Learning to swing
Sitting in on rehearsal with Roger Ingram and Chico State’s Jazz X-Press
“Don’t let that last lick get behind!” was the gentle but firm advice from Rocky Winslow as he leaned toward the saxophone section.
The director of Jazz Studies at CSU, Chico, and leader/teacher of Chico State’s 19-piece No. 1 big band, Jazz X-Press, Winslow was giving the group suggestions at a recent Jazz X-Press rehearsal. He was getting his band—featuring such talented CSUC student musicians as tenor sax man Adam Walter, pianist Shigemi Minetaka, upright bassist Nate Strock and trumpet player Josh Jerge—to go over a section of one of the pieces it will be performing Nov. 5. The band will be backing up lauded Colorado tenor sax player and composer John Gunther, whom Winslow describes as “just one of the best tenor sax players,” when he comes to town.
Winslow next turned his attention to the trombones, listening closely and offering bits of advice to individual players. His extensive professional experience as trumpeter for such big names as singers Paul Anka, Chaka Khan and Natalie Cole, to name a few, comes in handy when he gives suggestions on how to make the music sound better and better with each go-around.
“I’m picking on you because I love you,” Winslow assured the trombone players at one point after a stretch of coaching, and one believes him.
“Can you make that shimmer more?” Winslow asked the trombone section. Winslow is consistently calm but intense, which rubs off on the ensemble, producing a very listenable, calmly intense, sound.
Then: “At ‘E,’ everybody together…” And the band took off into yet another impressive round of “G’Day, Mate!” a composition by L.A. trombonist Scott Whitfield, before moving on to working on a strangely interesting Gunther composition titled “Sketcha.”
Winslow outdid himself at a following rehearsal, bringing in his longtime buddy, Roger Ingram—the phenomenal lead trumpeter based in L.A. and Chicago whose résumé includes backing up Anka, Harry Connick, Jr., Ray Charles, Quincy Jones and Frank Sinatra—to sit in, conduct and give suggestions to the group.
If Jazz X-Press was on the ball and enthused at the first rehearsal I witnessed, the group was even more so for this one, having not one, but two, hotshot trumpet players—Winslow and Ingram—in the house coaching them.
Ingram spent some time at the rehearsal moving about the trumpet section sitting next to different players. The excitement of having him there was palpable and the trumpeters—the whole band, for that matter—seemed to rise to the occasion. Jerge, for one, played a wonderful solo when it was his turn to shine. At times, the saxes just soared and the brass blasted brilliantly.
“Where you breathe can make or break a chart. … Everybody agree on where you’re going to cut a note off, where you’re gonna breathe,” Ingram counseled, concerning musical phrasing. Ingram talked to the players about “swinging,” giving the band what amounted to “permission” to swing first and worry about playing all the right notes second.
“If I have to choose between that [playing all the right notes] and a nice time feel, I’ll choose a nice time feel,” Ingram explained. His tour-seasoned advice fell on rapt ears, and you could hear the difference immediately in the players’ performance, sounding both more relaxed and more polished.
“Like Ray Charles used to say to me when I was on that band,” Ingram offered, “'It’s the difference that makes the difference.’ It’s that one little thing…”
Bassist Strock spoke about Ingram’s presence at rehearsal: “Having him there raised the bar. He pushed the band ahead by several years by expanding our ears and our sense of ‘pocket,’ of time. He got us to swing.”