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JEN Conference Notes from Thursday

I won't take time to write this eloquently, but will rather just give some of my notes and thoughts after day one of the Jazz Education Network conference in Atlanta.

Attended Pete McGuinness' early clinic session to start things off, and I made the comment afterward that it's nice to have one's ego destroyed thoroughly right at the outset of the conference! That is to say that Pete, it turns out (and I'm happy to now be a part of a big club of people who know this, including Julia, who has known it for years), is a monster, vicious, insane, brilliant scat singer. He jokes that his nickname should be Chet Faker, since his vocal sound is so reminiscent of Chet Baker's, but that's a modest assessment of Pete's abilities and musicianship. His bebop harmonic language is much deeper than Chet's scatting language, in my opinion, and his intonation (he has perfect pitch, I hear, but that doesn't always necessarily mean perfect intonation for people) was spot on. Pete was entirely, and I mean entirely in A440 throughout his range, which includes high tenor notes that made me blush. He's a total pro, a bandleader and trombonist first, I believe, but a scatter and lyric storyteller of the highest rank. One of those things that made me recommit instantly to practicing my craft with more fervor from now on. Seems like a nice dude, too. I intend to track him down and shake his hand before the conference is over, because I made tracks after his hit to make it to another session. Oh, and perfect mic technique. Almost forgot.

Amazingly, I'd never heard or met Michelle Mailhot, a friend of basically every one of my vocal jazz colleague friends (she went to Western and sang in Gold Company and was in Voices of Liberty at Disney, the latter of which is a connection with Julia, although they didn't sing at the same time) until yesterday morning, and hers was the first performance session. She's an excellent vocal musician, and a helluva technician, which is the thing that had me most excited, because she's a perfect example of how a female singer can use her mixed voice and belt range to great effect in solo jazz singing (and I'm sure she's a phenomenal ensemble singer, of course). Most striking were some of the arrangements in the second half of her set, including a funky, swingy take on "I Ain't Missin' You", the John Waite tune from the 80’s. I was thinking, as I heard it, that I ought to write an ensemble chart on the tune in that style, and right on cue, my new friend Ellen Winters, sitting behind me, asked if either Greg Jasperse (sitting with us) or I were going to run back to our room and write a chart on it. Just might have to do it...might be perfect for the Monterey group and the starter series! Anyway...loved Michelle's set thoroughly.

I won't go into such depth about everything else I saw...this is getting a little heavy, actually. I'll just hit on a few things that followed: Ken Kraintz presented charts offered by Sound Music Publications (along with Frank DiMiero), and I was surprised and pleased that they started the session playing clips of my "I Love You" and "Scarborough Fair" charts that I wrote for them a few years back. They showed off charts from a variety of their writers, although notably absent on this day were charts from some of their long-time mainstay Pacific Northwest writers like Kirk Marcy, Norm Wallen, Dave Barduhn, and those cats that we all associate together in a way (I hope they'd consider that a fair thing to do). I took it as a sign that SMP means to continue to expand their envelope further beyond the Northwest sound for which many of my colleagues know and love them, and there's only good that can come from such a broadening of the catalog. If I could ever catch up with my commissions (and gosh willing I never will), I'd like to write for them again if the timing and the tune is right.

Rocky Mountain High School performed with guest Judy Niemack sitting in on a few tunes and doing one solo blues using call and response with the audience, Paul Falk, director of "Spotlights", had his girls do a small group feature on my SSA chart on "Precious". Next, Greg Jasperse texted me to say that Julia and I needed to get to the Regency Ballroom toot sweet to catch John Mills' group with the great vocalist Carmen Bradford. This was a big, shocking "wow" moment for us...Carmen's soulful style and amazing voice paired with the intricacy of Mills' grooving contemporary charts for small group with horns was pretty stunning. Sat with Peter Eldridge, Greg and Julia, and we were wide eyed and shaking our heads in disbelief. Siiiick! Sad that I accidentally missed my UNC friends playing with their "7 on 7" group, though, which I heard was fantastic.

Aubrey Johnson was next in the vocal jazz room, and I was really pleased to hear her set. She's got a unique sound and amazing vocal technique, and her set is mostly her original tunes which are modern and esoteric...modal and uber-hip.

Dave Cazier's "Freeform" from Columbia Basin College was in great form, performing some new charts along with a few tribute to their past and to jazz conferences past. Excellent ensemble sound, very swinging, of course...just generally very cool. They're in a different school of vocal jazz sound than I came from...North Texas, Kansas, UNC, Miami...all of my main sound influences are quite different from the Pacific Northwest sound which prioritizes a choral approach over what one might think of as a more soloistic and conversational approach to an ensemble sound (like I'm used to, and like you'll hear in all the demos on this site). No value judgements here...great music is great music, honestly, and Freeform sings with conviction and integrity. One key stylistic thing that I noticed, maybe for the first time, about that approach, though, has to do with ballad singing. Nearly no scooping inflections (or perhaps no other noticable inflections) are built into the ballad...something that's basically unthinkable in the style in which I'm accustomed to operating. Interesting to note it, that's all. Amazing control, huge dynamic range...all good, and well done to Caz and his kids, as always. I worked with his group a few years ago and was quite intimidated to approach the differences in our ensemble aesthetics, thinking I might step on toes, and to the contrary, Caz was eager to have me clinic his students on this other approach, as an alternate point of view. I'd LOVE for my Sac State kids to get a similar clinic from Caz sometime. Get 'em to raise their soft pallates a bit, use taller vowels, and cut out all that scooping...and swing their butts out the building!

Sarah Kervin has a standing-room only audience at the "Conservatory" stage, and well-deserved. You may or may not know that I've published her original chart "Passing Through" on this website, and that she graduated from my alma mater, UNT. She's got a really wonderful, professional and highly musical pop/jazz voice reminiscent of Sara Bareilles, and her songwriting is beautiful and right in the zone. I predict great things for her, as she's got charisma onstage and honesty and integrity in her performance. It was a really, really fantastic set...and as a young jazz singer, for her to be looking out at a lineup of many of the heavies in the vocal jazz world in her audience as she was and not flinching for a second....that was impressive.

I missed the evening concerts for the extended vocal jazz educators' hang, and that was lovely and epic. I heard that Bria Skonberg was burning....would love to have checked her out. I'll do my research when I get home.

But the event that closed the evening for us was well worth missing just about anything. My new friend Dianne Orlofsky, who directs a pretty new vocal jazz program at Troy University in Alabama, brought her group to JEN for the sole purpose of the kids experiencing the convention. They don't have a gig...they just came to be a part of things, and all of us, as vocal jazz educators, were inspired at this idea, and at the students themselves, who are lovely individuals eager to learn as much as they can while here. Diane told me that they've got two of my chartd in their set: "Travels" and "Emily", both tunes that Vertical Voices performs and has recorded for our upcoming CD. She said that "Travels" has been a bit of a centerpiece for the group this year, emotionally, and since all of Vertical Voices are here at the conference and were hanging last night, we, along with a who's whom of the vj education community, made a spontaneous mini-performance/clinic happen with the Troy group in one of the performance rooms that was prepping for a sound check. They sang Travels, and we were all (I think it's fair to say) moved by their sincerity and talent. We gave them some feedback afterward, Julia telling them about her story behind the lyric and the rest of VV giving them a few words of advice and encouragement as well. Really a memorable event, and totally in the spirit of what we're all doing here this weekend.

I may not have enough time to write blog entries of this length about today and tomorrow, but I'll try to check in. Thanks for reading!

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Reader Comments (2)

I concur with all of your assessments, Kerry. Truly, the impromptu VJ hang & Troy University were highlights for me as well. I'll look forward to seeing your (or Greg's) arrangement of "Missing You" :-) Safe travels home to you and Julia!

January 5, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterEllen Winters

Loved reading your post - wishing I had gone. Enjoyed reading your thoughts of the different between Pac NW vocal jazz and the rest of the planet (I'm in Frank's group). Keith Corning was praising Michelle Mailhot so I was checking her out - awesome! I love it when you hear someone you love the first time. Carmen Bradford... girl sings from the booty! I wish there were more recordings of Pete McGuinness - I really dig his "Smile" track. Frank was talking about Diane and her group - sounds like an amazingly inspiring and transforming experience for them. I love how supportive the VJ community is. Proud of Caz's and Vijay's groups for representing Washington State. I hear Jennifer Barnes group kicked some booty.

January 8, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterNich Anderson

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