Jazz in Aarau – ‘With A Little Help from My Friends’ Jazzaar Festival 2006
Dr. Ian Darrington TAKE NOTE
Having witnessed the success of the 2005 jazz event in Aarau, Switzerland organized by the jazz society, ” Jazzaar “, I knew 2006 would be something special. However, nothing could have prepared me for the musical surprises of the five-day jazz education event titled Jazzaar Concerts – A Beatles Tribute. I am sure there were those who wondered what the Beatles’ music had to do with jazz and how it could possibly fit into a week of jazz education. Any doubters had not reckoned on the genius of the musical director Fritz Renold. By the end of the week, anyone who was fortunate enough to be present at rehearsals, seminars, or the evening concerts and had doubts, would have had them well and truly quashed. For the producers, Fritz and Helen Renold, even a slight failure was clearly not an option; and with them at the helm, this adventurous project was destined to be a success.
The music of Lennon and McCartney has appeared in the repertoire of a number of jazz artists and bands including the Count Basie Orchestra, Sarah Vaughan, Maynard Ferguson, and Lynne Arriale. It may have been one of these that influenced Fritz Renold in his choice for the theme of his 2006 jazz education project or it may have been the original Beatles’ versions that he heard in his youth. Whatever the reason, his decision to pay tribute to the music of the Beatles proved very wise as it so uniquely provided enjoyment, enhancement, and enrichment in the lives of more than 75 music students.
As a graduate of Berklee School of Music, Renold has generated a wide circle of musical friends and acquaintances; it is from this rich source that he carefully selects his guest musicians. Each year he assembles a powerful and effective team by matching Swiss- and European-based musicians with American musicians. This clever and carefully thought-out combination helps to shape and deliver high quality music with amazing results. The musicians he chooses are not just terrific players and great educators; they are so obviously people who believe in the project.
Like any successful education project, a great deal of planning went into this event. He is actually already working on the music for 2008-2009! Although the theme, the faculty, and the students change each year there are certain underlying qualities that ensure maximum value for the participants. A priority for the Jazzaar educational design is that it carries with it well-defined aims and objectives. The welfare of the Jazzaar students is of paramount importance with discovery, innovation, exploration, social and musical interaction, quality leadership, and quality faculty combining to produce a highly effective curriculum.
Rehearsals for the event began Monday, April 17. Students and faculty (who had previously not worked together) began to combine jazz, pop, Latin, and orchestral music. There were nervous moments; but confidence levels grew, adjustments were made, and people began to trust each other. Problems were overcome and the magic of musical interaction and participation took over.
The early evening workshops and seminars provided a diversion for the challenging arrangements of Lennon and McCartney songs, while at the same time they introduced the students to a range of important topics including improvisation, Latin jazz, learning music by ear, vocal arranging, composition techniques, listening to jazz, and trumpet mouthpiece design. The students and faculty enjoyed further musical exploration at the after-hours jam sessions. These took place at the home of Bobby Leiser, a true character of the European jazz festival scene. For a number of years, Bobby had been on the road with Miles Davis and many other jazz greats. The memorabilia adorning his home, plus his amazing collection of Hammond organs, provided the perfect venue for successful jamming and after-hours conversations. Just maybe, the spirits of those musicians whose names were in the posters decorating the walls helped bring out the best in those exploring the music.
The climax and showcase to this amazing jazz education project were the three evening concerts. Since the majority of those involved had not been around during the Beatle years, Renold cleverly scheduled the first concert as a Beatles tribute by the guest band, the “Fab Four,” (Shawn Tybor as “John,” Ron Moulton as “Paul,” Mike Naud as “George,” and Tim Pomeroy as “Ringo”). This concert gave the youngsters a great opportunity to experience – in the most authentic way possible – the music of the Beatles’ 1964-1971 period. It also served as an excellent reminder to those who were around when the music was first performed. The Fab Four are residents of Denver, Colo., and do an amazing job of not only performing Beatles music but also living it out. The inflections, the body language, the mannerisms, and even the “Liverpudlian” accents of the original four are all there. Clad in the instantly recognizable gray Beatle suits the Fab Four made an immediate impression on the capacity audience. The first set featured the music of the early Beatles 1964-66 and was well performed and well received. An impressive costume change saw the Fab Four take the stage for the second set dressed in the bright colored Sergeant Pepper style costumes. The attention to detail, the great music played with 100 percent commitment and enthusiasm ensured that the music of the Beatles provided the perfect start to this concert series.
In many ways the most challenging part of the project was the music featured in the Thursday evening concert. In preparation for this section of the project, arranger Adi Yeshaya produced quality arrangements of such Beatles classics as Let It Be, Hard Days Night, And I Love Her, Fool on the Hill, and Hey Jude. During early rehearsals the large ensemble, which was comprised of a big band with extended Latin rhythm section, two vocal soloists, and vocal backing group, had difficulty settling into the various Latin styles of the arrangements. However, with the skilful directing of Adi Yeshaya and the support of Tony Hayes (vocals and sax), Helen Renold (vocals), Arnold Moueza and Willy Kotoun (percussion), confidence levels grew quickly and everyone settled into enjoying the music – feeling it rather than reading it! In these early rehearsals it was noticeable how difficult moments in the music were eased by discussions between the faculty members and students and between the various sections of the band. By the time the musicians took the stage Thursday evening everyone was ready to perform “Beatles in Salsa”. The quality and vitality of the performance was highly infectious. I have rarely seen such a large audience totally immersed in the rhythm of the music. Not a still body in the house – only a pity there wasn’t a dance floor as this was just the perfect occasion for dancing.
The Friday night performance was billed as “Beatles in Symphony” and featured the Fab Four with the Aargauer Jugend Pops Symphony Orchestra conducted by Fritz Renold. This concert truly represented what musical performance is all about. It had everything – every emotion from laughter to tears and everything in between, people tapping their feet to the faster tunes and swaying to the slower tunes; it featured outstanding musical arrangements performed to an extremely high level. It had great rapport with the capacity audience, every one of whom must have gone home knowing they had been a part of such a special evening.
As a trumpet player it would have been wonderful to have played in this exciting project and yet had I done so I would have missed out on the opportunity to hear from an audience member’s perspective the total effect of such superbly crafted arrangements. It was quite magical. Across the history of jazz and big band music, it is arrangers who have given ensembles their characteristic tone and style. In this respect Robert Freedman, Fritz Renold, and Willie Murillo (on Eleanor Rigby) exhibited their extraordinary skill, producing high calibre arrangements that proved absolutely perfect for the occasion.
Those who have experienced ” Jazzaar Concerts ” now await with much excitement and anticipation the project in 2007 (April 15-21); the theme announced is “Classics.” One night will be the music of Miles Davis featuring Randy Brecker and another night will feature Gary Burton and Makoto Ozone.
2006 JAZZAAR Musical Guests and Faculty
The Fab Four (Shawn Tybor as “John,” Ron Moulton as “Paul”, Mike Naud as “George,” and Tim Pomeroy as “Ringo”)
Marius Bröchin (guitar)
William Cepeda (trombone)
Devina Cohen (viola)
Wolfgang Drechsler (french horn)
Markus and Rachel Fleck (violins)
Tom Garling (trombone)
Mark Gebhart (french horn)
Stefan Glaus (violin)
Adrian Häuseler (viola)
Tony Hayes (sax and vocals)
Willie Kotoun (percussion)
Barbara Lang (viola)
Arnold Moueza (percussion)
Willie Murillo (trumpet)
Jim Odgren (saxes)
Helen Renold (vocals)
Daniel Schaerer (cello)
Christoph Schnyder (clarinet)
Philippe Slominsky (trumpet)
Isaac Smith (trombone)
Ronny Spiegel (violin and concert master)
Roman Strassmann (violin)
Adi Yeshaya (arranger, musical director)
Dr. Ian Darrington is the IAJE Executive Board Representative for Europe. He is founder and director of the Wigan International Jazz Festival, co-founder of the Wigan Jazz Club, and musical director of the Wigan Youth Jazz Orchestra as well as Director of Jazz Performance for Wigan Council. He has toured and performed big band workshops throughout Europe, Asia, the USA, South Africa, and Israel. Darrington received the IAJE Humanitarian Award in 2000 and in 2001, the MBE by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace for his services to music.