Updated: Jun 22
Steve Haines and the Frenchies and the music
In March 2020, Steve Haines was invited by Université Rennes 2 (France) to lead a rich musical program of classes, concerts, conferences and workshops. As you know, the Covid-19 situation changed things and the Canadian bassist had to leave on March 12th, the day following a public workshop on jazz and improvisation for La Flume jazz students at l’Autre Lieu multimedia library in Le Rheu, France.
It was meant to be a one-hour workshop, and yet, everyone stayed much longer, although the audience also included non-musicians and very young children.
Why is that?
You may think the main reason was Steve’s impressive background, being a renowned bassist, arranger-composer and educator, as well as the director of the Miles Davis Jazz Studies Program at the University of North Carolina in Greensboro. But as far as I’m concerned, it really all came down to two things:
What a difference a French word makes
1. Steve made sure everyone participed, from jazz students to non-musicians and small children in the audience. By watching him lead the workshop, you could easily tell where he got his 2016 reward as Outstanding Teacher of the Year from.
2. The skilled teacher chose to speak French and include everyone in the process.
And that made all the difference.
I considered jumping in to offer my translation services, but I stopped short, witnessing magic in the making: adults helping out with a word, a sentence, a concept, children feeling confident enough to ask questions (which can be very tricky for us Frenchies, no matter how old we are), following instructions as they started clapping their hands and stomping their feet to feel the beat, and understand the difference between blues and jazz. Everyone laughing, listening, feeling like they belonged, in three languages: French, English and music.
The result? More-than-satisfied jazz students, happy faces, dancing children and a beaming translator standing in line to exchange a few words and buy Steve’s last album, « Steve Haines and the Third Floor Orchestra » featuring Becca Stevens, Chad Eby and Joey Calderazzo.
Once again, it goes to show that communicating with someone in their native language creates a bond that wasn’t there before, because it touches their cultural heart.
Steve shared a lot of great tips during the workshop. Here are a few, along with their English translation. Will you be able to match them up? (The answers are at the end, but no peaking!)
A. L’égo et la musique, ça ne va pas ensemble. B. L’essentiel, c’est de jouer beaucoup. C. Il faut savoir échouer. D. Herbie Hancock dit lui-même qu’il fait encore des erreurs. E. Quand tu joues vite, pense « lentement », et quand tu joues lentement, pense « vite » F. Le tempo, c’est ce qui compte le plus. Le jazz, ça fait danser, pas le blues. G. Il n’y a pas d’âge pour commencer, puisque de toute façon, nous restons des enfants. H. La musique, c’est comme les langues, c’est plus difficile avec l’âge, mais c’est super de s’y mettre. Je parle très mal le français, mais je parle! I. « Ne fais rien, reste assis là. » J. Une partition, c’est juste du papier, pas de la musique. K. En jazz, si tu ne respires pas, tu perds le rythme. L. C’est important de maîtriser la transcription, si on veut faire des solos. Je vous conseille d’en travailler un par semaine. 6. (To the pianist) « Don’t just do something, sit there. » 5. The most important thing is to play a lot. 12. Ego and music don’t work well together. 1. Herbie Hancock himself says he still makes mistakes. 4. Tempo is the most important thing. Jazz makes people dance. Not blues. 10. There is no age to start. We are always children, anyway. 11. It is important to fail. 7. When you play fast, think « slow », when play slow, think « fast ». 9. If you don’t breathe when playing jazz, you’ll step out of sync. 8. It is important to learn how to transcription when you want to play solos. I recommend practicing one solo per week. 2. Music is like languages, it’s harder as you get older, but it’s great to start: I don’t speak French very well, but I speak! 3. Music sheets are just paper, not