Jazz on the Mountain at Whistler

September 07, 2011
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The inaugural (or "first annual," as I like to say) jazz festival in Whistler, BC took place this past weekend and it can only be described as a complete success. Great classes, perfect weather, and awesome performances in one of the most beautiful towns I've ever seen. Festival founder Arnie Schwisberg and his top-notch staff assembled a diverse array of instructors and performers that made the fest compelling for students and fans alike.

Day one started with a master class from Greg Lowe, who took students through a bootcamp of sorts with modes, scales, and exercises designed to get everyone's chops up to speed and their brains firing on all cylinders. He started the class by asking for someone to jam with him on "Sweet Georgia Brown," and Kingsley Amps designer Simon Jarrett stepped up to the plate and absolutely killed it. That was one of the cool things about these master classes: The students were amplified and free to chime in with questions or musical examples at any time.

After Lowe's class, Vancouver's own Five Alarm Funk played a free show in the center of the Olympic Village. These guys brought the freaking house down with a high-energy, 11-piece band that featured slamming percussion, great guitar work, and real horns (remember those?).

Then it was back to school for a class with Oscar Peterson sideman Lorne Lofsky. This guy has an absolutely gorgeous touch and tone and an easy, humble way about him that made his class really enjoyable. He provided insight into quartal harmony, Lenny Breau-style harp harmonics, and much more, and he did it all on a mid-'80s Ibanez Roadstar II! (Full disclosure: I too bought one of those models back in the day and admittedly have a soft spot for them and anyone who plays them.)

The evening featured several shows, including Stanley Jordan, both with a band and solo, and Kevin Eubanks, who drew a big crowd with his band. Eubanks closed his show with a killer, funky version of Jeff Beck's "Led Boots" that blew minds in the chilly night air.

Stanley Jordan was back in action the following morning with his master class. You never want to fault someone for possessing too much knowledge, but Stanley Jordan has such a wide-ranging grasp of music theory (and the technique to play it, forwards and backwards, two hands at a time), that he boggled every mind in attendance. He gave examples from a chord and scale book that he's creating that contains 1300 different chords and scales and then informed the class that all 1300 can and should be played in all 12 keys. You do the math. It's safe to say that everyone there came away from that session looking at music and the guitar in a totally different light.

Rippington's guitarist Russ Freeman held court in the afternoon session, talking about his career, composition and recording strategies, and lifelong dream of being a film composer. And he would have created those scores for films if his wildly successful band hadn't gotten in the way.

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Eubanks spinning knowledge and humor in his master class.
Kevin Eubanks presented his master class the following day, and was great at getting people to play, by themselves, in pairs, and with him. He stressed the importance of sounding like yourself with one of the great lines of the weekend: "You have to try to sound like someone else. You don't have to do anything to sound like yourself. Just get all that other stuff out of the way and your voice will be there."

The final master class featured Stan Samole, who was Director of Jazz Studies at the University of Miami. It was there that he taught Pat Metheny, Steve Morse, Hiram Bullock, and many others. Oh yeah, and he played with and shared toothpaste with Jaco (ask him about it...it's a good story). Stan dished out tons of great advice and music that was the perfect ending to an amazing series of classes.

The students, invigorated from Samole's words, went right onstage for their own concert in a packed Village Square.

Start to finish, the Jazz on the Mountain at Whistler, or JOMAW as it's called, was an inspiring experience. It's happening every year over the Labor Day weekend and I can't recommend it highly enough. Stay tuned for (metric) tons of lesson material in the pages of GP as well as video content on guitarplayer.com

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