Take a Solo: MRU Conservatory’s New Jazz Improv Course
“Life is a lot like jazz… it’s best when you improvise.”
– George Gershwin
Like many jazz artists, Andre Wickenheiser is multifaceted. Whether he’s swinging with the Calgary Creative Arts Ensemble, soloing with the Prime Time Big Band or teaching emerging trumpet players what he’s mastered of the craft, this cat knows jazz.
The great news for up-and-comers is that he’s teaching Jazz Improvisation at MRU Conservatory.
“It’s a very basic jazz improvisation course,” he assures, “We’re starting from the very beginning. It’s a very warm and friendly environment so people can feel free to experiment and create music without judgement.”
He acknowledges that the course is geared towards people 16 and older. He explains the reason is that, “you have to have a certain level of proficiency to get the most out of it.”
Wickenheiser creates a collaborative environment in all ensembles he works with, “It has nothing to do with theory or chords or scales,” he notes, “it’s about sound and time and feel.”
Jazz improvisation is something that has to be learned and nurtured. It’s not just notes. The notes strung together become ideas. Wickenheiser compares, “Creating coherent musical phrases is the equivalent of building a sentence using words. Using the musical ideas you already know, you can form new ‘sentences’ out of that.”
But Wickenheiser imparts that you’re never just speaking to yourself. Under the right tutelage, these sentences can grow into musical conversations between soloists, “There is trading (solos), call-and-response… interacting is a huge part of it.”
His biggest focus in the course is the sound. “No matter what you play, the sound is the first thing people hear.” Not to be singularly focused, he adds, “Then, having a really good time feel so you’re always in the groove.”
The course will start on March 26th and run 7 Sundays (excluding Easter Sunday) from 1-2:30 p.m. at the Taylor Centre for the Performing Arts.
“As jazz has progressed, it’s become more technical.” He explains. But in this Jazz Improv course, he wants to keep it simple.
He cites some heroes, “Guys like Ben Webster (tenor sax), Harry “Sweets” Edison (trumpet) and Lester Young (tenor sax) all played in the Duke Ellington Band and Count Basie Orchestra before bebop. So, before things got really busy and ‘note-y’ they were just playing melodies all the time.”
The secret of their success is, “A lot of the time, they’re playing something simple, but what they’re playing has a very profound statement. It’s not about flash, it’s about being musical. Their sound and their stylistic inflections on things make it very interesting. It’s a good place to start.”
A note of caution from Wickenheiser, “A lot of people listen to Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie when they’re starting. They’re very technical.” He adds that some get turned away from the complexity, “they think – woah, I can’t do that.”
In this course, he empowers the budding jazz soloist, “What you end up creating is based on what you’ve heard before. It’ll get your brain thinking in a different way.”
Along with his instructional duties, you’ll hear Andre Wickenheiser featured in this month’s Salon Series with The Calgary Creative Arts Ensemble in the TransAlta Pavilion at the Taylor Centre for the Performing Arts on Saturday, February 25th at 8pm.
– by JLove
Seven Series Centre Stage
The excitement is electric.
The sound-check’s done and… we’re about to take centre stage.
In 2015, we completed construction and opened the Award-winning Bella Concert Hall and the Taylor Centre for the Performing Arts. While it still has that ‘new theatre smell’ we’d like to amplify its acoustics by showcasing the finest local, national and international talent to play it.
We would like to announce the debut of SEVEN CONCERT SERIES taking place at the versatile venues in the Mount Royal University Conservatory’s Taylor Centre for the Performing Arts in 2016-17. These concert events will showcase some of the most innovative contemporary artists to bring music to your ears. We want our MRU Insiders to be the first to know what’s up.
Join us on May 13th, 2016 as we announce the line-up.
This will take place at the James Ehnes concert, our final Wyatt Series event for this season.
For tickets, go to tickets.mru.ca or call 403-440-7770.
Our follow us online for up-to-the-moment social media releases. (Follow @MRUConservatory or mtroyal.ca/enjoy)
The Bella Concert Hall was built on sound.
The Soundscape Series showcases the amplification of these artistic vibrations in their acoustic glory.
* 5 concerts from local, national and international influential artists and ensembles.
Importing world-class musicians from around the globe. Let’s give them a true Calgarian white-hatted welcome.
* 5 concerts will take audiences on musical adventures in many musical genres.
Northern Lights Series
2016 is the Year of Music in Calgary. 2017 is Canada’s 150th Birthday.
What better way to celebrate our home and native land than to feature some of its finest artists.
*5 concerts will define our country’s energy, diversity and talent.
Our celebrated Wyatt Series continues to feature contemporary masters of classical works in performance and mentorship of our music students. This series honours the late Hal and Marnie Wyatt, longtime supporters of the Mount Royal University Conservatory.
* 3 concerts from modern masters.
Family Portrait Series
Music, Speech Arts and Theatre are for all-ages. To ensure that the younger family members, and those who are young at heart, get to experience amazing music and storytelling, we have the Family Portrait Series.
* 2 narrative shows that will inspire imaginations, whether it’s your first or ‘bazillionth’ time at a performance.
The Spotlight Series showcases our diverse and talented instructors in performance. We’re so proud of our instructors, we want to bring their talents to centre stage. This monthly feature is as varied and exciting as the programs we offer.
Historically, the Salon was a favourite meeting place for musicians of all styles to play, listen and collaborate. We’re bringing it back. Throughout the season, we’ll be offering these opportunities for folks to mix, mingle and enjoy a variety of musical entertainment.
Of course, we’ll still be presenting concert events featuring all of our incredible performance ensembles and programs, including festive favourites Winter Fantasia and Sounds of the Season.
Connect with us on social media for your chance to win tickets to each of the series, or the grand prize, seasons tickets to ALL concert events in our 2016-17 Season!
Like, follow and spread the message to your friends and family. It’s going to be an inspiring season of sound at the Mount Royal University Conservatory!
– by JLove
Jazz Hands Around the World
On April 30th, 2016, you’ll find Herbie Hancock, Aretha Franklin, Diana Krall and Sting at the White House. There will also be some jazz music featured in Bologna, Italy in the Jazz 4 Peace Celebration, and in the Quartet Diminished in Concert show at Niavaran Hall in Tehran, Iran.
Jazz music brings together the improvised solo expressions of individual instruments into an artistic whole in a combo. That’s the message of UNESCO’s International Jazz Day, celebrated this year on April 30, 2016.
“UNESCO (United Nations Educations, Scientific and Cultural Organization) declared this day a day that celebrates creativity and diversity of Jazz music,” says in-the-know saxophonist Mark DeJong.
DeJong, who’s the new Artistic Coordinator at MRU Conservatory, has composed a special something to celebrate at the TransAlta Pavilion, “We are celebrating some of our renowned jazz alumni. We’re featuring a great local vocalist by the name of Aimee-Jo Benoit. She has a great following with indie bands like Woodpigeon. Joining her are some former grads of the Jazz Program.”
The program is made up of some jazz standards, “She’s going to dive in to the American Songbook for those ‘tin pan alley’ chestnuts.” DeJong continues, “then some jazz originals and really creative interpretations of some of her favourite Canadian icons like Joni Mitchell and Neil young.” No matter what the source inspiration is, DeJong insists that Benoit promises to, “breathe new life into them.”
He would know first hand.
DeJong is among the esteemed alumni joining Benoit onstage with saxophone in hand. “This is my first presentation as the new Artistic Coordinator at MRU Conservatory.” he says, “One of the things I wanted to do was be involved in the early shows both as a programmer and on the ground on the stage.”
As a unique UNESCO moment, DeJong and the combo are excited to have CBC’s Tim Tamashiro take the stage as guest emcee. “Anyone who’s a jazz fan in Canada knows Tim… not only with his incredible career as a jazz vocalist, but as the host of CBC Radio 2’s Tonic.” The ‘drinky’ jazz crooner will be on hand to spread the harmonious message to the jazz community, “he’s such an energetic and creative personality,” DeJong says, “We’re really delighted that he’s able to join us.”
Benoit, DeJong and Tamashiro are warming their chops for April 30th. To celebrate UNESCO International Jazz Day with the rest of the world, click here, or head to the White House.
- by JLove
Jazz workshop heating up summer at the Conservatory
Calgarians are at long last celebrating the darling buds of May, but Rubim de Toledo already has his eye on summer.
This week, the jazz bassist will be visiting four different Calgary high schools — Central Memorial, Lord Beaverbrook, Western Canada and E.P. Scarlett.
He’s singing the praises of the Conservatory’s summer jazz workshop Aug. 11-15. REGISTRATION OPEN NOW!
“I love that the camp has something for everyone; junior high, senior high, university and adult students all benefit as we have seven different combo levels,” says de Toledo, director of the summer jazz workshop.
“Everyone can be comfortable and be assured that they will surrounded by students at their level but will also get that push that helps students improve,” he said.
“Jazz music is all about exploration and collaboration. It’s about improvising and creating in the moment, performing with a group of musicians who share the same passion you have for music and finding new and exciting ways to express yourself through music.”
The credit-free summer jazz workshop features Conservatory faculty jazz greats you can see playing here:
Tyler Hornby, drums
Jon Day, trumpet
Carsten Rubeling, trombone
Sheldon Zandboer, piano
Ralf Buschmeyer, guitar
Jim Brenan, saxophone
The workshop is for all students of piano, bass, guitar, drums, trombone, trumpet and saxophone, ages 13 and over. Adults are welcome.
Novice students will be introduced to the essence of jazz—namely improvisation and performance— while those already acquainted with jazz will benefit from the week’s immersion in improvisation, rehearsal and performance:
- Enhance your understanding of jazz styles and history
- Explore jazz theory and apply techniques, scale exercises and chord constructions from jazz masters to your own playing
- Expand your repertoire with jazz standards chosen to challenge all levels of skill and experience
- Improve your combo/improvisation playing skills; Interpret lead sheets through ensemble work as combos, rhythm and horn sections, during jam sessions, rehearsals and in performance
Sherri Zickefoose, May 7, 2014