CJazz and the creative impulse

Written by Anne Ierardi

CjazzExperiencing the joy of ensemble playing

“I’m always thinking about creating. My future starts when I wake up every morning… Every day I find something creative to do with my life.
– Miles Davis

For many years I led groups on the Artist’s Way, based on the book by Julia Cameron. Participants brought with them a desire or dream to become more creative in their lives. Many had gifts as writers, musicians, artists – some had newly retired with time to explore, some worked too much and needed a break – all sought to discover or recover something about their own lives.

Together we wrote in journals, took artist’s dates (a date you make just with yourself to open up your creative spirit), and shared deeply from our hearts. There was one group in particular that was so full of enthusiasm, my little cottage-office rocked when they arrived. After the group ended, they each went off, shedding some old ways to pursue their new gutsy dream.

Life can either be a series of tasks or a process. The jobs we have in our lives, the day-to-day responsibilities, are usually dictated by external factors that we have little control of. We can easily get caught up in the chaos of the clock, others’ needs, or our own old tapes telling us we are not good enough or haven’t done enough. Anatole France said, “If the path be beautiful, let us not ask where it leads.”

Art is liberation of body and soul. It is my play, my vision, and my joy. I keep a big tool box – sometimes I take out a pen (or my desktop) and write, or take out my paint brushes and express myself in oils. Other times I feel like singing and playing guitar.

There are times I have goals like writing my monthly music column or preparing for an art exhibit ,but there are many others time that I just play and stay with the process.

Remember the old saying “practice makes perfect?” That messed up a lot of young budding artists. Miles Davis got it right when he said: Do not fear mistakes. There are none.

I am at a time in my life when I am looking back yet also looking forward. Appreciating how I absorbed music through my brother’s passion for standards and musicals, my coming of age during the British invasion when I was lifted up high to see the Beatles at Suffolk Downs by a big girl who already decided to occupy my seat before I arrived, and going backstage to meet the Rolling Stones in Worcester. Johnny also funded my guitar lessons through junior high and high school with Bob Mulcahy, the only teacher who pronounced my last name correctly with a sparkle in his eye each week as he invited me into his studio. When I was lonely on weekends in college, in the dry hills of California and homesick for Boston, I went down to the coffee house to hear folk and rock bands from Hollywood or classical and religious music in the gymnasium. The first time I ever heard “Amazing Grace” was in that gym in Thousand Oaks.  Bluegrass singer and guitarist Doc Watson, who though physically blind in essence was full of light. I will never forget that moment.

To teach the arts one must not only have passion but a sense of mission. Music, especially, is a gift that begs to be offered to others and like dance it involves the body and the breath. In a sense music was my roots, my beginning, but years later it has returned in its new forms, and I am more able and willing to birth possibilities that weren’t there in my younger days.

This spring I joined a class, C-Jazz, at the Cape Cod Conservatory led by Bart Weisman. I wanted to discover what is it would be like to be part of a Jazz Ensemble. My first day was a feast of the eye as well as the ear as people gathered with their instruments: bass, drums, piano, clarinet, trumpet, saxophone, and guitar. Ages ranged from youth to elders and even an assistant Chihuahua on drums, but it made no difference as everyone supported and respected each other.

Bart introduced several styles of jazz. There was a new piece of music every week including the swing tune “In a Mellow Tone” by Duke Ellington, Jobim’s bossa nova “Corcovado,” Miles Davis’ modal jazz, “So What,” and jazz/rock fusion “Chameleon” by Herbie Hancock. Bart’s love of jazz comes through his energetic bearing and confidence while creating a space where we can express our selves while participating in the real thing of live jazz.

In an e-mail, Bart explained how C-Jazz came to be last fall:

“Dr. Stephanie Weaver, managing director of the Cape Cod Conservatory, hired me to teach percussion students and be the program director for CJazz at The Conservatory. Dr. Weaver had run a very successful Jazz Combos Program in Michigan and I had wanted to do the same on Cape Cod. Since the Fall of 2013, CJazz has been running in The Barnstable Campus and we started sessions in Falmouth in 2014. Students of all ages learn jazz standards, how to improvise, and have performed at recitals. All of the instructors and guest musicians are working jazz musicians on the Cape. I know that not all of the students will go on to perform professionally, but I love sharing my passion and experience performing Jazz, an original American Art Form, and hopefully sparking a life-time love of jazz in them too.”

I had the great fortune to have two mentors through this process: Alan Clinger for guitar and Bob Hayes for voice. Alan provided instruction during the group to the guitarists and met with me a couple of times to practice Hoagy Carmichael’s ballad “Nearness of You.” His beautiful accompaniment felt natural to follow and special to sing with a guitar.

Bob Hayes changed the key from F to a comfortable C for my voice on “The Nearness of You” and met with me the morning of our recital to get the breath and the soul into the song.

You may be wondering what my next adventure is. Since you asked, in mid-June I will be attending Django Camp in Northampton with a few hundred guitarists, violinists, and accordion players gathering from all over the world. On the weekend of June 21 and 22, there will be a Django festival open to the public. Django Reinhardt’s gypsy jazz has always fascinated me. If he dared to play with just a few fingers after his tragic accident, I should not shrink from giving it a go. After all, there are no mistakes.

For more information on the concert and music camp: www.djangoinjune.com

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