Saxophone masterclass

My week at Summer Session is off to a good start. I’ve been here since Sunday night, and I’m slowly finding my way toward figuring out what my purpose is here.

I blogged a couple of days ago about how I was trying to make sense of my role, and I’m very grateful to the guys from Jazz Danmark for their approach, which has simply been that they thought it would be a good idea to invite me and “just see what happens”.

I was made aware that there had been some resistance to my involvement, by one of the musicians in particular – a veteran of Summer Sessions past.

It’s understandable, since the tradition of Summer Session has always been about bringing together only musicians to play… and I can kind of get how being away from the pressures of ‘the music business side of things’ could be seen as one of the things that’s special about this event that might well be lost by bringing someone like me into the mix.

For that reason, I’ve been trying to be fairly low-impact – hanging at the back, not staying too long in any one session, that sort of thing. I’ve been observing, without actually intervening, wherever possible.

But people are almost uniformly friendly, and I’ve been welcomed in beyond what I thought was likely even at this early stage of the process.

Musicians: secretly lovely

I love musicians. While they are, historically speaking, notorious for being divas, self-absorbed prima donnas and socially prickly creatures, mostly that’s a mythology created by the record industry and perpetuated by media.

It’s a good story, but it doesn’t reflect reality. In fact, the ratio of genuinely lovely people to nasty, petty, selfish and bitter people is easily as high in the musician community as it is anywhere else.

My experience suggests that it may even be disproportionately higher.

We’re all in this together

The immersive nature of the event and its structure has been particularly helpful in terms of my inclusion. Living in the same building, spending all day in each other’s company in different combinations and hanging out together has meant that people have been keen to get on and get a sense of all of the different people they’ve found themselves with.

Because while the focus is largely on music performance, there are lots of other things going on here.

For example, yesterday’s programme ran something like this:

10:00 Brunch
12:00 Ensemble Workshops
14:00 Lunch
15:00 Ensemble Workshops
16:00 Rotation of workshop leaders
17:00 Silent hour (no music is played)
18:00 Dinner
20:00 Masterclasses
22:00 Concert
00:00 Masterclass
01:00 Film screening
02:00 Jam sessions

Late morning starts, very late night playing. Jazz hours, in other words.

The breaks — particularly the silent hour, where musicians hang out, kick a football around, chat, drink wine or whatever they want to do — are a great opportunity to get involved in conversations that are not about music, but which inevitably end up somehow connected to the topic.

The doctor is in

I’ve also had a couple of what you might call ‘consultancy’ chats – and one of the musicians has gone so far as to make an appointment with me to talk about the work that he does and how he is currently communicating that online.

And of course, I’ve tried to be as helpful as possible – while also learning a lot about the interesting and diverse things that people like this get involved in to make a living at what they do.

For instance, Jakob Høgsbro does music team-building, but also performs contemplative solo music (with looping) in church spaces. He talked to me yesterday about the use of video as part of what he does, which not only provides some interesting opportunities, it also raises some very unusual challenges.

Jazz doesn’t get tougher than this

The calibre of the music here is, of course, phenomenal. Yesterday I attended the saxophone masterclass with George Garzone and Joe Lovano (above) and then watched The Fringe (Garzone, Lockwood, Gullotti) perform with Joe Lovano and Tyshawn Sorey. I also got to hear a brand new composition in the works by Rebecca Martin and Larry Grenadier.

All of the workshop leaders are presenting some incredible challenges for their students: Larry and Rebecca are doing interesting stuff with rapid composition; Tyshawn has supplied a piece of music that is essentially a complex mathematical puzzle; Enrico Pieranunzi appears to be operating at incredible levels of nuance and fine tuning; The Fringe are introducing a degree of communication in improvisation that appears superhuman and psychic to the casual observer (though to be fair, they did just celebrate 40 years of playing together as a trio).

But the distance between these guest ‘teachers’ and the ‘students’ isn’t so great. All of the musicians here are professionals, some of them very well established and quite well-known (in the somewhat rarified world of Scandinavian jazz, of course).

My point, and I do have one

The purpose of this is simply to say that I’m starting to get a sense of what I’m doing here (and, more importantly, how to do it) – and in doing so, I’m getting myself into some interesting conversations. And even though the lessons are aimed at accomplished musicians (and I am certainly not one of those), I’m learning a lot myself. Especially about the ways in which top jazz musicians talk about their craft and their art.

And along the way, one of the conversations I got myself into was (it turned out) with the one person who was most vocally and vehemently opposed to my presence when it first was announced that I would be in attendance as a special guest.

He had made his opposition well known. Letters had been written. Arguments were had. Facebook statuses were (I’m told) ‘vitriolic’.

To be honest, I don’t exactly know what this musician had been expecting from my presence. Perhaps he thought that I would be giving compulsory seminars or something. He did say that he thought I was likely to tell him that everything would be fine if he just started selling t-shirts and spending more time on Facebook.

I can see why someone would be resistant to that idea – and I’d be the first to agree that it would be dreadful to ruin something as special as Summer Session with that sort of carry-on.

But we got talking about music and politics, we shared some ideas about the relationship between music, business and the internet. And I explained that really, my interest is in musicians getting to do what they do in a way that’s meaningful, sustainable and free from exploitation.

I also explained a little bit about my theory of the three types of music business blog, and it’s pretty clear that he’s had some experience of at least some of that literature – and quite possibly from some of the people of whom I’m fairly critical myself. I may be broadly positive about the possibilities inherent in the internet for music and musicians, but there’s nothing worse than an unbridled utopianism and “what we must all do” futurism.

And in the end, he asked if we could take a photo together to put on his Facebook page, declared me to be “not nearly as terrible as he thought I’d be” — and poured me a glass of his wine.

So even if nothing else happens this week (and you can be sure it will), I’m already declaring my own Summer Session experience a resounding success.