Gwinnell, other leading local jazz musicians share tips, experience during workshop

By: K. Michelle Moran | C&G Newspapers | Published June 12, 2012

 Jazz pianist, composer and bandleader Scott Gwinnell is heading the fourth annual Metro-Detroit Jazz Workshop July 9-13 at First English Evangelical Lutheran Church in Grosse Pointe Woods.

Jazz pianist, composer and bandleader Scott Gwinnell is heading the fourth annual Metro-Detroit Jazz Workshop July 9-13 at First English Evangelical Lutheran Church in Grosse Pointe Woods.

Photos courtesy of Scott Gwinnell

GROSSE POINTES/ DETROIT — As a former jazz student, eager to learn from his more seasoned peers, pianist, composer and bandleader Scott Gwinnell of Harper Woods knows the importance of a good music education.

Now that he’s the seasoned musician, the college music professor is committed to sharing what he’s learned through his fourth annual Metro-Detroit Jazz Workshop, which will take place July 9-13 at First English Evangelical Lutheran Church in Grosse Pointe Woods. The faculty this year includes Gwinnell, the workshop director and piano instructor, along with Carl Cafagna teaching woodwinds and voice, Scott Cowan teaching brass, Scott Kretzer teaching percussion and Jordan Schug teaching bass. Three jazz masters — bassist Miles Brown, vocalist April Tini and trumpeter Walter White — will also be leading clinics, and students can expect classes in jazz composition, theory and improvisation. Students will be able to rehearse with each other and a faculty coach as well, and the workshop is capped off with a joint public performance by the combos July 15 at Cliff Bell’s jazz club in Detroit. The deadline to register has been extended to July 1.

Students of all ages, experience levels and instruments are welcome. At press time, Gwinnell said about 30 students were registered.

“It’s been growing every year,” he said.

Gwinnell, a Harper Woods native and graduate of Grosse Pointe North High School, was a student of legendary late Grosse Pointe pianist Bess Bonnier. All of the workshop faculty members are professional music educators as well as musicians, Gwinnell said.

Cafagna, of Troy, has been teaching in the program since it started.

“This workshop is extremely beneficial because of the relatively small number of students, which allows for a lot of one-on-one with the faculty, and also because of the friendly, non-competitive atmosphere, which allows people to be comfortable asking extra questions and sharing information freely with each other,” he said in an email interview.

The student-teacher ratio is about six-to-one, Gwinnell said.

Schug, of Hamtramck, has also been teaching in the workshop since the first year.

“It’s kind of like the cast of ‘Seinfeld’ — each faculty member has a different energy, but they balance out very nicely,” he said by email. “The workshop is all ages and talent levels, so there is a professional atmosphere right from the beginning.”

Schug said the live show is also an integral part of the program.

“For a beginner, playing an improvised solo in front of an audience can be a lot like bungee jumping: It’s very scary before and during the jump, but afterward there is that familiar post-adrenaline rush and a rewarding feeling of accomplishment,” he said.

Those who want to see Gwinnell and some of his fellow faculty members in action can catch a concert with his dectet — a 10-piece “little big band” — at 7 p.m. June 14 at Kercheval and St. Clair in the Village, part of the free Music on the Plaza concert series. The rain location is Maire Elementary School, two blocks west of Festival Plaza at 740 Cadieux.

Gwinnell will also be performing a CD release concert with his bandmates for “Cass Corridor Story” (Detroit Music Factory) the evening of June 16 at Cliff Bells. While studying jazz at Wayne State University, Gwinnell spent two years living near campus in the Cass Corridor, roughly from age 22-24. Now 37 — he turns 38 June 14 — Gwinnell said he kept a journal in which he recorded reflections on the mix of blight, poverty and art that marks the Cass Corridor. He said the CD focuses on “the duality” of the neighborhood. Village concertgoers will get a taste of the CD, while those at the release party will hear an eight-movement suite on the album, Gwinnell said.

“I grew up pretty sheltered,” he said. “Living there changed me forever. It taught me to protect myself and to care for other people.”

A bigger CD release party will be taking place later this summer, but hadn’t yet been scheduled at press time.

Even non-students are in for an engaging night if they catch one of the concerts, said the musicians. Schug said audiences can expect “a good mix of improvisation and written music, with a diverse range of dynamics, tempo and harmony that you might not hear at your typical jazz concert.”

“The two concerts happening this month will both feature new and daring, yet entertaining, original jazz music, played by some of the Midwest’s finest musicians,” Cafagna said.

The workshop is $400 per student. For more information, email postbop@hotmail.com or visit www.wsgmusicservices.com. For more about the Village concert, call (313) 886-7474 or visit www.thevillagegp.com. Cliff Bell’s is located at 2030 Park Ave. in downtown Detroit; call (313) 961-2543 or email info@cliffbells.com.