others -to take an active interest in what his students think of their own progress is a testament to his patience and skill as an educator.

By fostering the fine art of having an opinion, Wilde was helping to instil in his small band of the young generation one of the skills that grows into critical thinking. And in cultivating critical thinking, SJP ensured its continued reputation as an educational resource of the highest order.

The comic-prophet George Carlin once said "They don't want an educated populace capable of critical thought." "They" being what he called the teachers' "corporate masters." For a population of critical thinkers knows what is in its rights and its responsibilities. What rights it is entitled to and that it cannot be deprived of. And what responsibilities it holds to themselves and to each other. In order to advance this world towards Utopia.

The sound of their funked-up version of "Summertime" moved down the hall and disappeared around the corner. While deeper in the Business and Social Sciences building, Dr. Steve Davis conducted his own ensemble from behind his drums. His eyes were closed in concentration, admiring the progress his ensemble was making through a rendition of "Misty." Two days before, these players had never met. But under Davis's instruction they could navigate through treacherous double-time solo sections and safely make land back at the original beat. Displaying teamwork that would make any football team flush with envy.

Scott Flanigan and Brian Byrne—SJP's first ever composer-in-residence -stepped in for Dr. Davis as his skills were required elsewhere. The pair of masters took the ensemble through the subtleties of the art -instructing the keyboardist to leave more space, explaining the difference between double-time and double-feel to the bassist. Where Wilde's directions to his younger ensemble were more general, Flanigan and Byrne delved into the grit of jazz. For just as a brushstroke can change the meaning of a painting, the fine details of a sound shape its meaning. And ensure that it is transmitted eloquently and efficiently.

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