A place to learn and listen

Dec. 22, 2013 @ 06:07 PM

“Suddenly in walked Bud / And then they got into something”

--Thelonious Monk (lyrics by Jon Hendricks), “In Walked Bud”


Between compositions during a recent class at the Durham Jazz Workshop, some musicians from local high schools got into something – an active, animated discussion about harmony. They had completed a run-through of a Charles Mingus piece, and were about to head into “Django” by John Lewis, when the students were trading notes about how to play a melody using a whole tone scale, and diminished scales.
At another class, this one made up primarily of baby boomers, guitarist and recording artist Keith Ganz, sitting at the piano, talked the group through some of the chord changes of the tune “Black Orpheus.” After the musicians painstakingly played through the chords, soprano saxophone player Richard Scoville said, “We’ve gotta do this again. We’re doing all this studying.”
These separate classes that reach across the generations are part of the work at the Durham Jazz Workshop and Sharp Nine Gallery. Begun a year ago, this non-profit organization offers classes in jazz, gives local musicians a place to play (and fans a place to sit and listen), and exhibits the work of local visual artists. The organization is engaged in its annual fundraiser, which includes a New Year’s Eve concert to raise scholarship money.
This combination music workshop and gallery is the creation of saxophonist and recording artist Dave Finucane and his wife, visual artist Valèrie Courrèges. Previously, they founded and ran the non-profit Westchester Jazz Workshop, a combination performance space and gallery in Peekskill, N.Y., before moving here in 2005. They began looking for a place for a similar performance and teaching space. Downtown Durham had become too pricey, Finucane said. He and Courrèges found the space on Industry Lane. A church had rented the space previously. Finucane and supporters put up track lighting to help the ambience, and built a small stage that is used for classes and performances. 
Finucane grew up in Tarrytown, N.Y., just north of New York City. He became interested in jazz in high school. He remembers taking the bus to Harlem to attend classes put on by the Jazzmobile, a roving concert and teaching bus begun by the late pianist Billy Taylor.
At the class for high school students, Finucane tries to pass on some of what he learned at those classes. This class is made up of members called the Durham Jazz Messengers, who won a recent competition at N.C. Central University. Many also study privately. “This [class] is a chance to get some of the more serious jazz players together,” Finucane said.
The judges at the NCCU competition liked their ears for arranging, and at this class Finucane encourages students to try writing some ideas down when they practice and to bring them to class. “It’s putting sounds together,” he says of arranging. “You don’t have to have taken an arranging class.” (The students at this session are Annie Bennett, alto sax; Julian Lambert, piano; Alex Perron, tenor sax; Chris Sisco, trumpet; Avery Logan, drums; and Alex Haggis, bass.)
Ganz’s class is made up of students who are not necessarily professional musicians, but who studied in school and have become interested in jazz improvisation. So much of learning jazz is playing, and this particular class allows them to play and learn while in a group, Ganz said. For this class, the students chose some tunes and compositions to work on, and Ganz tries to give them guidance about harmony, and how to put different concepts together. “These people, they are not in music school,” Ganz said. His role is “more about cultivating what they’re attracted to and getting satisfaction out of what they want to be able to play.”
Student and alto saxophone player Tom Holmes likes the exchange. “It’s very cool what’s going on here – a lot of learning and musical communication going on.”
Lenora Zenzalai Helm, a vocal professor at N.C. Central University, has given a workshop at the space, and will be giving another one next month. “It’s been great to have an organization like that, and to have someone who knows how to build a space to build a music community,” Helm said. 
Soprano player Scoville said the space allows him to play with musicians who are better than him and to improve. As teacher, Ganz “provides the benchmark for us,” Scoville said. “This is fantastic. This is worth paying for.”

COMING UP

WHAT: New Year’s Eve Party at Durham Jazz Workshop and Sharp Nine Gallery

WHEN: 9 p.m. Dec. 31
WHERE: Durham Jazz Workshop, 4608L Industry Lane, Durham
ADMISSION: Tickets are $50, and include desserts, champagne and a CD donated by local musicians. Musicians performing at this event are the Dave Finucane Quartet, with guests Lois Deloatch and Scott Sawyer. For information, visit www.durhamjazzworkshop.org.