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Artūrs Sebris’ impressions on the route Jelgava – Amsterdam – Jelgava – Amsterdam — Jelgava


Artūrs Sebris

«Keep an Eye Summer Jazz Workshop» through the eyes of a Latvian saxophone player

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Introduction

People are sometimes scared of new, unknown things. I am certainly one of those who usually needs some time to get used to something new. This article was written because I recently found myself surrounded by the unknown and had to persuade myself to engage in an adventure. This “unknown” adventure was a trip to the Conservatory of Amsterdam where the “Keep an Eye Summer Jazz Workshop” session took place “Keep an Eye Summer Jazz Workshop” session took place.

Route Jelgava – Amsterdam – Jelgava – Amsterdam — Jelgava

I wasn’t really planning to participate in this workshop session, but I have heard of it before. The story of how I got to be there is very exciting. Last winter Raitis Ašmanis asked to help him out and go to Holland to participate in a competition as a part of his big band. I have to admit that at the beginning I refused, but Raitis is a master of persuasion. So he included me into their line-up and in June we went to participate in the competition.

The competition consisted of two rounds, it happened when we found out that we got to the finals and our drummer got the first prize as a soloist in the first round. We patiently waited for the results after the first round concluded, and then it was announced that we got the first place in our level group. But the organizers had another special prize in store for us. I didn’t really pay attention to what the host was saying, but something close to my name bursted into my brain and made me listen carefully. Then again they pronounce my name, but do it wrong, like “Eirtours Seibrs”. I took a look at my band mates and noticed that they were all waving at me to go, so I gathered my strength and courage and went to pick up the prize. That’s when I saw that there was indeed my name written in the diploma! When we got back home I started researching what was the prize and if I wanted if, and if I did, what would I have to do to get it. I saw that it was an invitation to participate in the “Keep an Eye Summer Jazz Workshop” session and also that there was little time left until it begins and no one had contacted me, so I decided to just forget about it.

Almost 2 weeks before the workshop started I received an email that said that I am very awaited in Amsterdam. When I counted all of the expenses I would have to face, I realized that I cannot afford it. I wrote them an e-mail and described my situation telling them that I would be glad to participate next year. There was no reply so I thought – the hell with it. I just started planning how to spend my holidays and when there was only one week left until the trip I received an e-mail saying that the organizers have found me a place to stay for the whole workshop week and that they are ready and willing to cover the transportation fees. It became absolutely clear to me that there was no way back, and I started packing my bags.

Which way is right?

My flight was scheduled for the “perfect” day – June 23 at 9:30 in the morning (A/N June 23rd is a summer solstice day, a holiday in Latvia). The time has passed quite quickly, because the previous night I haven’t slept at all. The workshop arranged a place to stay with another participant who had graduated from Conservatory in Amsterdam, a Brazilian saxophonist Lucas Santana. He sent me the information on how to get from the airport to his place in advance, and it all looked pretty simple, but apparently I was able to mess it up. I took the right bus and I checked the information that told me that I had to ride stops. The information screen was broken, so I decided to check the Google maps, just to be sure I’m going the right way and realized that I was, in fact, going in the wrong direction. I stepped off the bus, crossed the street and waited for the next transport. The wait wasn’t long, not more than 10 minutes. I was silently hoping that there would be a different driver, but guess what? Tough luck! The doors open and I see a smiling face of the same driver from before. In a friendly manner he told me that he would tell me when to exit, so soon I was on the road again. But it wasn’t the end of this “lucky” bus’s story. When I was one step away from my final destination, the bus suddenly broke down. The driver told me to get off the bus and then showed me the direction where I needed to go, so I took my suitcase and my saxophone and went to the place I was supposed to stay at by foot.

Soon I finally reached Luca’s apartment. We stepped into the basement where his bedroom was situated, and also the kitchen and the living room (it was all in a 4×8 m2 space). It all made me remember the time of my school years when we all lived in the dorms, when our clothes smelled of oil, when we had a common bathroom and the main dish for dinner was ketchup.

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Who were we?

June 24 was the first day of the workshop session and it started with a gathering where we got acquainted with the plan for the week and with our wonderful teachers. The participants came from all over the world, we were approximately 50 people and 10 teachers that were supposed to work with us.

There were a lot of well-known musicians among the teachers – Justin DiCioccio, Dick Oatts, John Riley, Jasper Blom, Jay Anderson, Jesse van Ruller, Steven Zwanink, Ben van Gelder, Tineke Postma, Felix Schlarmann. I think that every reader will be able to find at least one familiar name in this list.

The schedule for the day looked pretty simple and the time flew. A big band or an improvisation lesson, after that a workshop for everyone, then combo rehearsal, then workshops again but this time divided into groups by instrument. Every day resulted in a jam session in one of the clubs in Amsterdam. During lunch we sometimes used to go out, and then one day I suddenly saw a girl in the street and she was carrying a “Riga Jazz Stage” labeled bag. I decided I shouldn’t come up to her and start a conversation with her, but she unexpectedly turned around and said: “hey, Arthur!” Turned out it was Elza Ozoliņa who came to Amsterdam to represent Estonian Academy of Music and Theater. Seeing a familiar face and speaking my own language brought up a very pleasant feeling in me, we could now meet up in between the lessons and share our impressions of the workshops. We weren’t in the same combo together, although our ensemble played her arrangement of an old Latvian folk song “Pūt Vējiņi”, which was appreciated by the audience with standing ovations. So, now we can say for sure that Latvian folk sounds even in Holland!

Where did I end up?

Considering the fact that I got invited to participate in the workshop session because of the big band competition, naturally I was assigned to the big band. Not all participants had the opportunity to play with the big band and that was the reason why I felt so special and joyful. The leader of the big band was an Italian-American musician Justin Di’Cioccio. He is an amazing big band leader and he is a wonderful person. He is able to inspire the musicians and also to explain the specifics of playing in one band. I found out a lot of new things, how each instrument works in the orchestra, which functions each instrument group fulfills in the band, details about articulation, dynamics, the use of vibrato, and other interesting and important details.

The assignment for the big band was to prepare a six tune program in two and a half days time. Justin has chosen compositions of different styles and genres and it was deliberately made decision. The reasoning for that was to help us learn more information in a very short period of time and to understand different aspects of various stylistics.

We weren’t able to go through all the tunes during the first rehearsal. We started with a Duke Ellington big band composition “Perdido”. Usually when you have to deal with sight reading you start playing slower, but this wasn’t the case. He started counting the tempo and I realized that it is my time to sweat. I soon discovered that there was a two saxophone solo part on the first two pages of the scores and that I will not be able to play it in the set tempo. Then I understood that I fail a lot and make a lot of mistakes. Justin asked me to check out the scores until tomorrow. So what did I do when the evening finally came? I asked for a room and started learning the tune, and that’s how I spent all my evenings. Classes, workshops, big band rehearsals, classroom, jam session.

Room nr. 540

I was very happy with my ensemble teacher. It was an amazing alto saxophone player from the Netherlands – Ben van Gelder. During our four days together he tried to get us acquainted with as much musical styles as possible. We played several Wayne Shorter tunes, a couple of compositions by a Dutch pianist Misha Mengelberg, also some of Ben’s tunes. At first he allowed us to work by ourselves, then he also got involved, made some suggestions, all arrangements were done on the spot. There were a lot of very good musicians from all over the world in my ensemble. A trombonist and a pianist from the Netherlands, and guitarist from the USA, a bassist from Iran and a drummer from Greece. Unfortunately we had only 15 minutes for each ensemble during our final concert. It was very interesting and a very precious experience to have the chance to listen to such an amount of new music and to play with the people whose limits you don’t really know. We prepared three tunes and played them proudly.

A little bit about the school

I also wanted to share my impressions on the school itself. I want to add that I have no intentions of comparing, but I was very excited and impressed. And new nine story building, if I’m not mistaken, with a lot of classes the students can use, several concert halls. In the middle of the school there is a “Blue Note” concert hall with wonderful acoustics and sound equipment. Right next-door to it – several classical music rooms. In the basement there were several rehearsal rooms for different orchestras. In the jazz rooms all the instruments and technical equipment was in full working condition so the students could come and start playing right away. There are no keys to the classrooms, instead a personalized ID card that opens each room is issued to the student. All the staff personnel is pretty young and no one has any problems with English and is ready to help out if needed. There are rooms where you can make copies in, also unlimited amount of tape is available for the scores. It seems like such a small thing, but a very pleasant one. These small details make your time at school more productive, which is extremely important while you’re a student and also it makes your time in school more enjoyable.

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Trombones

There are several things that are common in all European countries. Surprisingly there aren’t a lot of trombonists, but not only in Latvia, but in the rest of Europe as well, that is why each musician that plays this instrument is so precious and also unavailable. As one of Amsterdam based trombonists confessed, he plays in various ensembles and has a lot of work.

The drummer from Greece was excited about the bigband. He said that there are no big band ensembles in Greece, because there is a shortage of wind instrumentalists, not even mentioning specifically the trombonists. We can be proud about that, because we’ve got several of those, even though our country is considerably smaller than Greece.

Quotes

I wanted to share some quotes that stayed in my memory from what the teachers used to say during the workshop session.

“The difference between a professional musician and a beginner is hidden in the fact that a professional will remember everything that was said at last night’s rehearsal.” (Justin Di’Cioccio)

“You have to play with the band not in the band.”
(John Riley)

“Who is the most strict teacher you will ever meet? Only you yourself!”
(Dick Oatts)

Conclusion

I have to say that our musicians have represented Latvia’s name very well and we can be proud of them because every time somebody asked me where I was from turned out they knew about Latvia and also knew the people from my country and how good they played.