My recent trip to Vermont was very inspiring, not only because of the incredible nature scenery but also because of the great musicians I got to listen to and play with. On my way back from a few days of “R and R” in Woodstock I stopped in at the Vermont Jazz Center’s Summer Camp in Putney.
I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many trees that were so green or breathed air that was so clean, not to mention the number of stars I saw in the sky at night–I never knew there were so many. The camp takes place at the Putney School which is in the midst of the Green Mountains, it’s a pretty simple private school that happens to have an unusual number of rooms with Steinway, Yamaha, and Bosendorfer grand pianos. They also have a beautiful performance auditorium in which one wall completely opens to the outside. I arrived just as the student concert was starting–it was excellent!
The real treat though was the musicians I got to hang out and play with. First and foremost the legendary Jazz singer Sheila Jordan. I met Sheila a few years ago and we keep in touch. She’s a great supporter of my playing, writing, CDs, etc. You can learn more in one night hanging out with Sheila than you can in four years at Berklee.
She was (and still is) obsessed with Charlie Parker. She hung out in the alleys outside clubs listening to him play before she was old enough to be allowed to enter the clubs. She eventually ended up meeting him and getting to know him well, even married his pianist Duke Jordan–which is where she got her last name.
After the student concert, Sheila was remarking about how some of the solos went on too long. She said, “Bird always said if you can’t say what you’re trying to say in two choruses of solo then don’t say it at all. The Jazz world has changed a lot but you should still be able to say what you want to say in 2 choruses.” She is a fountain of Jazz wisdom; she always bills herself as a messenger of the music. In fact, she says, “I am not a Diva.”
The best thing I’ve learned from her is her positive attitude even though she’s had quite a struggle living the Jazz life. I can relate to that. I always have a goal but in Jazz it usually takes longer than you expected to reach your goal and by the time you do reach it, you have a new and bigger goal. I guess in a way it’s good, it is satisfying but always leaves you wanting more.
The other highlight of my visit was the late night jam session that went on until 3:30AM. There was a jam going on in the main hall with lots of dance music being played, but there were too many musicians and it was way too loud for me. As I ventured around the campus I found the session where the serious Jazzers were playing.
There was a nice room with 2 grand pianos and a drum set. The amazing pianist Harvey Diamond was there as a faculty member and asked me to play with him. I’ve seen Harvey play countless times–he’s been coming to my house to play sessions for years and has been a big influence on me, but this was the first time we ever played piano duo. We are similar yet very different, we are like different pieces of the same cloth. We have a connection through our love and respect for Bill Evans.
We played “Gone with the Wind,” Harvey, myself and the great Satoshi Takeishi on drums. It was such a treat! Satoshi is a well known NYC drummer and percussionist who has played with Eliane Elias and Marc Johnson for years.The word began to spread and the jam session grew larger. The VJC’s director Eugene Uman came in–he is also a great pianist. He and I played piano duo with the great Claire Arenius on drums. After that I heard one of the faculty bassists say, “First it was baseball and now they’re taking over Jazz.” I guess he meant the Japanese, so I took it as a compliment.
I have to thank Eugene for his generosity in letting me crash the party. I was glad to get to play so much at the closing session. I was the fresh new-comer just getting there and everybody wanted to play with me. They had been playing together every night for a week before I arrived. I was so tired after one night I wondered how they survived a
week’s worth of jam sessions like that.
And sorry Sheila, sometimes even my story lasted more than two choruses!