Highlights of days 3 & 4 of the USA/Barbados big band tour included:
- Workshops with Donny McCaslin, Dave Douglas and Dennis Mackrel
- The first gig of the tour
- The Frank Wess memorial
Day 3: January 3, 2014
Today saw the band in the first of three workshops with prominent jazz artists/educators. After breakfast it was a short walk of just a couple of block to nearby Carroll Rehearsal Studios. Today’s workshop was with saxophonist Donny McCaslin, a leading freelance artist, band leader and member of the famous Maria Schneider Orchestra. An engaging, energetic and charismatic teacher, McCaslin worked with the band mainly on improvisation but also on some ensemble awareness skills. Carroll studios is a rehearsal venue on the sixth floor of a building on the West Side of Manhattan, It is an excellent facility used by many professional bands. In the evening, after a bit of free time, we had our first gig of the tour. It was at the Somethin’ Jazz Club on East 52nd St, a small but stylish venue. Also small but stylish was our audience. It was nice to see a bunch of old and new friends along to see us play. Expat pianist Matt Baker sat in with us on Prime Time and was in fine form. The first tune we played on tour was Sammy Nestico’s Fun Time, originally written for the Count Basie band. The band played very well and it was an excellent start to the performance part of the tour.
First on the agenda were two workshops. The first was with famous composer and trumpet player Dave Douglas. He worked with the band on some tricky but fascinating compositional and improvisational exercises. Everyone was challenged, but Douglas’s approach was as thought-provoking and inspirational as it was difficult. I was wonderful to be able to work with one of the great creative minds in jazz. The final workshop was with bandleader, drummer, composer and former Count Basie Orchestra director Dennis Mackrel. He was a fine teacher and great motivator. He worked mainly on fine-tuning pieces fp tomorrow’s CD recording. Another awesome workshop. Thanks to Dennis Mackrel we knew there was a memorial being held at St Peters Church on the East Side of Manhattan for the great saxophonist Frank Wess in the evening. We all went and were treated to a wonderful celebration of a fine musical life. Many, many famous musicians performed during the three-hour event. Some of these included Lew Tabackin, Wynton Marsalis, Jimmy Heath, Terrell Stafford, Rufus Reid, Dennis Mackrel, Akira Tana, Peter Washington, Scott Robinson, Kenny Barron, and the Count Basie Orchestra with guests Butch Miles (drums) and Monty Alexander (piano). What a brilliant concert, a terrific celebration and a once-in-a-lifetime experience.