With a new voice at the helm and many new faces in its faculty, Ottawa's oldest jazz camp will sound different this year.
Saxophonist and composer Rob Frayne has taken over as music director of the JazzWorks jazz camp, which runs August 18-21 – and for 2016, he's focusing on rhythm.
The camp workshops will emphasize “rhythm or phrasing or swinging” – both in playing instruments and in singing, Frayne told OttawaJazzScene.ca. “That has been something that I think needs focusing on. And that's the big change this year.”
That doesn't mean just percussion. “There's one workshop [saxophonist] Christine Jensen is giving on articulation, how to make rhythmic phrasing with straight eighth-notes in a jazzy way.”
Vocalist Julie Michels and pianist Dave Restivo are teaching “how to groove vocally in different styles. And I'm doing one with [pianist] Steve Boudreau just on how to set up time, you know a rhythm feel, and then change and develop that feel. These are all things that most students wouldn't think of.”
That's not the only change in the 23-year-old camp this year. There's a significant alteration in its faculty. Long-time instructors like Christine Duncan, Jim Lewis, Frank Lozano, and Kevin Barrett are missing. Double bassist John Geggie, who co-founded the camp and had directed it for decades before announcing his retirement last year, will not be at the camp this year, either.
Replacing them are musicians from Montreal, Toronto, and NYC with impressive resumes: multi-Juno-winning saxophonist Christine Jensen, bassist Jim Vivian, guitarist Lorne Lofsky, trumpeter Bill Mahar, trombonist William Carn, saxophonist Don Braden, percussionist Alyssa Falk, and pianist Yves Léveillé.
Frayne said this “changing of the guard” was caused by several factors, including work conflicts. Kevin Barrett, for example, is performing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Scotland, and pianist Nancy Walker is working on a composing commission, he said. “So people have other stuff to do, which has happened before, but it's coincidental that it's [happening] all at once.”
He hoped that Geggie would return eventually as an instructor. “I think a lot of people needed a break. Who knows next year who will be there?”
Geggie is teaching at the Carleton University Jazz Camp this year, which, by contrast, has an all-Ottawa faculty.
Frayne said he'd worked with some, but not all, of the new instructors. Some were suggested by JazzWorks executive director Judy Humenick, he said. “I just trust that they're going to do something amazing.”
NYC drummer Alyssa Falk, for example, will be bringing “a whole bunch of djembes in her car”. Saxophonist Don Braden is “a jazz trouper. He's played with Betty Carter and Elvin Jones, so he's got that real, authentic jazz ethos.” With pianist Yves Léveillé, “it should be fun to see his totally different approach."
Shaking up the faculty and getting new viewpoints is good for the camp's students, he said. “They get exposed to different things. I just really hope we keep the creative, welcoming feeling going. We're hoping for the best – I think the people we've got are really nice.”
That welcoming feeling is a priority for Frayne, who's been involved with the camp right from its beginning. He said he was trying to maintain the same “free, creative, open vibe that we had before.”
In its first year, the camp was run by the Ottawa-based jazz group Chelsea Bridge, which included both him and Geggie, he said. For the first 5 or 10 years, it was a co-operative among several instructors. “We all did our stuff, pretty well reflecting how we were as musicians.”
“Really it's personality-based, like who we hire and do we know them as gentle, generous, kind, inspiring people. So it's combined with that and the people who are going to camp, like repeat visitors, they're equally giving.”
JazzWorks' most direct competitor is the Carleton University Jazz Camp, which runs slightly earlier in August and which has gone through its own changes this year. In addition, Mike Tremblay's saxophone camp ran in July this year; Nick Dyson's Brass Bootcamp is running at the same time as JazzWorks.
All of these are located inside Ottawa, allowing students to commute daily. The JazzWorks camp, on the other hand, is held at the CAMMAC Music Centre in Quebec, a two-hour drive from Ottawa, Students stay at the centre, and workshops and concerts and socializing run later into the evening. The camp runs from Thursday evening to Sunday afternoon (August 18-21); it's preceded by an optional two-day Composers' Symposium, where students are mentored in composing new pieces by three instructors.
Frayne noted the JazzWorks camp also brings most of its instructors from outside Ottawa, unlike the other camps.
Its programs are geared to “all ages”, but with a slightly older starting age than the Carleton University camp. “So we've had as young as 15 and as old as 85 – I think Mort [the late Mortimer Katz] was the oldest one there. Personally I'd like to see more young people come. I think it would be really great.”
According to the JazzWorks history on its website, the camp's goal from the beginning was to present “a workshop focussed on local adult jazz musicians. The educational model of JazzWorks concentrates on teaching adult and advanced high school jazz musicians in small group/jazz combo performance."
Many students return year after year, Frayne said, for reasons that go beyond music. “It's like a bit of a retreat, to recharge your batteries. People are friends with each other beyond just jazz. For example, Alrick and Roberta [Huebener] have been coming for a long time. And of course, they get a lot of the music, but it's largely it's a neat social thing.”
And the experience itself is inspiring. “That's the best part of camp. Thursday night, when we have the initial combos, everyone is usually shaking their heads, thinking 'Oh, goodness, this is horrible', and then by Sunday it's pretty good. Like there's some kind of magic that happens. Everybody usually sounds pretty good. I had a beginners' combo last year and even we pulled the rabbit out of the hat.”
It gives students more confidence, too. “One girl, a cornet player from New Brunswick, went straight back to Moncton, and started taking lessons, and rethought what she was [doing]. It became more than a hobby for her.”
In students' end of camp evaluation questionnaires, “usually the comments are great, like in terms of experience. And we've been trying to fine-tune. Most of the campers are smart adults, so they've thought about what they would like to see and we try to make that happen, within the realm of jazz and creative [music].”
Frayne isn't actively recruiting for the 2016 camp at this point (“I think it's been full for about a month”) – except for brass players.
It's a not-unexpected problem with jazz camps, he said, which changes year to year. “There's enough singers, always, but sometimes you don't get enough bass players.”
– Alayne McGregor
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