Montreux, Switzerland – Montreux Jazz Academy

We just finished up a week in Montreux, Switzerland, home of the Jazz Fest founded by Claude Nobs. Last year was the first year of their Academy, and that makes what we are taking part in here the second in what will surely be a long-running tradition. Montreux is distinguishing itself as one of the few festivals that has an associated academy for young jazz musicians. Let me explain: When they say “Academy,” they make no attempt to put together a curriculum like a Berklee, Juilliard, North Texas State, Indiana, etc. This is more of a weeklong workshop where young musicians spend time with more established musicians, or mentors, who offer advice, tips, and critiques of current level skills, with notions of how to improve.

Each of the young musicians here—I hesitate to call them ‘students’—is the winner of a Montreux Jazz competition, whether vocal, guitar, or piano. There are meetings during the week with the mentors and students, and based on what mentors hear them doing during rehearsals for an end-of-week public performance, we can offer suggestions on how to build their skills and continue toward their next level of profession. I worked with 5 other mentors, and one of them, Joe Sanders, is a bass player from guess where—Milwaukee. I couldn’t believe it. Joe Turano, Joe Sanders, and me, three jazzers, three kids from Milwaukee, had all found our way to Montreux the same week. Could not believe it.

And then there was the setting for the week: Amazing! I looked out my window across the lake at the mountains, with snow-capped peaks in the far distance, and said “Wow.”

Then, I looked out my window and directly down, and saw the beautiful modern structure with a prominent sign on it that read, “Miles Davis Hall.”  It has a large auditorium and a smaller 200 seat clubbish kind of venue. In the world, there may somewhere be another concert hall or venue dubbed with the name Miles Davis or a similar colleague like a Duke Ellington… some such place. But shoot, I’ve been a lot of places in my life and I’ve never seen one. So I have to marvel at how far this truly American form of music called ‘jazz’ has come. Well, we all know for sure that Jazz is not enjoying the likes of its biggest heydays, but on the other hand, I’m forced to throw my head back and laugh with Miles and Dizz and the Duke and the Count and Trane and Parker about how far the form and genre has come.

Joe Turano, my music director, and Patrick Lundquist and I were invited to this heavenly haven for Jazz, on a totally different continent from where it was born. There are people in neighboring countries and continents who have found something so compelling in the joyousness and happy interaction of musicians and audience, amongst themselves and between themselves. This has served to take Jazz far beyond the juke joints and dark alleys of New Orleans and St. Louis. I’m thrilled at that realization and knowledge.

We’ve been hearing some young jazz guitarists and pianists who are already playing at a real high professional level with technical brilliance and genius on the one hand, and at the same time improvise freely with new notions and ideas. And the singers have blown me away. I can’t sing the things that they’re singing. We’ve had some intimate heart to heart chats that had all of us in tears. Joe Turano and I have especially talked about this ‘getaway’ occasion for delving deep into the music away from the maddening world and normal life, and their demands. Sure enough it has not been that wonderful occasion to work exclusively on our own music, but this hangout with students who are doing that with us looking on with 5 other mentors does truly and certainly bring some serious satisfactions and joys.

The Academy student group is all housed together in a building called Maison Waddilove. They work on music from sunup to sundown, and beyond. They help each other to make their compositions expand and explode in the performing situation with new notions and ideas. The singers are singing violinish-like solo lines, winding, weaving, way too high. But they magically make the songs and compositions what they should be. I’m constantly marveling. From the first performance to the second performance in one evening, we saw a leap in confidence and comfort, and spontaneity that blew everybody’s minds. They themselves were blown away at this magical stuff called music. I am certain that the audience was transformed. And that’s a marvelous thing.

When something happens that makes you feel good, feel better, makes you smile and laugh, some say you experience a little bit of healing. If you get a chance to be part of that, don’t hesitate. If the Academy had any questions about the importance of this venture, I’m sure they’re finding really good answers to those questions just seeing the glow on everybody’s faces and the twinkle in their eyes.

This five-day week was drawing to a close, and we wondered where the time had gone to, and wished it could go on and on. This comes with some melancholy and sadness, but that in itself is a good description of how profoundly moving it was. I’m reassured, and different than I was when I came here, even having mornings where I awoke before dawn, hearing musical lines and singing them into my tape recorder and THEN ordering coffee, because this would be an early morning wakeup for me. I did not attend the late night jam sessions—That’s a little too much for me—but Patrick, who’s writing music himself, didn’t miss a thing, and sure enough ended up writing lyrics for that violinish singing part by the Hungarian pianist, and still another composition by the Brazilian guitarist. How totally unexpected. And somebody should say now: “That’s the magic of music.”

I could go on and on, but I’ll finish with one last thought having to do with how much the mentoring role has expanded my thinking about instructing and teaching and commenting, especially about the ‘cardiology effect’ of this music stuff, and the inevitable super-sensitizing consequence and outcome of this art form. You’ll be writing those Christmas cards that say Joy and Peace and Goodwill to Men and Women and Neighbors and Children and Friends and Immigrants. I am happy, and I give a great big thank you to Joe Turano for coming with me, and discussing with me so many things during this whole week. Same goes for Patrick. What a surprise.

Thank you, Montreux Jazz Foundation, keep doing what you’re doing. It’s so important.

Love, Al

Share : facebooktwittergoogle plus

Leave us a comment

Comments are closed.