Jazz Pensacola and the Foo Foo Festival! Whew! What a weekend!
Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 2 & 3, Jazz Pensacola sponsored the Jazz Stage with International Paper at the Great Gulfcoast Arts Festival. Holly Shelton with Bob Andrews and John Link….Nobius…..Isabelle Schrack Band….and Rhythm Express. What a great alternative!
And a huge shout out to John Link for providing sound.
But, wait! Monday night! At Vinyl on Nov. 4, we held our Foo Foo Festival event featuring Big Bad VooDoo Daddy and opening act Village Brass. We had a great turnout! The bands were on fire! People could not stand still! Village Brass got it started, and then BBVD took it home!
Thanks to Foo Foo Festival! Thank you Alice Crann Good….Ali Hayes Egan….Dustin Bonifay…Paul Bruno…Carolyn Tokson…Dave Schmidt…John Eisinger…Tom Bell…and comrade John Link. It worked because of this team. I thank you!
Stay tuned. It’s getting interesting!
Jazz Pensacola President
Jazz improvisation, which is basically making and playing a little composition in real time, is a creative act coming from the performer’s personal storehouse of ideas and techniques. Students often remark that they just can’t think of anything to play. Two concepts that are crucial to this ability can be termed as “playing by ear” and “playing by eye.”
First, playing by ear. If you can’t read music at all, or can’t see at all, playing by ear is all you have got. And, if you are sufficiently gifted, it can be all you need. Playing by ear involves trained listening, then storing of sounds and patterns, then the ability to perform based on those stored sounds and patterns. Tone, tuning, vibrato, style and many other nuances of performance are rooted in hearing. Music lives in the realm of hearing. The more you listen and take in – the better player you can be – up to a point.
For most of us moderately gifted mortals, the playing by eye part can help greatly in achieving a higher level of jazz skills. Of course, first in the line of eye skills is proficiency in reading musical notation. But then in addition to the notes, what about all those colorful jazz chords we see symbolized on the music sheet. How can you know what tones will fit well in the harmony you are about to improvise on. That is when the playing by eye skills really kick in. Chords and scales are like letters in the alphabet that are used to make words in a story. Today’s jazz theory teaches a correlation between chords and scales, or in other words, when you see or play a C major chord, the improvisor learns that the appropriate scale would probably be C major. I say probably, because it could also be C lydian, which is the 8-note scale built on the forth note of the G major scale. Taking this much further, the many possible chords in jazz (or any music genre) harmony can be correlated with various scales and modes to serve as resources for improvisation. This gets complicated. This is why we go to music school and read technical books and spend lots of time and effort learning stuff.
Ironically, the best “by eye” players are able to hear in their mind what they see on the paper. One of my lab band instructors at University of North Texas asked the band during rehearsal one day to “show me the music.” We all held up the part we were reading. He then said, “No, that is the paper, not the music.” The trick is to turn the notes and info on the paper into a musical performance. That means transforming what you see into what everyone hears. This skill can also be applied to play improvised melodies and patterns based on internalized knowledge of the notes and sounds of chords and scales. Now we are getting into advanced performance territory.
The skills and knowledge of playing by ear and by eye end up working together in a synergistic way. This can also be explained as a coordinated left brain plus right brain thought process. Left brain analytical/methodical plus right brain creative/sensory equals best artistic outcome. So if you really want to be a great jazz improvisor, listen to lots of good jazz, internalize the sounds, study jazz theory, then add that knowledge to your internalized sound bank. Then when your solo comes up and you look at the lead sheet with melody notes and chord symbols you can hear in your mind what it might sound like before and while you are playing that great solo.
Camara Kambon, pianist and composer, has performed for Jazz Pensacola both at our Jazz Jams and Jazz Gumbos. Many of our members and guests do not have knowledge or appreciation of the extent of his talents. Imagine jamming with jazz greats even before entering high school and winning an Emmy Award at age 23!
Camara Kambon—unusual name. What’s the background?
Camara Kambon is an African name, full name Camara Yero Kambon, which, in Swahili translates as “teacher, warrior of the people.” I guess you could say I definitely grew into my name.
Riff a bit about your schooling. I know your home was Baltimore and that you were enrolled in Peabody while in high school. How did that work? How did you get to Berklee?
I was born in Northwest Baltimore. From an early age, my education was twofold, attending one school for academics and another for music. My studies at the Peabody Preparatory of Johns Hopkins University began at age 10. Although my high school years started at St. Paul’s School for Boys, I transferred in my junior year, accepting a scholarship and graduated from Friends School and Peabody with honors in both musicianship and classical/jazz piano. I received several scholarships to subsidize my academic and musical studies, namely the Eubie Blake Scholarship.
Besides piano, what instruments are you proficient on?
Piano is my main instrument, but I am also a percussionist.
Were you in a band or other musical group during youth and schooling? Riff a bit about Berklee, inspiration, drawbacks, your fellow music students.
I was in my first band at age 6, playing at local fairs, skating rinks, etc. around Baltimore. At age 11, I performed with several musicians, Dizzy Gillespie, Gary Bartz, Greg Thomas, Max Roach, as well as local musicians, but I performed as a soloists more during my grade school years. Ever since being introduced to Berklee as the alma mater of many of my musical heroes, I was convinced I’d also attend one day. In fact, when it came time to apply for colleges, although I’d visited several, I only applied to Berklee. I was the recipient of the Jesse Stone Scholarship, sponsored by Atlantic Records and funded my schooling by composing music for documentaries.
How did you get started in working for films, composing?
I’d been composing music since I was 5 years old. I attended Peabody for musicianship, theory and performance. During the summers in my middle school years, I attended The Walden School for Young Composer’s camp, which was a wonderful platform introducing me to the music of Roger Fripp, Brian Eno, John Cage, Penderecki, George Crumb, Steve Reich, Keith Jarrett, Pat Metheny, and the list goes on. My first experience writing for TV was on the NBC TV hits, “The Cosby Show” and “Living Single,” starring Queen Latifah, while I was a high school student. After moving to Boston to attend Berklee, I began writing music for documentaries.
Give a couple of examples of your work with films/composing. For example- one really challenging project and another which is more routine—just busy-work.
In the fall of my senior year in college, I was contacted by HBO Sports, after producers heard my score for the Emmy-winning PBS documentary, “Malcolm X: Make it Plain,” to compose the score for a film entitled, “Sonny Liston: The Mysterious Life of a Champion.” I composed this score while completing my last year in college, so life was quite hectic between senior projects and deadlines. I would later receive an Emmy Award for this score, becoming the youngest composer to have received a national Emmy Award at age 23.
After moving to Los Angeles, I’d always questioned how to embark on my career as a film composer. Although I had credits on my resumé, I didn’t have the credits needed to turn heads, so I hoped I would cross paths with someone who recognized my potential and acknowledge my track record as proof of reliability and ability to deliver. That opportunity came when Oliver Stone was producing and directing his film, “Any Given Sunday,” starring Al Pacino, Jamie Foxx, LL Cool J, Dennis Quaid, Cameron Diaz, James Woods and many others. It was during a conversation with Oliver that he expressed the importance of “living” because of its influence on how the artist expresses himself. This was a concept I would hold onto as I maneuvered my way through the business. Oliver is known for adopting a process that is extremely unpredictable, playing off of the daily interactions of creative minds. During this project there was a composer cattle call in a sense, and each composer had to prove his value through the work he produced. Composers were eliminated left and right. Attending screenings was a bit uneasy, never sure if my music was still in the film, constantly uncertain whether it had “made the cut” just like a football player in a game. I realized Oliver’s process was conceptual and applied to every aspect of his filmmaking. Nevertheless, I kept producing music, never knowing if it was “right” or “wrong.” Oliver was really excited about Macy Gray at the time (she was also an acquaintance of mine), so I pitched the idea of bringing her on to write a song for the film. So, I co-wrote and produced a song for the film entitled, “Dinosaur.” At the end of it all, there were five composers credited in the film and I was one of them. It was such a liberating feeling to see my name on the silver screen of a studio film. When working with such a filmmaking genius, people will always have varying experiences with Oliver Stone, but I can truly say, mine was awesome. Although the process was ambiguous at times, Oliver was never wishy washy about whether something was working or not. It either was or wasn’t so there weren’t any gray areas with his opinion. So, I knew where I stood in all the ambiguity that defined my experience. This approach of brutal honesty allowed me to present not what I thought Oliver was expecting, but what I thought was best to give him. This was an experience I will treasure for a lifetime.
How did you get to Pensacola? Your statement: Now I can work anywhere. So tell me about that and how you spend your time at Pensacola Beach.
Ironically, my work as a film composer actually brought me to the Pensacola area. And the fact that I can perform my work and have since the beginning of my career makes it easy to work anywhere. As technology has developed, it’s also made the ability for film composers to create on-the-go just as easily as in a home studio. This also gives the composer the chance to experience different environments during a process that can be very insular and isolating at times.
September 2, 1917, was the birthdate of jazz and classical guitarist Laurindo Almeida. So, on the occasion of his birth, it is appropriate to share some wonderful personal recollections. As a jazz fan and amateur guitarist, I was familiar with some of Laurindo’s recordings on Capitol and Concord Jazz.
The first Pensacola JazzFest was held in spring of 1983 and was held under the auspices of the Pensacola Arts Council with radio station WUWF-FM and newly formed Jazz Society of Pensacola. Our only out-of- town jazz artist was guitarist Chuck Wayne, who was playing his last year with pianist/ composer George Shearing’s Quintet. The rest of the performers were local professional and amateur jazz musicians and local high school and college jazz bands.
For the second year, the Arts Council Committee elected to bring Chuck Wayne back and to invite harmonica/guitarist Jean “Toots” Thielemans and classical/jazz guitarist Laurindo Almeida. I was designated the contact person for both Thielemans and Almeida. The committee was working on a tight budget so our artist budget was necessarily small. I called Thielemans and Almeida, introduced myself and asked if they’d be interested in coming to our young festival for the relatively small fee which we were able to offer. Both answered in the affirmative. It was a wonderful festival. When Wayne or Toots was the leader, he’d invite the other one as a guest and the fact that Toots was also a chromatic harmonica player, it didn’t seem that we had too many guitarists. Laurindo played from charts, usually with a drummer and bassist, so we used our local artists, drummer Jim Servies and string bassist Harvey Etheridge, as Almeida’s back-up musicians.
Laurindo and I became friends and over the years he returned to Pensacola three more times to perform for the Jazz Society and, during those visits, performed at St. Christopher’s Episcopal Church for two special concerts. I visited in his home a couple of times in Northridge overlooking the San Fernando Valley. My last visit to his home was Labor Day weekend 1994. His home had been damaged by the previous earthquake and, because he had foresight to have appropriate insurance, he was living in another home while his was under repair. The earthquake had damaged his five Grammy awards and he’d just gotten replacements from the academy — much larger and elegant than the original awards. I encouraged him to take one out of the case so we could photograph him with it.
Laurindo performed music behind the opening scene in Clint Eastwood’s western movie, “Unforgiven.” The reviews of the movie were mixed in that there was considerable violence. However, because Laurindo told me that he’d done the long guitar theme, I attended the movie. That opening pastoral scene was lovely — horses, blooming meadow in a Canadian spring and the classical guitar piece was appropriately beautiful. However, in watching the movie credits, Laurindo’s name didn’t appear. I later mentioned it to Laurindo and he replied: “Yes, Eastwood requested that I play for that scene, walked through while I was recording and gave me a ‘thumbs up,’ and then sent me a BIG check!”
He succumbed to a malignancy July 26, 1995, at age 77 but he was teaching, recording and performing until a week before his death. Laurindo’s archives are at the U. S. Library of Congress. He had composed more than 1,000 separate pieces including 200 popular songs. His legacy lives on in recordings and music books. Any piece he recorded, he published the score for sale. There are also multiple YouTube offerings that I encourage you to sample.