2nd Jazz Harp Camp with Park Stickney, August 2011
by Esther Sévérac
From August 15th to 21st, I had the great pleasure to be a participant at the second Jazz Harp Camp, an intensive jazz harp course given by Park Stickney, in Valeyres-Sous-Ursins, Switzerland. We were nine harpists between 20 and 30, from England, Germany and Switzerland, and we all wanted to learn more about jazz harp, something that had always appeared to me as quite a mystery...
We are warmly welcomed on Monday afternoon by Park, his wife Christine and their nephew Hugo in their house, under the radiant sun. After having carried my harp out of the car and installed my tent in the garden, I tested all the different deck chairs while waiting for the last participants. Not all of them come with their own harps; the ones without instruments can play on harps lent by Salvi and Hug Musique during the week. We put the harps outside, between the barn and the house. By chance, especially for campers like me, the weather stayed beautiful all week.
On Tuesday and Wednesday, all the group meet with Park, for masterclasses (the word is too scary for us and we soon rename them one-on-one mini lessons) and workshops, where we can review (or discover!) the basic elements of jazz: chords. Park explains that jazz musicians know their chords by heart; so we have to start learning them. Major, minor, diminished, semi-diminished? Without forgetting the corresponding pedals, of course! The jazz notation doesn’t make things easier. Nevertheless, the atmosphere is very nice and friendly and Park is never out of jokes. We play a few pieces all together to relax ourselves and it already sounds pretty good.
On Thursday and Friday, we split into two groups; one group looks into theoretical aspects with Park, the other group plays with Dino, bassist, and Gigi, percussionist, who joined us on Wednesday evening. With Park, they form the trio The Lion, The Wolf and The Donkey. I already had seen the group play in Basel, during a music festival; I’m only more pleased to have the opportunity to play with them and benefit from their advice. With Dino and Gigi, we learn more about how to play jazz in a group, we explore some rhythms, we take time to understand all the chords (and write some pedals - without telling Park!)...
On Friday afternoon, we rehearse all together to prepare the student concert, which will take place in the evening, in the village. Park still arranges a piece on the same day (Soul Bossa Nova), which is disturbing to classical harpists like me, used to prepare their concerts six months in advance. But I’m eventually convinced ... because it sounds really good! As a matter of fact, the concert is a success. We play solo pieces, but also duos, trios and all together with Dino and Gigi. The programm is varied: Jazz 'classics' like Caravan, Work Song or Fly me to the Moon are well represented, but also pieces more in bossa nova style, or traditional music. The audience is very enthusiastic and children ask us for autographs, which is a great foretaste of the glory to come!
On Saturday night, Park, Dino and Gigi gave a concert in the church of Gressy. Of course we all go see it. Seated in the first row, I don’t notice the time go by. The three musicians play with great easiness and it’s a delight to watch them. They play jazz classics as well as new arrangements, presenting their pieces to the audience, and always with good humor. The last 'encore' is an arrangement by Park about... Darth Vader! As a big Star Wars fan, I’m thrilled. I also realize that the instrument I thought I knew so well is full of possibilities I didn’t know about. A great inspiration for my next years of studies.
Luckily, it happens that we leave the harps sometimes to engage in other activities. In the evenings the program is also varied and captivating. On Tuesday night, we are invited by some of Park’s neighbors to eat home-made pizza; on Wednesday, we visit the harp manufacture David, in Sainte-Croix (Switzerland), and they invite us to eat Raclette (a typical swiss meal); on Thursday, we go to the beach and take a swim in the lake of Yverdon. The lunches at Park’s are a treat too, because a participating harpist is also a cook! Every morning after breakfast, we do body percussion with Gigi, where our own body becomes the instrument. And don't forget the coffee breaks in the afternoon, where the very generous neighbors offer us delicious cakes.
I think that one can feel my enthusiasm by reading this article. I would like to thank very warmly the three musicians, and also Christine and Hugo, who were there for us all week. I will certainly come back.