„Back To The Roots“:
7th International Jazz Guitar Workshop
at Maussane/Provence 2011
There is a popular TV-commercial in Germany in which a Swiss candy company states it invented several cultural attainments. They definitely did not invent Jazz Guitar, but these three chaps did, or at least they made a major contribution: Eddie Lang, Freddie Green and Charlie Christian. They have been the first heroes of Jazz Guitar who paved the way for those to follow. Be it Wes Montgomery, Grant Green, Joe Pass, Jim Hall, Bucky Pizzarelli, Pat Metheny, you name it, but without those three guys Jazz Guitar would not be thinkable the way it is to the present day.
So it was consequent to headline the 7th International Jazz Guitar Workshop with „Fundamentals of Jazz Guitar: Eddie Lang - Freddie Green - Charlie Christian“.
A bright idea by Uli Hoffmeier. For it can not be a disadvantage to know the basics when it comes to understanding the present and the past of what is going on in Jazz music.
With Howard Alden and Uli Hoffmeier we had the perfect tutors for teaching the „Fundamentals“. Uli Hoffmeier is a specialist for prewar music since he is playing in the very popular German „Palastorchester“, which is specialized on German Swing and „Schlager“ from the 20s to the 40s. And Howard Alden knows the old masters not only since his work for Woody Allen‘s film „Sweet and Lowdown“.
They taught the characteristics of Lang‘s/Green‘s/Christian‘s playing by using the examples of „April Kisses“ (Eddie Lang solo), „Seven Come Eleven“, „A Smooth One“ (Both Charlie Christian with Benny Goodman), among others. In the course of the week after 15 hours of lessons it became clear what set the playing of these guitarists apart from others: Memorable themes, catchy yet clear solos and concise and striking accompaniment. Both in their indiviual manner the tutors introduced their subject matter to the students. Uli had thoroughly prepared his teaching materials and helped particularly unexercised players. Howard presented a broad overview of the issue, suggested practical tips for diverse situations on stage and discussed details on the basis of questions from the attendees.
In contrary to some other workshops theory was not enoug . Uli and Howard had the participants play a lot during the lessons, so that the newly learned music immediately could be realized.
Of course the music of Lang/Green/Christian was presented in the concert at the end of the week. But we do not want to anticipate the events since there were two agenda highlights happening, which necessarily must be mentioned.
You may ask yourself if it becomes routine, spending seven times on a jazz guitar course in Provence? The same hotel every year, guitars jingling all the time, many participants who repeatetly join in and already know each other? It might be so, but Uli Hoffmeier cheated routine with a genious trick. Firstly he began in introducing an entertainment schedule during the meals last year. Every table had been asked to contribute a sketch of any artistic kind. And secondly he put up a microphone to revive this tradition this year. He really did not foresee or expect what happened then. A quasi stage situation was created by this microphone standing there. And all of a sudden a big run started and the guys almost queued for performing music and singing in between the courses to entertain the eaters.
The repertoire streched from German traditional folk songs and singer/songwriter tunes to U.S.-folk music to Rock‘n Roll and Jazz. Who would have thought? That is how music should happen, in it‘s very original idea: Spontaneously created for the enlightment of the listener, without sophistication and without being frightened of the audience. Having fun playing a song and not aiming for showing off extravagant licks and chords on the guitar. It was nothing but great! (Has anybody ever heard Howard Alden playing „ This land is your land“? We did …)
The stage fever was so hot that the hotel stuff was intermittently stopped from serving the courses. From now on this spirit blew through the workshop. The mood was easy, the sessions spontaneous and funny. The jamming kept going with everything which was fretted or not: Ukulele, Banjo, Fiddle, double bass, all this was seen in the hands of the players until late in the night or from early in the afternoon.
It's the singer not the song
The other agenda highlight accidentally influenced this offhanded outbreak of creativety. Howard Alden‘s company Jeanne Gies, from New York as well, is a Jazz singer. In the run-up to the workshop we offered her to hold vocal classes for the partners of the attendees. The primary idea was to provide the partners a creative pasttime.
And again something unforeseen happened: There were more guitarists attending the vocal class than partners. Surprisingly many of the attendees outed themselves that they more or less clandestinely are working with the most natural of all instruments: The voice. Jeanne Gies very much helped the singers with her sincere and friendly way taking away their constraints and building up their strong points.
Exactly this accounted for the guitarists presenting themselves not only playing guitar but also as singers at the open stage during the meals. The audience liked this very much and showed its appreciation with loud applause and hellos, some of them where even moved to tears.
As mentioned before our workshop in Provence almost gained the character of a family reunion. There are participants who attended all seven courses, some of them took part a few times, but luckily some seats remained free for new faces. This year none of the rookies incommunicative. Were we lucky with those guys or was the atmosphere right from the beginning so that everybody felt relaxed in a jiffy? Most likely both. The new folks immediately participated and were motivated by the „veterans“ in return.
Thanks to Jean-Michel Bertet by the way. His wife is running a vineyard and he brought a large number of bottles which he made available for a wöine tasting, and of course for selling. In which he totally succeded.
Traditionally the workshop ends with a concert on the evening of the last course day. Unfortunately there is only a small hall available at Maussane, which is, to put it diplomatically, not overburdened with decoration. But the heck with it! At least there is a place where this bunch of people can pile up to show off some of the stuff they learned at the workshop. All it is about is to offer the participants the chance of a live gig as the highlight of the week.
They are sitting in the classes patiently, work themselves through the loads of information which lash down on them. And finally they can let loose after longing to get on the bandstand all week long. Most of the chaps are playing in bands, but some might not have the chance to perform live too often. So then here is the opportunity for them to experience the thrill of a live gig.
25 guitarists on one stage is a rare sight but yet an adventure. Visually as well as acoustically. Needless to say, the full ensemble does not play all the time. They start the concert all together and end it. In between, duos, trios and quartets performed songs of various styles (see setlist in the picture).
There was more playing time at the tutor‘s disposal of course. Howard Alden and Uli Hoffmeier played a duo of Eddie Lang‘s„Feelin' My Way“, unrehearsed and on the spur of the moment which was utterly exciting. Howard played solo over „I‘m Forever Blowing Bubbles“ from the „Sweet And Lowdown“-Soundtrack and Django Reinhardt‘s „Tears“. He also delivered a brilliant performance as accompanist to Jeanne Gies singing two Standards. This was a very impressive presentation of the guitar as a solo and accompany instrument! Thanks to the dedication of my webmaster Dietmar Liehr there is a recording of this year‘s gig of the Maussane Masterclass‘11 available. Many thanks to him!
What else remains to be mentioned? Like all the previous times the hotel Val Baussenc was very committed to pamper us with a charming service, yummy meals, the beautiful atmosphere of the venue and by fulfilling minor and major special requests.
We will return there next year again and we already know the date: The 8th International Jazz Guitar Workshop will take place on Sep. 28th-Oct. 4th 2012. The announcement will be published on this website presumably in the course of January.
Till then I wish all participants of the 7th International Jazz Guitar Workshop in Provence lots of fun swinging with the „Fundamentals of Jazz Guitar“. Many thanks to Howard Alden and Uli Hoffmeier for their committment and dedication to feed this bunch of hilarious guitarists with new ideas and inspiration.