Inside a jazz workshop - week 6

Hideaway has been running jazz workshops at the club for 6 weeks now. I arrived for week 6 tired and hopelessly underprepared, having been away for two weeks. I don't even know if I'm going to be playing or honking my way through class tonight! The strong coffee from the lovely guys at the bar started to take effect during the warm up.

Andrea Vicari led a rhythm warm up starting with simple clapping while she played a riff on the piano. Clapping only on the first beat, then the second, then the 'ands' I can't remember the last time I saw such concentration round a group as we prepared to clap on nothing but '3 and' the sixth quaver of a 4 beat bar! Try it next time you're listening to a tune.... see not so easy eh? We moved on to some call and response taking it in turn to improvise a clapped rhythm over two bars. After several weeks of focus on harmony we were starting to realise that this week was all about the rhythm.

The tune for the session was Herbie Hancock's version of the Prince classic "Thieves in the Temple" - see how I say that like it meant something to me! I didn't know it at all, either version (my own silly fault as Duncan publishes the numbers we're covering and recommends advance listening on the Hideaway website). Nice bit of ear training as we were split up into sections and were taught the tunes by ear while we waited for copies of the music to arrive. Quickly back all together, with the security of the music in front of us we crashed through the tune and made a decent sound of it so straight on to improvisation.

This is what I'm here for, I've only been starting to get my head around chord symbols and playing without the actual notes in front of me to help out for about nine months so being told it's all in A minor pentatonic throws me for a bit (why did no one in my school music education and my up-to-grade-8-studies never mention that there were scales beyond major and harmonic & melodic minors???how does that happen? does it still?).

Fortunately the jazz workshop is is a class for all comers and Duncan is swift to clarify the notes if not the theory behind the scale which, in my weary state, is much my preferred version. As this handy scale is going to serve for the whole tune we're to focus on repetition of rhythmic ideas. The idea, presumably being, that this will give structure to us newbies to build our improv on.

Once we're agreed on the form we're off each of us taking a turn at trying to improvise over the tune. I'm all set. I've got my rhythmic theme in my head, the thing I'll keep coming back to using different notes from the A minor pentatonic scale, then it's me... and... well goodness only knows. There's a blur, some music and by the end I know I've played a lot of E-flats and I'm pretty sure that's not in the scale and was there any sign of my rhythmic theme??? I think we all know the answer to that.

Sigh... The best thing though is that I did it, without too much fear and no one laughed or pointed or slowly, sadly shook their heads because it just isn't that sort of group. It's fine to be a bit rubbish, as some of us often are but that's kind of the point. It's a safe place to try things out. To have a go. In such a large class there's not much feedback, and the progression from idea to idea is quick but it sets up ideas that can be taken home and thought about, broken down and repeated at your own pace.

Already it's half eight and time to wind up the class with a final run though. I was too knackered to stay for the jam session that followed but previously it has been great fun. The early part tends to be more of the class students getting up and jamming with the band, often covering the evenings tune and previous tunes from the course. As the evening wears on more musicians start arriving and the thing really starts to swing.

Each week we learn, and practice and improv round, a new tune so even if you haven't been to the workshop before it's worth popping down and giving it a go. What ever your level you'll find something to take from the class and it's friendly supportive atmosphere. We're on to The Duke "In a Sentimental Mood," next week, and I will do the listening this week; really, I will.