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On Wednesday 21st May the CJC (Creative Jazz Club) replaced their normal program with a fundraiser as the club has long been in need of a good quality guitar amp.   Relying on borrowed guitar amps is a risky practice and moving one down winding staircases follows the Rhodes & B3 as being the quickest way to get a hernia.   A large number of established musicians and many Jazz studies students volunteered to play and so an impressive pool of artists formed.   No musician asked for pay but the audience still paid an entry fee.  To augment the door take, raffle tickets were also on the sale.  The many prizes included a double pass to the Larry Carlton concert and all donated by CJC supporters.

In these situations it is usual for the more experienced musicians to suggest a number they would like to play.  They would then liaise with their preferred band mates from the volunteer pool or perhaps strong-arm a few others who had not yet volunteered.

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Roger Manins the creative director of the CJC was having none of that.  He had a cunning and innovative plan up his sleeve and one worthy of John Zorn.  All the musicians would have their names placed in a hat (a pork pie hat as it turned out) with no set list predetermined.  Just to put an additional burr under the musicians saddles, the ‘feel,’ (time signatures, tempo style etc) were written on a slip of paper drawn from a second hat.  Once a name came out of the hat it was not put in again, with the number of musicians performing dictated by Roger prior to each draw.

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In summary: a pool of musicians assembled, two hats determined what they played, how they play it, and with whom.

If the slip read fast bossa, slow ballad or fast waltz the task was easy.  A quick negotiation determined which tune and if not predetermined by the slip, which key.   If however the second draw indicated that odd time signatures; changing constantly throughout the tune, then the task was formidable.  There was one draw in particular which took my fancy and that was when seven names appeared and the second draw indicated that they must play completely free.  “No discussion, just play”, was the instruction.   This was a recipe for chaos and mayhem but what they pulled together was interesting.  The band (which I will dub the ‘FreeJC’ ensemble) had a mixture experienced musicians and Jazz studies students.  Contrary to popular belief Free Jazz very often has rules or principles guiding the improvisation.  For example John Zorn’s game pieces like Cobra have strict confines and free improvisation occurs cued by the conductor; a set of spontaneous but connected conversations.  Butch Morris was the master of this ‘Conduction’ methodology but in longer form.   He coaxed wonderful creations out of musicians by using hand signals (or in Zorn’s case cued by a rapid succession of flash cards).

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The older hands knew better what to do here, conversing in the time-honoured way of call & response, moving with the ever shifting patterns and shapes.  Some portions of this ten minute long Free exploration worked better than others.   When they reached for a commonality of ideas  interesting shapes formed.   Like all good conversations it is the listening that is as important as the talking.  When this openness is evident a deeper intuitive communication occurs.    I have put up a blended excerpt of this free number.

As well as the many of the many regular performers there were a number of impressive students on the band stand.  It was also great to hear Julie Masson again.  

Among those performing were: Frank Gibson Jr, Phil Broadhurst, Julie Mason, Neil Watson, Ben McNicoll, Carolina Moon, Oli Holland, Kevin Field, Andy Smith, Ron Samsom, Cameron McArthur, Paul Nairn, Chelsea Prastiti, Djordje Nikolic, Michael Howell, Tom Leggett, Tristan Deck, Matt Steele, Rob Thompson, Sam Weeks, Timothy Andrew Shacklock.

What: CJC Mad Hatters Guitar Amp Fundraiser

Where: CJC (Creative Jazz Club), Britomart 1885, Auckland, New Zealand. 21st May 2014   http://www.creativejazzclub.co.nz

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