My Experience at the 2012 Standard Bank National Youth Jazz Festival: Day 5
Thank you for diligently following these posts. The festival is long gone and between stacks of marketing work and shoddy internet connections, I’ve been hurrying to finish off the series I so dutifully started – so that I can move on to posting about some other stuff. I hope you enjoy the read!
Sunday, 1 July 2012
Fatigued, pasty-eyed and bursting with bebop licks in my head – I woke up resolute and ready for the penultimate day of the festival. As with the previous days, the structure of Day 5 was by and large the same: mixed-ability band rehearsal at 9am, workshops during the day, and live jazz in the evening ’til the early hours.
Workshop 1: Nicky Schrire – Finding Your Way in the Jazz Industry
“You cannot be a musician in this age without also being a businessman.” – Dave Liebman
I’m always so flabbergasted by the lack of interest many musicians have in the business aspect of music. In this 21st Century – handling your business is many times more important than just creating all the time. Last year, I made it a point of attending as many music business workshops that I could – granted, I was designing a marketing plan for an independent music production label. The DIY mindset is critical to surviving and making a mark in the modern music environment. It is simply not enough anymore just to hope your music will get heard and be scooped up by some major label with massive marketing expenditure, even if you are really good.
Take my band Brother & Brother for example, our single ‘All But Left Behind’ made its way to Los Angeles and landed up in the email of one of the bosses of a major international label (I’ll let you guess who – there are only four), and although he gave us some really great and positive feedback – it still didn’t guarantee us anything. We still have to, in many ways do all the footwork ourselves. This was the focus of Nicky Schrire’s workshop entitled ‘Finding Your Way in the Jazz Industry’.
Nicky is a very talented London-born/South African-raised jazz vocalist based in New York – and yes, it’s a jungle out there! At least, according to Nicky it is. After graduating from the UCT College of Music, she pursued a Masters of Music Degree at the Manhattan School of Music where she was educated by among others, saxophonist/flautist Dave Liebman (who played with both Miles Davis and Elvin Jones). She has worked with notable artists like Abdullah Ibrahim, Sibongile Khumalo, Judith Sephuma, and Arno Carstens. She performs and teaches.
“There is no blueprint for making a career in music. It is like Snakes and Ladders.”
For Nicky, organisational skills and professionalism go hand in hand. According to her, there are five main points that will ensure your career at the very least, is sustainable:
- Professionalism: Just because a career in music is not bound by rigid work times, rocking up late to a rehearsal or a show is a no-no. Punctuality as in any profession, is very important. Things like responding to emails and messages people have left for you, is also very important. I often find myself sending people mails and they never get back to me – even now, it would be easier to consider working with someone else in place of an unprofessional musician. Being too busy I suppose is also not an excuse to check mails. Nicky mentioned that with the release of her debut album ‘Freedom Flight’, she’d sent a bunch of CDs to labels and only a few of them actually responded. Why do people do this? Are they just lazy – or do they really think that low of someone’s time and effort?
- Personality: No-one wants to work with a musician with bad attitude. Someone with a sour vibe who walks around with his lip on the floor all day, is not a pleasure to be around. There are many musicians who are friendly and down to earth, who are always up for playing, making money and having fun. After all, you got into music because you love it, not because you have a point to prove.
- Good Playing: This goes without saying. You want to be competent on your instrument so that people will want to play with you. In some hipster circles, there seems to be this notion that the more crap you play and the less you know about theory/harmony/chords etc the better. The less practice and the more dagga roekery the better? No, playing well is a prerequisite. Which reminds me – I should go practice.
- Able to Read: Sight reading is very important. This one point alone seems to even the playing field considerably and distinguishes the keepers from the chaff. Being able to read means bigger and better gigs and more money. That’s because it makes it easier for band leaders and conductors to get the job done, and nobody’s time gets wasted. I remember playing in the big band at the university where I first came into contact with on the spot sight reading – it was terrible ’cause I couldn’t read! For the first two years I was winging it big time, until I got comfortable enough with what the repertoire required of me. I even remember talking to another bassist about reading once and he laughed it off saying something like, “Nai my bru, dai goed lyk soes Golf Stokke!” Point made.
- Social Media: I know that 90% of my Facebook friends will probably not read this post just because it has the word ‘Jazz’ in the title. Although jazz is a very niche genre and is at first listen an acquired taste, it still occupies a considerable territory in the market for music. Hence, musicians should be using social media to market themselves and their work. Nicky suggests that using tools like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Soundcloud, BandPage etc to your advantage is a must. I am using the WordPress blogging engine to generate content that can be used as a portfolio to further opportunities. Why if these free tools are available to everyone, are we not making use of them?
You can visit Nicky’s website by clicking here.
Workshop 2: Alistair Andrews – Making Use of Technology in Music
This is the first year that there has been so much of a focus on music technology at the festival. It’s understandable that such a monumental shift has taken place, especially since every Tom, Dick and Harry can now make electronic music on their computers. As a laptop beat-maker and avid computer music geek, I thought I’d pop around to Alistair Andrews’ workshop on music technology.
Alistair is a Warwick endorsed bassist and music technologist, and lectures in music technology at the UCT College of Music. I have been following some of his articles in the monthly BPM magazine for a while now.
In the workshop I was probably the only person in the room other than Alistair over the age of 16, and hence I was the one asking most of the questions.
Having made beats since before I even started playing bass, this field of expertise has become more and more interesting to me over the years. I was curious as to the workings of Logic Pro, the Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) software that so many have recommended to me. Often times, I’m confronted with the thought that all these programs do the exact same job and that like cars, they all cater to a certain preference. My preference is ease of use. I like a DAW that does exactly what I tell it to do with very little issues in between. This is why I’ve been using FL Studio – it’s simple to install and setup, it uses very little CPU, and it works on PC. Perhaps when I move over to a Mac I’ll get on to Logic Pro and Ableton Live and all the others. Right now though, don’t talk to me about how Cubase is better than so and so – the conversation will just go around in a circle.
After all my questions had subsided, Alistair went on to play us some of his own compositions as well as a song he’d produced for Jonathan Butler.
Workshop 3: Benjamin Herman, Borislav Petrov and Gorm Helfjord – Playing Funk
Ah, the good old smell of freshly baked funk music in the morning – or should I say afternoon? Nothing quite like it. In fact, funk is one of the main reasons I picked up bass as an instrument of preference in the first place. Having heard Stuart Zender (of Jamiroquai) do his thing on ‘Too Young to Die’, I was inspired to do what I’m doing now. Nothing beats groove – it’s what makes your head rock back on your shoulders when you’re listening to a hot dance tune. With grooving, comes this notion of being inside the ‘Pocket’ as well as ‘playing behind’ (the beat). These were a bunch of notions that Benjamin Herman, Borislav Petrov and Gorm Helfjord had presented to a packed classroom.
Benjamin Herman is a Dutch saxophonist who has toured around the world and has won multiple awards, one of these awards included Esquire’s ‘Best Dressed Dutchman of 2008’ and it showed. Today he was accompanied by Bulgarian drummer Borislav Petrov and Norwegian guitarist Gorm Helfjord (and husband of South African songbird of jazz Melanie Scholtz).
Together they demonstrated the machinations of funk – how the bass and drums work together and how the entire band function off of what the drummer is doing. As an example, Borislav demonstrated how whack funk sounds when the drummer is hasty on the snare. In order to groove, the snare has to be attacked lazily so as to create a strong pull that makes you want to dance. This pull is experienced when playing ‘behind the beat’. A few years ago, master bassist Shaun Johannes (or Shaun Jozi, as I like to call him) was explaining to me during a lesson, how playing behind works.
He’d said that the beat is like a rugby ball. It has two ends that combine at the ball’s extremities and a fat juicy part in the middle that represents the metronomic core of the beat. The first end represents playing ahead of the beat – slightly hasty, while the other end represents what funk is all about: playing behind the beat! These notions are very subjective and the easier thing to do would be talk less and feel more. Funk is all about the feel. If it feels good, then that’s the right sound. I was booted out of Ramon Alexander’s CD ’cause I was too ahead of the beat – so I only played on one track. Quite important I think.
Carine Bonnefoy New Large Ensemble
I’d mentioned how awesome Carine Bonnefoy’s first performance at the festival was in an earlier post. I’d said that I’d leave the juicy bits for a later post. This is that post.
How Carine manages to seamlessly amalgamate a strong element of jazz with a very traditional classical sound defeats me. What was initially just a small rhythm section (for her first performance) was now accompanied by a full on string ensemble and a horn section made up of some of the best local and international musicians. Her feather-light piano playing is so much more accentuated even when backed up by such weighty arrangements.
I was so taken in by the beauty of what was taking place right before my eyes and the sheer ingenuity of the new large ensemble. I was very impressed with the bassist Jean-Michel Charbonnel, whose groove and time/feel was solid as a rock.
I wish there was a way could fully articulate what I’d taken from the performance, but then – music is something that has to be experienced. How much less true is a twice removed opinion on a performance that renders one speechless?
I was about to say that this was my favourite performance of the festival, until I remembered what I saw later that night: the Double Double Bass Project.
Double Double Bass Project
Put two of Europe’s leading Double Bass players in one room and watch the magic happen. Hein van de Geyn (from the Netherlands) and Martin Sjöstedt (from Sweden) are giants in their own right, having both played with legend jazz artists all over the place. I felt like I was in the presence of legends already.
The atmosphere in the room was scintillating and I could feel the energy pick up in the packed audience as Martin took to his bass, man alone. Setting the scene for what was about to come, he mystified the audience with fat low-end melodies. It wasn’t long ’til Hein joined him – proceeding to fill in all the gaps between Martin’s playing.
What inspired me the most, was their respect for one another – how they allowed the music to breathe by alternating the heads and solos between each other. The whole show was improvised.
I have an inkling towards shrugging music that has two bass instruments off, because it has a tendency to flop real fast – I was pleasantly surprised. Not that I expected it to be bad – on the contrary, I knew the music was in safe hands.
Unlike that one time I went to Musica, and they had a clearance sale on some local afro-jazz CDs. Seeing an album with a local bassist on the front cover pictured with an electric bass guitar and a double bass, I decided to give it a listen. If cheese had a sound, that would be it. You had the one bass guitar playing the traditional supportive role, and then you had the other bass guitar playing the melody/improv sections on the high register of the instrument – sounding indistinguishable from any lead guitarist trying to sound like George Benson. And you wondered why they were having a clearance sale on afro-jazz CDs? I almost felt bad that as a bassist, I hadn’t gone in for the deal.
Hein van de Geyn and Martin Sjöstedt had me sold from the get go. Looking around me at the audience, I saw some major bass icons all around: Shaun Johannes, Shane Cooper, Romy Brauteseth, Benjamin Jephta etc…This was more than just a bass show, it was a pilgrimage – a rite of passage if you may.
I was humbled.
Stay hooked for my final post on Day 6