25 May 2016

Calm before the storm

Not so calm, but all things are relative. Joe Farnsworth and his Prime Time Quartet gave a workshop at the ANU School of Music the day before their gig at the Street. I was lucky enough to hear of it and attend. I was particularly lucky to hear the band perform several tunes, occasionally with sit-ins, but also just as the band. They were playing Dizzy's BeBop as I entered. As is the approach in this style, the solos were passed around in standard order and everyone had a go: tenor, piano, bass, drums. Then head out. Nothing unexpected in that respect. As was to be hammered later, jazz is a language and is easily shared even without another shared vocal language. Then later, something with Wayne Kelly, Georgia with a young girl singer [Sophie Edwards, Year 12] and Mark Sutton sitting in, an end with Del Sassar. Brendan Clarke had organised the tour after meeting Joe in NYC after a simple email. Jazz is like that: people are approachable, including someone well regarded and well recorded. All a journey, no-one is arrived; deadly serious and deeply erudite, a 'beautiful nightmare"; knowledge is shared and passed on. The talk just confirmed this. Roy Haynes apparently said "freedom with discipline" and Joe quoted it. He also quoted "Never put the student before the master" and talked of listening to the basics, from the 1940s on. He'd been preparing for 30 years, so felt no particular need for rehearsal before their first gig. This is a language and it's shared. (Johnny Griffin: "Where language ends, jazz begins".) I asked how many tunes in their playlist: Joe had suggested a few less common ones he'd like to play (Del Sasser was one) but otherwise it was their long-term experience with the American songbook and jazz standards and specifically a few styles and stylists (Bebop and Cedar Walton and Jazz Messengers were mentioned amongst others). That also is shared. Over and over they highlighted listening, learning from the masters, finding a favourite and exploring thoroughly. I would have liked to have heard suggestions on how to learn tunes (I expect listening, transcribing, borrowing, etc). Always highlighting the inclusion in a performance family with common knowledge. Joe went to every individual in the room, asking what they played and who were their favourite players, mentioning related names, people from the same town (Chicago, Detroit, perhaps easier with big jazz names in the US, although we have our smaller groupings here, through Jazz Groove and common years at jazz schools and the like). Another quote: "Knowledge, Persistence, Perseverance"; listen/practice, continue learning. Jazz is a pleasure but also a demanding task-master. In giving praise to Joe, John said he's not just fast and loud, but a "really good musician" (higher praise than it sounds: I noticed how he listened and watched, quoted and responded to those he played with). Dale took over to answer a question about the future of jazz. It's infinitely adaptable ("like a limpet"), so will always be there, always survive, and with jazz comes its traditions. (I think of it as the high music artform that centralises groove and improv; classical is another high art but with a different rhythmic conception and, nowadays, splitting the role of composer and performer). But the main message of the day? Listen, learn, there's no end.

PS. Joe introduced us to a Charlie Parker drum feel. Bird was apparently heard playing it in a studio awaiting the start of a session. Played concurrently at moderate pace: Swing on ride; Shuffle on snare; Four-on-the-floor on kick; 4/4 triplet on hi-hat.

Prime Time Quartet was led by Joe Farnsworth (drums) with Brendan Clarke (bass), John Harkins (piano) and Dale Barlow (tenor). Wayne Kelly (piano), Mark Sutton (drums) and Sophie Edwards (vocals) sat in.

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