Earlier last month (August 2012) I attended the 2012 Jazz Composer’s Retreat @ Emma Lake Kenderdine Campus (of the University of Saskatchewan). Yeah, Retreat! It makes me think of what I’d like to do when composing is difficult or worrisome. “RETREAT!!”. Okay, not that kind of retreat…this was the good kind. Getting away…being in a beautiful natural setting…hanging out with other composers and talking about everything: from writing procedures to life experiences, and just generally having a great time. Oh yeah, there were concerts and jam sessions and impromptu rehearsals of new music.
The brains and brawn behind the event was Dean McNeill, a marvelous trumpet player, composer and professor of music in the music department at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon, SK, Canada. His vision and his commitment to the project made it come together beautifully – a big success from all perspectives. Roughly 30 musicians were in attendance with a wide range of experience in jazz composition. The focus of the week was playing new music for jazz orchestra (big band) but also included pieces written for smaller instrument combinations including some work for the Birth of the Cool (Re-Birth of the Cool) instrumentation.
Highlights included the two public concerts, talks delivered by a number of composers there and one particularly singular event, a solo piano performance by the pianist/composer David Braid for a small but ecstatic audience. It served as an encore performance after the second big band concert. David held us all in the palm of his hand for a good 45 minute set, in which he played ‘prepared piano ‘pieces (using chopsticks placed ingeniously among the strings). To appreciate this, I heartily recommend David’s latest solo cd, “Verge” recorded in 2010. Highly creative and tremendously skillful and compelling playing. Treat yourself and check it out at http://www.davidbraid.com/verge.php.
Hopefully it will run next year again, or possibly in 2 years. Congrats to Dean McNeill for a stellar effort and accomplishment.