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Getting Schooled

April 6, 2009

Last summer up at Phil Dwyer’s jazz camp in Qualicum, bassist Neil Swainson remarked to me that students today have so many more opportunities to learn jazz, noting that, for the most part, he picked it up on his own by listening to records and working away at it in his parents’ basement in Oak Bay.

Of course, eventually, in his late teens, he caught Paul Horn’s eye and was soon on his way, heading first to Vancouver, then Toronto, and finally on to the international scene, playing bass for the likes of George Shearing. He remains today one of the great Canadian bass players of his generation.

While there is still much to be said for learning to play via the masters from records – in fact some would argue that that is still the best and only way to do it – the schools and camps that have sprung up all over the country do offer something to aspiring jazzers. As Swainson says, they give students the opportunity to connect with others of like mind, and in that sense, perhaps speed their progress by creating a synergistic jazz scene that they can be part of. Of course, direct contact with virtuoso players who have put in their 10,000 hours of practice and traveled the long road to mastery can’t hurt either.

But the key to it all, according to Hugh Fraser, is performance. If schools don’t create performance opportunities and simply become isolated enclaves of theory, they will fail. Students who graduate from those programs will end up working in music stores instead of playing gigs.

Fraser told me a few weeks ago that the students in the Esquimalt Secondary program in Victoria are sounding fabulous these days – considerably better than a lot of college players he’s heard. That program, of course, has a longstanding reputation of turning out players who know how to gig in every sense of the word.

You can catch the Esquimalt kids down at Hermann’s this week at their regular Thursday evening gig (starts at 5 pm with no cover charge). Consider dropping by. From what Fraser says, you’ll be in for a treat and you’ll be doing a service as well by giving these kids an audience.

And while you are at it, consider, too, heading down to Hermann’s this Tuesday night at 8pm to catch the Larsen Music “Garage Band” performances led by vocalist Anne Schaefer. It’s described as “an evening of all original music created in an eight week course focused on songwriting, bad collaboration and good music making!” Sounds intriguing, and if Schaefer has something to do with it, it should be superb. No cover for that either.

I’ll be writing more about educational programs in the coming weeks. Hugh Fraser and Monik Nordine are doing something on Salt Spring this summer and the Victoria Conservatory programs will be coming up as well, not to mention Phil Dwyer’s camp in Qualicum.

Stay tuned, and in the meantime, I’d love to hear your thoughts on learning to play jazz, whether you are an aspiring jazzer or a master player or somebody who knows somebody who …you get the idea. It’s simple – just type your comment in the box and hit the submit button. All thoughts will be appreciated. I’d also like to hear about any programs happening this summer, since I’ll soon be doing a survey of the upcoming jazz programs in our corner of the world.

PS You can read more about Neil Swainson at http://www.canadianjazzarchive.org/Catalogue/Concerts/KO/10218

-Rick Gibbs

© Rick Gibbs and Island Jazz
Categories: General
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