Allan Vaché Masterclass

VacheMCThis event began with a few short tunes performed by Allan Vaché on clarinet and a reduced rhythm section of guitar and double bass.  He first played It Had to be You, a delightful tune embodying the day’s easy summer weather. His humility was striking and refreshing, creating a relaxed class for those in attendance.  His approach to teaching jazz hinges on improvisation, how to approach the basics using circle of 5ths progression and blues chord progressions. “You can’t make anyone improvise. It comes from here and here,” pointing to his head and his heart.

Second we hear Charlie Parker’s Now is the Time with the guitar player chuckling as the bass player does something unexpected during his solo.  Mr. Vaché’s lovely, breathy, vibrato style of playing inspires a series of questions and brief lesson on Sidney Bechet’s quiver vibrato style.  “[It’s a] very quick and accurate quiver vibrato, you could set your watch by it!”

The class quickly becomes interactive as several clarinetists take the stage for their first attempt at improvisation. Vaché explains that when improvising, you need to know what notes will fit.  A standard practice is accentuating dissonances such as in a 7th chord playing a 9th, or taking a 9th chord playing an 11th, and so on.  Once harmonies and blue notes are explained Vaché turns his attention to their phrasing.  “Looser, more relaxed, triplet-feel phrasing. Like a jazz trumpet’s circular motion.” He spins his hands in a circle repeatedly.

An audience member asks a question about articulation: “How much, what kind, fast or not?” “It’s a matter of personal taste,” he explains.  “There’s not a lot of rules!”

Another audience question: “What strength reed do you play?” “It’s softer than it should be. It’s a 3 strength, but I play them for a looong time.” Mr. Vaché gives a quick demonstration of some high note fingerings. “I often get up to a high C or C# with this reed just fine. My teacher could get up to a F above double high C!” But before a new topic could begin, our time was up.  Extreme altissimo high notes in jazz: a topic for another day!

–Notes by Sam Davies
Sam Davies recently completed his first year of DMA study with Dr. Guy Yehuda at Michigan State University. At MSU Davies can be heard performing with the Wind Symphony, Symphony Orchestra, chamber ensembles, and new student compositions.

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