Mike Tremblay's eyes light up as he describes his unexpected dream come true.
The Ottawa saxophone player and teacher is launching a new week-long jazz camp in Ottawa this August, sponsored by Carleton University. It's a project he's been thinking about for many years, but hadn't been expecting to start this soon.
But a breakfast meeting in February made it possible. He and Carleton University music professor James Wright had been discussing the Music Department's direction for the next academic year. At the end of the meeting, Tremblay said "there's something I've always really wanted to do is set up a jazz camp in Ottawa, right in the city, and get people here from Ottawa involved." But what he needed was a sponsor, and a location to hold the camp. Would the university be interested, maybe for 2011?
Wright was intrigued, and challenged Tremblay to put his ideas in writing. A week later, Tremblay had analyzed all the other jazz camps in Ontario, and produced a detailed 12-page proposal, together with a budget and a tentative list of instructors. Wright went through it in detail, asked questions, and then told Tremblay to go ahead – for 2010.
But that left him only a week before MusicFest, where he needed to advertise the camp. A friend he played hockey with pointed out the university's printing department could help with the brochure. With that and some "express" meetings to get approvals, the camp was announced in time for the MusicFest weekend at the beginning of March.
The new camp will run at Carleton University from August 8 to 13. It's for all instruments: the camp will be for "a larger ensemble, with the full saxes and trumpet and trombones and vocalists and guitar players and of course rhythm section players".
In 5 ½ very packed days, it will cover everything from theory to ear training, big bands to small vocal ensembles, jam sessions to masterclasses, and much more. Based on auditions, students will be placed in different ensembles and big bands, as well as improvising ensembles.
Every evening (Sunday to Thursday) will feature concerts put on by camp faculty and invited guests, plus a final student concert on the Friday. Tickets to the concerts will be available to the general public, with package deals offered.
Several of the teachers, like Tremblay, are well-known local musicians who teach at Carleton: Wright, Jesse Stewart, Tim Bedner, Mark Ferguson, and Elise Letourneau. Three other prominent local jazz musicians are also involved: Brian Browne, Nick Dyson, and Mike Essoudry. Two renowned players will come from Toronto: bassist Kieran Overs, and saxophonist Alex Dean. Other musicians may do masterclasses. Tremblay said it was a "really tough decision" to pick the instructors. "There's enough really strong players and teachers in this city that I could have put on two camps easily."
But what about JazzWorks? It already runs a local jazz camp, which will be held only a week later (Aug 19 to 22) in Lake MacDonald, Quebec, about two hours from Ottawa. Tremblay discounts any rivalry: he says the camps can co-exist.
"I think they're two completely different things." He said the main difference was the greater length of the Carleton camp. The extra days will allow students to learn and execute more musical concepts: "We can spend a couple days on straight-ahead string tunes, and then we can spend a couple days on Latin and another day playing in odd meters: we can get a little bit more intense with a [whole] week." As well, students will be able to have more sessions with each instructor.
"My experience here in Ottawa, living here all my life, if another saxophone player moves to town, my attitude has always been there's enough work for everybody. From the time I was just starting to teach til now, which is over 25 years of teaching, students are going to come and go. One student is going to be with me for a little while, and then I notice that he's starting to not progress as well, and I'll say, 'Listen, why don't you go see Vince [Rimbach] for a couple of lessons, and see how it goes? It can be really good for you to listen to someone else.'
"They're going to take different things from different people. If they're with us for a year or two, they're going to go to JazzWorks. If they're at JazzWorks and they're looking for something different, they'll come to us. I don't think that JazzWorks is going to lose any people, and really that definitely was not my intent."
Tremblay said he had spoken with JazzWorks artistic director John Geggie about the Carleton camp while he was planning it, and invited him to teach (Geggie had another unbreakable commitment). "I just wanted to be upfront: it's a different camp." He said some of the adults registering for the Carleton camp in fact also planned to attend JazzWorks.
Tremblay said the Carleton camp is designed for musicians age 14 and above. He expects mostly high school students – "keeping away from the JazzWorks people, who are mostly adults."
The students need to be at the level where they're enjoying music in school, they play in their school band, and "they're really interested in the style," he said. While students should be able to read music at a basic level, they'll be assessed individually, and will get the help they need to build on their strengths and correct their weaknesses. The camp will also provide ear training, which high schools cannot do, he said.
In future years, he would like to drop the minimum age to 12 or 13, because the largest number of students actively studying jazz in Ottawa schools is actually in Grades 7 and 8; fewer students continue band studies into high school because of pressure of preparing for university. "So, for any successful camp, that's the place to hook them. If you can do that in Grades 7 and 8, you've got them until they go to university." Even if they don't study music in university, "you hope music can enrich their lives and they can be part of a team creating music, getting involved with something that can last them for the rest of their lives. And so they become the JazzWorks-type person, who although they have a full-time job, for a week out of the summer, they're jazz musicians: they're studying, practicing, playing. I love that."
He said he hoped students would return for several years to the camp to learn different skills, or to work with different instructors from year to year.
Tremblay said he needed a minimum of 30 students for the camp to run, although he expected nearer 60 and there was no problem accommodating more than that (as long as not all needed residence rooms). He said that registrations were coming in steadily. Registration is $525 + tax; until May 1, the 7% GST will be charged; after May 1, the 13% HST will apply.
When asked what students would expect to gain from the camp, Tremblay said it would differ for each student. "I think they're going to take away different things. Certain students will need to branch out, both musically and socially; a lot of students get in their comfort zone at their school but that's really not what music is like. You get into the real world after high school and into university, you're being forced to ...
"Music is a very open thing, it's like telling your life story to someone when you just met then and you're playing. And you have to be able to do that with perfect strangers. You have to be able to turn that on and really get your point across and be able to communicate with them on a musical level. For some students, they don't get that type of experience when they're in high school. They're going to get to meet other musicians who are keen and see what they're practicing, see how they can overcome some of the problems they have. They're going to get to meet a whole new group of students basically, and plus get hooked up with the teachers who are making a living doing this and see how these people operate and how they practice and what they do on an intense, focused level."
For students who are talented, could this camp give them the extra push to think of music as a career? "It did for me. I went to Phil Nimmons' camp, way back in the 80s, and I didn't know anything about anything at that time. I could sort of play, I could read, but I really didn't have the theory down, and I didn't know what I was improvising, I was doing it all by ear."
At a camp faculty concert, the lead tenor player didn't show up, so Pat LaBarbera said, "We'll get Tremblay." "And so here I am, just a little kid, so I went and rushed and got my tenor, and I was an alto player, so I didn't even play tenor, really, and I went on stage and I got to play with Pat LaBarbera's salsa band. And it was just amazing. Alex [Dean] was sitting on one side, Mike Murley on the other, I was going, 'This is outstanding!' "
"It gave me the push to really start taking it seriously. There were guys there that were half my age that knew a lot more than I did, and they were practicing all the time. I loved to play, but I hadn't learned how to practice yet. It really helped me get into the reality of jazz."
– Alayne McGregor
Learning a lot in a short time
At the Carleton jazz camp, students will start the day with a 90-minute masterclass for their own instrument. Instructors and guest instructors will talk about specific topics, Tremblay said, "bringing their own experiences into it. When someone like Alex Dean is speaking to you, it's golden. You learn so much from one little session like that, you'll remember that forever."
"As soon as that's done, [when] you're on a total high, you're going into a big band rehearsal, right off. Then you go for lunch and your head is spinning, and right after lunch, you're into theory class and ear training. And then after that it's small ensemble and then after that it's jam session. It's so much, one after the other, really getting the momentum going, but it's enough different stuff that I think the students are really going to get turned on."
The last session each day (from 4 to 6 p.m.) will be a jam session, Tremblay said, where "they'll really start to have some fun and let loose."
The intense format is much like studying music in university, he said: "you're getting a lot of information thrown at you. You're taking in all that knowledge."