Oren Marshall performing in Wiesbaden, Germany. August 2011
I’ve just played a couple of concerts in Mallorca. I was in a new group – a brass sextet called “Tuba Mirum”. the instrumentation was like a regular brass quintet line-up but with an extra trumpet part. The players as follows:
Trumpet: John Wallace
Trumpet: Andreas Koenig
Trumpet: Valentin Garvie
Trombone: Leon Ni
Tuba: Oren Marshall.
What a fantastic four days! We had the luxury of two whole days for rehearsals before the concert days and the group really worked well together, right from the start.
It was quite a varied and dangerous program. The audiences were very responsive and the atmosphere was great as a result. John, Oren and I played solo pieces, which were possibly the most challenging for our audiences. Mine was called “Lost In Space” – a 7 movement improvisation involving the use of a flugelhorn on the opposite side of the stage, linked to where I sat with my horn by a long length of hosepipe.
Valentin did brilliant arrangements of a couple Tangos for the group and nobody seemed to mind me trying to do some jazz improvisation in the extended take-it-in-turns middle section. I swaggered out to the front, aimed high and blasted out my stuff as loud as I possibly could. It must have been a complete load of rubbish! Still, it was fun – and at least it felt like jazz. The trumpet felt really comfortable and natural in my hands.
The cornet is going well. I think I have a useful range – fairly comfortable up to about top C – and the fingering is mostly sorted, although there’s usually a glitch around high E (same as top A on the horn) where I’m trying very hard to remember to play it with no valves pressed down, whereas it’s best on the horn with 1st and 2nd down.
I’m also gradually getting the register shift sorted in my mind. Although the fingering almost exactly matches that of the horn, if I think in horn pitch, I have decided to make the shift into thinking and reading in Bb as this will make reading music much easier in the long term. Thus I have to re-educate my pitch sense, when I am in cornet mode, to one fourth higher. I get lost sometimes – sort of a pitch whiteout where I have no idea what notes I am playing. My fingers and lips know but my conscious mind is nowhere. Granted, this has always happened when playing the horn, but now that I am formally learning jazz I really need always to know what notes I am playing, what chords, scales, etc… This is new for me. My previous improvisations have always been instinctive, with almost no role for the conscious mind. Jazz, however, needs the guiding keel of definite harmonic navigation. It’s a discipline I’m trying to learn – determined to learn.
Oren Marshall is a brilliant and unconventional tuba player with at least one leg in the world of jazz, although I don’t know how well versed he is in actual jazz improvisation and, for that matter, I don’t really know what it is to be a jazz tubist. He visited me today, partly for a jog over at the Hollow Ponds and partly to “do some playing” together. It was an interesting lesson for me. It made me realise that I was actually quite embarrassed to let go and play “jazzilly” in front of him. When I eventually did – on some blues in concert F – Oren said, in his usually flattering way, that I was loaded with all the right tools but that I didn’t have the feel. Nice of him – and I suppose I kind of knew that. He also said a lot of interesting, thoughtful stuff about how it can be refreshing to hear someone new to jazz playing their own unique stuff and that the “novice” can have a certain amount of freedom that perhaps would be difficult for an experienced jazzer to express. A difficult concept to argue, I think, but it was very nice of him to be so encouraging. We played a few rounds of blues but I don’t think I achieved much.
We talked about Derek Bailey a bit – I’ve done a fair bit of improvising (free, non-jazz) with Derek, donkey’s years ago, and so has Oren only much more recently. It seems Oren was able to make much more sense of Derek’s style of improvisation, which always had me confused. I told him about my general frustration with performing free improvisation to which he had some interesting responses.