Residential, Day 3: Pete Long

Every Residential we like to use part of the time here to explore an aspect of music or learning that we haven’t explored elsewhere, but that can illuminate the music we are playing now or in the future.

So, in the past we’ve had sessions on, for instance, samba, and tap dance. This year, following an outing to Taunton to hear the Pete Long Big Band play its Ellington show, we asked Pete if he’d come and direct a couple of sessions on early jazz. We’re grateful to John Packer of Taunton for sponsoring these sessions, following on from their support of Pete’s concert in Taunton.

DYJO2 worked on the early Basie tune Jumpin’ At The Woodside. Pete spent some time settling the rhythm section into a tight Basie groove and sound, then worked on getting tight, punchy riffs. And then he worked on soloing, using major pentatonic scales, after which several players put that into practice in an exciting closing performance.

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After a break, Pete worked with DYJO on Sing Sing Sing. Each of the sections were put through their paces, in no uncertain fashion(!),  with Pete coaxing amazing sounds out of each section.

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Both sessions moved along at a relentless pace, and somehow, even after nearly three days of activity, all the players summoned the energy to respond to Pete’s impassioned leadership.

And now: just our end of course ‘giglette’, and the chance to show off some of the stuff we’ve been working on over these three days.

The DYJO Learning Thing

The central part of DYJO’s remit is learning – it so happens that our medium is music, jazz and big band, but if we can equip our young musicians to learn ‘stuff’ and give them an appetite to learn, there will be no holding them back, in life in general, quite apart from music.

With that in mind, each Residential features our snappily titled Learning Thing, where the players have a session of non-directed learning, firstly in sections, then split into two bands. 90 minutes later the bands listen to each other, and are assessed on their performances.

And each year we’ve then had the fun of taking the music through the season, knowing that the performance has truly come from the players themselves.

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The DYJO Residential 2015

Dartmoor resonated to the sound of jazz today: it’s the start our annual residential at the wonderful Heatree Activity Centre near Manaton.

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We’ve been coming here now each October half term for about ten years, and every year it really is the making of the bands. It’s a time when not only do we spend intensive sessions on all aspects of the music for the season, but the players really bond on a personal level.

We’ll have over 50 players from DYJO1 and DYJO2 once everyone is here, and it was the normal hectic start as everyone arrived, and we were rehearsing by soon after 10am.

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Both bands spent the first day really getting to grips with piles of notes and grooves, with full and sectional rehearsals. The four tutors Graham, Brian, Roz and Ben led the various groups and sections.

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After all that, the day was rounded off with a competition involving table tennis, table football and pool, and a screening of the classic Ghostbusters, to send everyone to bed with smiles on their faces. And tired.

But tomorrow will be a new, fresh day of musical grooves and learning. Bring it on!

Our second Gathering Day, and forthcoming residential

Today was our second Gathering Day of the season (that term comes from way back in the history of DYJO and the old county music service, Devon Youth Music), and a full turn-out of both bands helped us build on the start made in September. The members of DYJO1 (the senior band) have a clue about what DYJO1 is going to be like, as they will know the DYJO set-up, and will already know Graham. I’m aware that players new to DYJO2 might take a while to adjust to the demands and expectations I place on them, but I can already tell that they are rising to the challenge.

Today I brought along a pile of new charts: after a waltzy oral/aural warm-up, we launched into an arrangement of Miles Davis’s All Blues (the classic recording is here). And then we looked at a range of music, from John Coltrane’s Naima to a funky tune called Hit The Bricks by Gordon Goodwin, and Autumn Leaves, as well as revisiting charts from last month, such as Buddy Rich’s hard-swinging Groovin’ Hard. And amongst all that, Roz Harding did her splendid work on group improvisation with DYJO2, getting them to internalise the blues and find ways to express themselves in soloing. A splendid day for DYJO2, and talking to Graham afterwards, he had a whirlwind of a day too with DYJO1.

And coming up next – the three-day residential at Heatree on Dartmoor, where the bands will find just how intense and intensive rehearsal can be, all in the superb setting of Heatree House.

And then, of course, in November, we have both our annual gig at the Teignmouth Jazz Festival, and this year, an appearance at the Schools Proms on Wednesday 25 November… but more of that in due course!

More Snarky Puppy reflections…

Nic Steward, one of our DYJO Association members, and parent of a DYJO player writes:

“So, what’s stayed with me one week on?

Well, the atmosphere was amazing, and so too, obviously, was the music. That the band could be so tight and at the time so free, said a lot about their ability to communicate with each other… which led me to think that maybe we don’t always appreciate how much DYJO gives to its players on top of the fantastic musical education. The ability to work with others and to communicate effectively is immensely valuable, and being a part of DYJO is giving all of our players a real head start here.

But back to that splendid evening in Bristol, and it wasn’t only the atmosphere in the venue that was remarkable – as I did a headcount on the coach before we headed back to Devon, there was a real buzz, and there wasn’t a face without a smile.

And as for Emma and the cherished drumstick, caught (and fiercely hung onto!) as the band took a final bow, the excitement (and envy!) she inspired will certainly be hard to forget.”

Snarky Puppy in Bristol

The main bit of DYJO’s purpose is about education. Yes, what you see is a couple of big bands of enthusiastic young musicians playing great music, but for us the more important bit is how they get there. Of course, the most obvious part of that is our series of ‘Gathering Days’ where we rehearse the big bands and players explore improvisation, developing their own musical voices, but any music education is far wider than that. Jazz started out as an aural medium, and as entertainment, so to go to listen to and see great jazz being performed is invaluable.

When we saw that Snarky Puppy were performing at the 02 Arena in Bristol, we immediately decided to take a party up to see the concert. This American band has developed a unique profile both through developing their own groovy jazzy sound-world, but also by extremely clever marketing, making full use of Youtube, live gigs, and publishing music, to spread the word about what they are doing.

The venue holds 2000, and was sold out. The forty or so from DYJO arrived by coach shortly before the warm-up act – a Greek female vocalist and accordion player. It was great to see the band members of Snarky Puppy on stage as her band, and she performed for about 30 minutes, with a range of expression and different grooves.

And then at 9pm Snarky Puppy came back onto the stage. What can I say, other than “what a band!”? They stormed through a terrific set, full of infectious grooves, which sometimes submerged beneath enticing textures that left the audience searching for the beat; at other times the groove just hit you in face and chest. Every one of the band members is a stonking musician with something to say, and the communication between then and the audience was infectious: it’s what live music and jazz is all about. And although I might, personally, have preferred a slightly less bassy, amplified sound at times, it was a stonking show, which brought the house down by the end.

And from the educational point of view? Well, I’m sure that it will have sunk deep into every one of the DYJO musicians who came, whether they are immediately aware of it or not. At the most basic level, it must have reinforced the power of live music, and for those who really want to follow the jazz path further, it will certainly make them think about how they might express themselves in jazz.

http://snarkypuppy.com/