VNPAC: Blogging Through the 2nd Jazz Education Network Conference—Part Two

January 6, 2011—A correction to yesterday’s blog: Roberta Radley, the Assistant Chair of the Ear Training department at the Berklee College of Music, is the name of the wife of Bill Brinkley, the guitarist I ran into last night. Her presentation “Harmonic Ear Training for the Curious Musician” looked interesting, but I had to leave five minutes after it began to accompany vocalist extraordinaire Amy London’s presentation, “Sing Along with Ella,” which was an excellent presentation and analysis of Ella Fitzgerald’s solo on “Blue Skies” from the 1958 Verve recording Ella Fitzgerald sings Irving Berlin. Ms. London was gracious enough to hire a band out of her own pocket to accompany the clinic (the band being me and New Orleans guitarist Detroit Brooks). Thank you!

Right after that, Bay Area saxophonist Mel Martin’s gave an excellent demonstration of his approach to tone production, Mel is a fantastic saxophonist/flutist/clarinetist who “made his bones” playing in horn-bands in the 70s, like Cold Blood and Azteca, and his own band, Listen, that featured steel drum wizard Andy Narell as well as percussionists Glenn Cronkite (founder of Reunion Blues, the instrument case company) and Richard A. Waters (inventor of the waterphone). Also heard a concert by the Thelonious Monk Institute Jazz Ensemble.

Then I met an old friend who I haven’t seen in years, Michael Wolf, and we went to the Snug Harbor Bar to see Roseanna Vitro’s performance, which was (as usual) superb. Wolf is best known as the music director for The Arsenio Hall Show of the 80s, but I remember the New Orleans native (almost, he was born on an air force base) from when we passed like ships in the night on and from Cal Tjader’s quintet in 1974. (I was joining on and he was joining alto saxophonist Cannonball Adderley’s group. Michael was also Nancy Wilson’s last music director.) He works at Snug Harbor regularly, so we got great treatment there. Thanks Mike!

When we got back to The Roosevelt, I saw some of the Louis Armstrong Jazz Camp All Stars, who rocked the hotel’s Blue Room. Percussionist/educator Bobby Sanabria was a featured guest, as well as Claude Batiste on the tenor saxophone and the audience turned the ballroom into a dance line! I talked with multi-saxophonist Jeff Coffin (Béla Fleck, Dave Matthews) who engaged me in an extended laud on the legendary saxophonist/flutist Bert Wilson. It turns out that Jeff has family in Olympia, Washington, where Wilson has been for the last 20 years.

Bert Wilson is one of those seminal musicians who never became a household name, but is revered by elite corps of saxophonists who know his work and know that there may be no other saxophonist to achieve his mastery of the instrument, bar none. The world is full of artists like this. Among jazz bassists the name Andre Gerand of Portland, Oregon is legend. The piano has a voluminous list of these figures: Claude Sifferlin and Merrill Hubbard of Indianapolis, Terry Pollard of Detroit, and Ed Kelly of San Francisco come to mind. The guitar has Bill D’Arrango of Cleveland, Ohio, while the drums has Smiley Winters and George Marsh of San Francisco, or the late Edgar Bateman of Philadelphia. One of the great things about conventions like JEN is that these names are circulated around the various figureheads of the blooming jazz academic milieu. This way the jazz canon (a term coined by Scott Deveaux of the University of Virginia) can better reflect the Amiri Baraka’s philosophy of “the Changing Same.”

Of course, this was being done before at the conventions held by the International Association of Jazz Educators, which met its demise in February of 2008. The JEN conference isn’t as well attended, but this is actually a good thing. Now we see who the players in the jazz education community that mean to keep that community thriving are. When I was first starting to learn jazz, there was nothing like this anywhere. The closest thing were the loosely allied clubs of record collectors that called, and call, themselves “jazz societies.”

Now record-producer/educator/bassist Gene Perla is sitting down next to me.

Time to schmooze some more!!

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