Dowagiac hosts Niles, Edwardsburg, 12 others for district Jazz FestivalPublished 8:30am Wednesday, April 21, 2010
By JOHN EBY
Dowagiac Daily News
Benje Daneman likens musical fluency to learning a foreign language.
Knowing the mechanics of Spanish and being conversant in the tongue on streets in Mexico or Madrid can be two entirely different things.
Critiquing band after band, he grilled them on whether they listen to recordings of selections they perform.
Listening to themselves will indicate when they need to lead and when to follow because improvisational jazz relies on notes not actually printed in the charts.
He told several drummers that their music should only be a “loose guideline.”
“You have to really swing and kick this band in the butt,” he goaded one. “Pull them along.”
Listening is also a critical element within their jazz ensembles.
Berrien Springs, in their Shamrock-green shirts, he praised the saxophone section as being the first he could really hear, all the more amazing in a “monster band” with nine trumpets.
Daneman pointed out the “ocean” between one drummer’s kit – the heartbeat – and the rest of the combo, meaning “blood” had too far to travel.
He prefers that musicians be more “on top of each other.”
“Vibe” seems Daneman’s favorite expression, as in “the overall feeling that you get from something. How are you approaching this music? What do you need to do playing a Latin song to make it sound real?
“It’s really easy as an audience member to check out if you’re not all playing the same way and it gets messy and sloppy. They’ll be looking around, counting rafters. You want to keep the audience surprised” with such nuances as varying dynamics and articulation.
“In jazz, you want to exaggerate everything – even staccato,” Daneman said.
“I don’t want to hear the notes,” Daneman said, “I want to be hit by something I can feel.”
Daneman flew in from New York, where he plays trumpet professionally, but he grew up in Grand Rapids and knows Dowagiac Band Director C.J. Brooks from Western Michigan University.
Daneman dubbed himself “Buzzkill Benje” because his 10-minute window for critiques as a clinician hurried through praise to squeeze in criticism which might make the bands better and propel them forward.
“I’ve got all of my compliments and ‘you guys are awesome’ out of the way,” Daneman said, “so now I’m going to start telling you what I wanted to hear, but didn’t.”
For the second year in a row, Dowagiac at the middle school Performing Arts Center Tuesday hosted the Southwestern Michigan Band and Orchestra Association (SWMBOA) District Six Jazz Band Festival.
At WMU, Daneman majored in music education and jazz studies, taught at Lake Michigan College near Benton Harbor for a year and at a Grand Rapids middle school.
He’s “freelancing” while finishing his master’s degree at the Manhattan School of Music.
Daneman toured with Johnny Carson’s bandleader, Doc Severinsen, for his last big band tour. The “Tonight Show’s” flashiest dresser is known in this area for headlining Niles’ inaugural Four Flags Area Apple Festival.
“He’s been everywhere,” Daneman said.
Playing with Severinsen “was one of the best musical experiences of my life. I did a summer institute in Los Angeles in 2006 and they brought in people from all over the world. The next year, Doc was doing his last tour. The guy I was studying with in Los Angeles suggested me to be on that tour.”
Daneman bestowed outstanding soloist awards to Dowagiac saxophonists Chris Murray and Ryan Bassett, trumpeter Jessica Martin and drummers Cody Cox and Grant Hatch.
Daneman told the Chieftains, “You have the ability to really push the volume. I want to get across that you don’t always need to have volume. It’s really important to know you can get this boiling intensity energy without having to get louder.
“The first tune I was like, ‘Yeah!’ The second tune, I was like, ‘Yeah.’ By the third tune, ‘You’re still blasting.’ I would strive for a little more shape to it. You guys have the music down, you’re playing the solos well, you’re grooving hard, but as a listener, I’ve been harping on this with a lot of bands, there’s a lot of room for musicality, as there always is.
“The more you learn about music, the more you realize you’re not even close to what you could be. Yeah, it’s a grooving hot tune, but within that there has to be some kind of landscape that I want to follow as a listener and be surprised.”
He tended to avoid uptempo burners to concentrate his teaching moments on ballads which demand more polished playing and intonation.
Daneman likens the subdued mood to telling a story an audience feels.
Divided into three sets between 12:45 and 7 p.m. were New Buffalo, Edwardsburg, Watervliet and South Haven; Niles, Paw Paw and Berrien Springs; and Lakeshore Middle School, Hartford and Dowagiac.
New Buffalo, directed by Christina Roback, “Minnie the Moocher,” “Afterglow” and “Margie.”
Edwardsburg, directed by Tom Crowner, “Back Burner,” “After You’ve Gone” and “Spain.”
Watervliet, directed by Jennifer Engleman, “Swingville, USA,” “Blue Midnight” and “St. Thomas.”
South Haven, directed by Jeff Bopp, “Drummin’ Man,” “Summertime” and “Sambeando.”
Niles, directed by Steven Gruver, “Coco Loco,” “Lil’ Darlin’ ” and “In the Mood.”
Paw Paw, directed by Amy Gronda, “Summertime,” “Velvet Rain” and “Cut to the Chase.”
Lakeshore, directed by Dowagiac graduate Phil Huff, “Groovin’ Hard,” “My Funny Valentine” and “Area 51.”
Hartford, directed by John Murphy, “An Ellington Tribute,” “Autumn Mist” and “Take Your Best Shot.”
Dowagiac, with Brooks on piano, closed out a long day with “Gospel John,” “Watermelon” and “What Is Hip” arrayed in a V with saxophones and brass on either side of the drums.
For the DUHS musicians, it was a day that began almost 12 hours before with the band staffing the event divided into loading crews, backstage setup, concessions, front desk and shuttling performers from warm-up rooms to the stage.