Zog Blog, LCCM Masterclass, Swansea Jazzland and Calstock Arts / by Elaine Crouch

Gig 19

Calstock Arts

Technically just over the Devon border and into Cornwall, we missed the spectacular view from the back window as it was dark when we arrived. This is a magnificently converted old chapel with high ceiling and controlled reverberant acoustic - absolutely beautiful for us.

We had about 50 people, which I think was a good result considering Martin Taylor was here earlier in the week and Graeme Abate locally at the weekend.

We got a tremendous reception and lots of positive feedback on the material. 

I noticed how distracting small things can be on this gig. Rob Barron(piano), as I was about to play the out head on a tune asked me “top?” and I thought he said “STOP!”. I carried on anyway, as I thought I was right, but was thinking the whole time “why did he say stop?”. By the time we got to the end of the tune I’d worked it out and then I couldn’t stop laughing to myself. The next tune we played was in an odd meter, and an enthusiastic gentleman at the front was furiously drumming on his thigh and tapping his foot, insanely at odds with our groove - the more I tried to ignore it the less I could. Even when I closed my eyes I was wondering what he was doing and had to take a peek!

Special thanks to Kevin for the great food - so appreciated when you’re on the road.

Gig 18

Swansea Jazzland

Swansea Travelodge is no longer the hell hole it once was. The beds are now comfortable, the rooms have a picture in them and one wall is not plain white. Also the receptionist was exceptionally on the case and didn’t expiate the “O” from my name! 

Swansea Jazzland is run by the indefatigable Dave Cottle, who's full of entertaining stories and hospitality from the off when you arrive at the St James Social Club. We had a good turn out (70 or so) who got really into our whole Zog journey. I learnt that there was a King Zog of Albania from 1922-1939, and the same chap thought the evil villain played by Terence Stamp in the first Superman movie was called general Zog, but an internet search proved it to be General Zod.

I’m amazed by how surprised everyone is that I might choose to play acoustic. Then they are also surprised it works! “Everyone shut up and listened all the way!”

Masterclass at LCCM London.

It’s so nice sometimes just to be able to play, with your regular band, to the students you spend so long teaching. We had a full concert room at the LCCM London in Union St, and the students made a terrific audience - very receptive, attentive, and asked some intelligent questions. Some of the highlights were:
“What do you think of when you improvise?”
Try to think of a motif, usually rhythmically oriented, and develop as a narrative through the changes.
“How do you go about memorising a new tune?”
If it’s a new original - play the piece through from the music, then see how much you can remember first off.
Alternatively, analyse the form and the harmony, then memorise the melody.
If it’s a standard: find a good vocal and a good instrumental reference
“What should the drummers left hand play?”
Anything from nothing to plenty according to the space available, the intensity of the music and what the other comping instruments are doing.
“How much are the new tunes learned and how prescriptive are the parts?”
Some are lead sheets, some fully conceived with specific voicings written in. I trust the band, since we've played together a long time, to make suggestions that will improve the music, so everyone has a big input.
“Do you play licks consciously in your solos?”
We transcribe solos, learn licks in all keys, practice applying them in context in the practice room. But when it gets to the gig the process is different and more organic. If anything you are consciously avoiding trotting out licks, but if the work has been done well the vocabulary at you disposal sounds authentic because of the work you’ve done and THEN you’re ready to start being creative. So transcribing solos, learning licks and patterns along with scales and arpeggios form the nuts and bolts required to develop lucidity in this language. In a live context the ideal is to spontaneously develop ideas coherent with the mood, feel, form and harmony of the tune and responsive to the interaction of the band.