Earlier this month, ten Sax School members met “in real life” to attend a residential Jazz Course in Perth, Scotland. We chatted to Barrie and Jo to find out how it went.
How long have you been playing?
Barrie: Two and a half years, learning with Sax School for all of this time.
Jo: I’ve been learning for two and a half years too, with Sax School, and I also have a tutor.
What made you try the Jazz Course?
Barrie: It seemed like an obvious thing to experience, and it was more appealing because other Sax School members were going too. I went with an open mind, I didn’t know what to expect!
Jo: I wanted some more intense training, and to get a different slant from different teachers. It wasn’t just about saxophone – we learned a lot about music in general.
How was it to meet Sax School members in real life?
Barrie: We all got along really well, and supported and encouraged each other. It was just like being on the Sax School Members Facebook Group!
Jo: It was great – we had been chatting online about the course for a few months so it was great to meet in real life. I think it was more fun than going on your own!
It was good to play together. We are all at different stages in our playing, and have different knowledge. For example, I have learned quite a lot of music theory whereas other members hadn’t done theory before. It was great to be able to share and learn from each other.
So tell us about the course!
Barrie: It was a full week, Monday to Friday. Richard Michael, the course director, is Honorary Professor of Jazz at the University of St Andrews. He is a really inspirational teacher! He brought with him a professional band made up of amazing musicians and teachers.
Each day began with the band playing and a warm up, with all 81 students together. Then we split into masterclasses for our instrument.
We also worked in “combo groups” of ten to twelve, which included different instruments to make up a band. As a group we learned three songs. At the end of the week each group chose a song to play in the final concert.
After the first master class I was shell-shocked! I don’t sight-read very quickly and tend to play by ear, but here we were handed a sheet of music and off we went! I felt a little out of my depth at times.
The tutors were so motivating and inspiring, and it was great to see that what we had learned with Sax School was in tune with what they were teaching us.
Jo: I read music but the pace was very quick. Usually I would take a few days to learn a new piece but here we had to play it straight away! Sometimes I had to just chip in and play what I could but I always got something out of the sessions.
I really enjoyed the evening sessions when we got together to practice what we had learned during the day. It was fun to play with different people. It was a really diverse group, with the youngest only 11 or 12 years old!
What is the biggest thing you learned?
Barrie: I was never really interested in Jazz when I was younger – I was more into soul music. So it was good to get an insight into what makes a jazz number – the tempo, the rhythm, the chord patterns – and to see what aspects are common across the spectrum of jazz.
Jo: That’s a difficult question – there were lots of things I learned. I usually play on my own so it was really useful to play in a group. It made me realise the importance of timing when you are playing with others!
What will you take away with you?
Barrie: I have made a real commitment to learn to sight read and to get to grips with scales! I’m going back to the Sax School lessons on this. I’m not the kind of person who reads instructions – I tend to dive in – but I’ve realised I need to get back to basics. I can see the importance now.
Before the course I had never even played my sax for my family. I’ve shared videos on the Sax School Facebook Group, but I’ve never played in public. The concert at the end of the course was open to the public and lots of friends and family were there. It felt like a big achievement to perform there, and we all played a solo too!
I definitely plan to go back to the course next year. In the meantime I’m getting stuck in to the lessons and courses on Sax School!
Jo: I’ve never played in front of anyone except my husband, so playing in the concert was a big step.
Since the course I’ve made a plan of the skills I want to improve. I’ve found that I rely on written music too much so I want to develop my ear and my improvising. I plan to go back again, and now I know the goals I want to achieve, ready for next year.
Details of the course: