Sanat Deliorman writes about the New York Jazz Masters Workshop that was organised in Poland this year, for the second time…
This summer was a lively one. One evening, we had a hailstorm in the size of mandarins in Istanbul; I was stuck on the road for two hours. First, I let my hair down in Bozcaada and enjoyed the sun, iodine, the vineyards that aren’t anything less than those in Tuscany, and a new jazz festival. In the blink of an eye I found myself in Balıkesir for the crazy thousand-people village wedding of my closest friend, who lives in China, dancing halay (a traditional folk dance) with the American father and mother-in-law! Then in another blink I found myself in Warsaw! We were in a chapel to commemorate saxophone player Tomasz Szukalski. I was singing a Jansuz Szprot composition, whose lyrics I had just written down that morning, to Polish artists, and Aga Zaryan, whom I had just met, was filming me! Then the tides turned again. I was now in a train, leaving the lush green plains and forests of Poland behind… Where did I find myself next? That’s the topic and reason of this article. I wish to take you along with your permission. Don’t worry, it won’t even take half an hour. Maybe you will find yourself in the very same train, who knows?
First, let me explain where we are headed. This is the Bohemian village of Wojanów, located in the Jelenia Góra region in the southwestern part of Poland. This airy summer heaven is close to the Czech Republic, only a three-hours drive away from Prague. Creeks, virgin plains, tiny asphalt roads that curl like ribbons, humble bridges, emerald green mountains, the bluest sky, horses, cylinder rolls of hay, village houses with red and pointy roofs and a heaven adorned with wild flowers… All we heard was: the rustling of leaf and grass, the gentle splashing of the fountains and the creeks, the crowing of the roosters, singing of the birds and occasionally, the sound of the trucks accelerating, driven by young drivers who are fed up with the intercity highways…
Now let’s place a white castle with towers right in the middle of this scenery. Because that is where we will stay. Of course, don’t be fooled by my calling it a castle; it is actually a palace. The Palace of Wojanów! It is a historic building whose story goes back to the 13th century; one that is filled with disasters like that of Poland, and born anew from its ashes. It even has its own forest! Now it is used as a hotel and event space, and its rooms are filled with antiques. So what are we doing here? You aren’t taken hostage to listen to the stories of my summer vacation, don’t worry. Of course we are here for jazz!
Just like the “A Weird Place for Jazz” festival concert series of Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts (IKSV), now Poland has a workshop with a “Dreamscape for Jazz” concept. The organization in question, which took place for the second time this year, is called New York Jazz Masters Workshop. It has a very enticing teaching staff from New York, as its name suggests. For example, this year the members of the staff were: pianist Aaron Goldberg, vocalist Judy Niemack, saxophone player Greg Osby, guitarist Mike Moreno, double bass player Matt Penman and drummer Kendrick Scott. The students were just as diverse. There were 70 participants, including myself, from Germany, Czech Republic, Poland, Cuba, Ukraine, Belgium, England, Malta, Turkey, Uzbekistan, India, Italy, Denmark, Portugal, France and Russia. There were both high school and university students among these, and professional musicians as well. There were even those who left their restaurant in Mexico behind, at the age to have grandchildren… We were four participants from Turkey: Myself, my dear friend, jazz vocalist Bilge Aslı Susar who informed me of this workshop, one of our drummer friends Macit Ege Ercan, whom we met there instead of in Istanbul and Emre Batıoğlu… We were two vocalists and two drummers. I hope we will go as a convoy of two combos next year! Of course, let’s not leave it only to hoping. So I will continue on with my story. Isn’t our aim to gently encourage you anyways?
To be honest, I was initially worried about how they were going to keep all these people from all walks of life busy in such a secluded mountain village. However, we soon realized that we wouldn’t have a free moment to breathe, let alone to get bored. Our day started with instrument lessons. Us vocalists would be in Judy Niemack’s class. We worked interactively on Farinelli breathing techniques, diaphragm exercises, musical scale exercises, improvization and sentencing with Judy. You could also participate as guests to other instructors’ morning classes.
The morning classes were followed by the conference of the day. Every day a different teacher would talk about a different topic during these conferences. During these panels, Aaron Goldberg talked about improvization, Mike Moreno about composition writing, Kendrick Scott about the development of a musician, Judy Niemack about the complicated story of “Autumn Leaves”, Matt Penman about relaxing during making music, Greg Osby about how to survive as a musician. These were basic information that were impactful which were occasionally like a slap in the back of the neck. For example, we learnt the answer to what kind of a foundation is necessary in order to write compositions, through which process can a musician formulate their own playing style, how to leave your ego behind in a band, why can’t you be a jazz musician merely using the realbook, why is it more important to play jazz with others instead of attending a jazz school, why those who gather free CDs cannot be called a music critic! To summarize, I can say that it only takes one person among forty to explain something so outspokenly, even hurting your feelings, for you to genuinely learn. I think this was the biggest gift of these morning conferences.
Let’s return to the schedule. Now we are progressing to what could be called the skeleton of the workshop. Ensemble classes that take part right after the lunch break! We were divided into 6 combo groups for these classes on the second day of the workshop. A “master” teacher lead each combo. However, all teachers visited these combos, which was different than last year. Therefore, we found the opportunity to improve different aspects of what we were working on. I will give you an example from my own experiences. I would especially like my vocalist friends to read this part. Those who are bored can proceed to the following paragraph.
I took my own composition in Turkish along with me. I started out by explaining the piece to a group who don’t speak Turkish, and possibly haven’t heard Turkish music before. This was a challenge. It was necessary to explain the lyrics first. Then the melody, the traffic and the nuances in the transitions… That wasn’t all, though. The piece transformed numerous times during the 5 ensemble classes. For example, the composition was rearranged on the day drummer and workshop coordinator Dorota Piotrowska visited. A new improvization part was created, taking one of the motifs I used in the composition as the starting point; its sound range and melodies were reformulated and the piece gained a whole different depth right before my eyes. Kendrick Scott, on the other hand, asked me why the piece has an intro. “Oops!”. Luckily I had a reply and it lay not in its lyrics but in my own world of imagination. I told him “The piece starts with two people standing across each other in a lavender field.” But what if I didn’t have an answer to his question? Then the intro wouldn’t have any meaning at all. Therefore, the intro needs to be meaningful. Kendrick was an amazing teacher. He rebuilt the characters and scenes from scratch just like film director. He showed each member of the combo how to take the wheel in turn, and this was such invaluable knowledge. He widened my horizon about being a group leader. The mirror Aaron Goldberg held out for me showed me the contradictions between me as a singer and me as an improvizer. He focused on sound dynamics.
As I wrote above, this is only my own experience. We worked on Wayne Shorter’s Nefertiti and Herbie Hancock’s Butterfly with the same team. I had the chance to understand what makes a jazz piece legendary through the analysis of the harmonics. Usually nobody explains these to a vocalist. It can only be learnt in such workshops and in ensemble classes. That is why I would really hope that my vocalist friends apply to this workshop next year.
This is what happened when Kendrick Scott took over the drums during an ensemble class…
Returning to our coverage of the program, another great part followed the ensemble classes. One of the teachers would sit down and open a secret playlist on their phones and make us listen to it from the loudspeakers every evening. Some gave examples from their own band’s history, some from jazz history, some made us listen to critic recordings that they thought were important for us to hear. Because, as they emphasized over and over again throughout the workshop, being a good jazz musician requires listening; lots and lots of listening. As they said, the sponge has to absorb the water so that water can come out when you squeeze it. If you wish to learn what we listened to during these music listening panels, I will soon satiate your curiosity during my “Dünyanın Cazı” program at Açık Radyo. Please keep on following that.
The most enticing hours of the workshop started at night time. Jam session parties that lasted at least 4 hours, and sometimes participated by the teachers, took place in the glass hall of the palace every single evening. We were always in tip-top shape due to this. I can also say that our strength and self esteem increased as well. A note: We got ahold of that lifesaving list for vocalists that everyone knows how to play. Thank you Judy Niemack. I suggest those who want to learn this setlist should stop by next year.
There were jam sesssions like this every night…
I was tired from the lack of sleep after seven crazy days, but the visit we made to Vertigo Jazz Club in the city center of Wrocław was a huge booster. I was lucky to be in one of the two combos picked to open the jam session there. A great New York Jazz Masters Workshop evening took place with the participation of the teachers. We had the opportunity to meet and mingle with Polish jazz lovers. The final concerts at the school were the icing on the top of the cake. It was great to see the tourists staying in the palace stopping by the jam sessions.
You can learn about jazz by studying its techniques or listening to it profusely. However, if you wish to become a real jazz musician, you have to utilize every opportunity to play with other musicians. Pianist Barry Harris, who made a huge difference with his teaching methods today, spent most of his time in the 1960s in the houses of people like Thelonious Monk, Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis and Bud Powell. Yes, maybe the chaos of our times doesn’t allow such house meetings. But thankfully we have jazz workshops all over the world. Even if your financial situation doesn’t allow it, try your best, if not, write an ad in a fundraising site to gather the funds—I got to know a friend who did exactly this during the workshop. Because what you learn in such environments isn’t so different than attending a school and spending your savings to buy a house. Don’t forget, every workshop allows you to get to know hundreds of musician friends simultaneously. It also means to face your weaknesses and to work on how to improve them. In summary, it means to expand your horizon. It is an inevitable truth that people learn through sharing and jazz lives as long as its musicians become a family.
This is my final surprise! New York Jazz Masters teaching staff spoke out for Jazz Dergisi. Interviews: Sanat Deliorman Video: Robert Chudaszek / Beat Studio