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  • Writer's pictureJames Danderfer

Paying Tribute to the Masters... By Letting Go of the Masters


Had a fun first night of playing Artie Shaw's Gramercy Five music at Frankie's Jazz Club here in Vancouver (back again tonight). It was my first time performing this repertoire and I wanted to share some thoughts I had:


  1. The Gramercy Five music isn't complicated but it's very detailed. That structure "locks you in" to shorter solos, however it's also somewhat freeing. The built-in structure gives the music momentum all on its own; just like a big band chart would do.

  2. This structured format sets the stage for a different kind of musical conversation among the band members, with each musician forced to say something in a timely manner and then pass it on to the next person. It feels more like 6 people sitting around talking, rather than any given soloist taking centre-stage.

  3. Because of this brevity of solo, you have to bring the energy right away. On the bandstand last night, there were a few times where someone (often myself) began a solo with a slow build-up in intensity, but then... there isn't time to reach a satisfying conclusion. Again, as with big band music, the train is moving, you just gotta hop on!


For me, paying tribute to Artie Shaw's music is about more than just transcribing the charts, and a tribute to an artist is only as great as the time spent really understanding that artist. Phrasing, note selection, articulations, range, and of course, SOUND. I've listened to this music a lot, I'm talking... since high school, but sitting down with the music and my clarinet, trying to recreate aspects of Artie's style, that's something I haven't done enough of. Not just with Artie, but with a number of my favourite players. As much work as this project has been, it's also shown me how far I have to go. Thankfully, that sounds like fun to me! So I'm looking forward to the work.


Last thought: When performing this music (or any music really) it's so important to let go of 'recreating' anything and just play. What I love about these recordings, and Artie's playing in particular is that it's honest. They're just being themselves, and letting their unique spirits and influences 'dance' in the moment. So if I want to get closer to the core of the music, to capture that sense of spirit, then... I have to let it go. Let go of all the things Artie could do which I cannot, let go of the list of perceived shortcomings, let go of all the things I wish I could do, and just, play.

Thanks for reading and have a great week everyone! JD




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