7 August 2012

Effortless does not mean uninformed

I have tickets to Joe Chindamo at the Capital Jazz Project on Friday and after seeing Joe in a workshop at the Band Room this afternoon, I am counting the days. He didn’t play much, but what he did was intriguing and coloured. The main piece was Out of nowhere as a piano trio with students Max and Luke. This was generous and a performance rather than a demonstration, so we could hear the richly varied approaches, his satisfyingly structured lines, his gentleness and intriguing modern-classical harmony (he particularly likes Ravel, Prokofiev, Charles Ives and the American composers) and his capable plays on jazz harmony and mobile patterns. He played a little else, but as demonstrations: Bach’s Goldburg Variations to display repeating form with variations; Gershwins’s Our love is here to stay showing two melodic shapes in movement and in play; Beethoven’s famous first three notes of the Fifth Symphony as a simple but memorable pattern. And Joe has catholic tastes: he also spoke of bluegrass and playing Dolly Parton. I liked some memorable quotes: “Notice things all the time” while talking of learning away from an instrument. This was in the context of noticing bassoon lines and learning from hearing harmony at an orchestral concert. He was strong on listening. It reminds me of a favourite quote of mine: "In the final analysis, your stature as a jazz musician is determined not by how much you have practised, but by how well you have listened" (Jazzology, p.195). Then a preference for effortless playing: he prefers musicians who don’t grunt the C major chord (think Paul Desmond). When practising, it’s ïmportant to muck around intelligently” and this one that I really liked and that highlights the responsibility on the learner: “[It’s] important to have a good teacher, but much more important to be a good student.” He was wary of the view that jazz has to come from certain locations, observing that “No critics have ever seen a bad French film”. He pointed to variation as a key to interest and demonstrated the effectiveness of a C major chord finishing a free passage. He talked and demonstrated various ways to practising soloing. Against a chord structure, choose the 9th or 5th and sharpen or flatten it on seventh chords. This produced intriguing harmonies and was perhaps my favourite as a sound. Another was essentially voice leading. Move up by a semitone or tone for each chord and build solos on those notes. Vary in all sorts of ways: start from different notes; use two, three or four notes per bar. Build interesting lines; check that fast lines are interesting when slowed (don’t just run scales). Or more traditionally, play arpeggios, move patterns, more.

This was just to touch on the discussion. But Out of nowhere said it all. I’m looking forward to Joe’s full band playing Friday for a full dose. Joe Chindamo (piano) ran a workshop for students at the ANU School of Music. Max Alduca (bass) and Luke Keanan-Brown (drums) sat in for one tune.

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