[Report] AYASCHOOL: Jungle Jam (WLJ Participatory Series #1)

For the month of March, we conducted our first We Love Jazz Participatory Series featuring Ayaschool: Jungle Jam.

Find out what one of our participant has to say about the experience. He is a BA student of Jazz at LASALLE College Of the Arts. Very driven and interested to learn everything about jazz and improvised music! Continue reading to learn more about the series.

Words by: Xavier Lim

After WLJ’s well-received SPEAKLOW! SpeakEasy Music Session Vol. 7 (feat. Christy Smith), the next event promised to be equally ambitious and even more engaging. Ayaschool: Jungle Jam, the brainchild of We Love Jazz founding director Aya Sekine, occurred as a result. Promising to be a quarterly event of pure improvisation, Jungle Jam was free-of-charge for registrants (both performers or listeners) and open to absolutely anyone!

Held at LASALLE College of The Arts (G302 studio) from 4 to 7 pm on Sunday, 26th March 2017, the event was open and all- inclusive, demanding no pre-requisites in musical experience from the participants.

Ashlee signing in the participants.

The only rule of Jungle Jam, repeatedly emphasised by Aya, was for everyone to LISTEN to one another and respond (or don’t) with their instruments. She advises: “When you feel things are stagnant, don’t be afraid to NOT play. Not playing is a very interesting way to hear other people.”

Aya explaining the rules of the game.
Moulding the dynamic and conducting hits for the first group.

The first group of registered played 3 pieces in total. The shinobue (Japanese bamboo flute) and shamisen (Japanese 3-stringed banjo) provided an interesting contrasting texture/colour. Aya started the piece with a little conducting but notably controlled it minimally so as to allow the improvisation to develop organically. She even got in on the fun with the melodica!

Improvisers from left to right: Andrew (Drums), Alvin (Shamisen), Jon (Bass), Zhan Seng (Xylophone), Yayoi (Tambourine), Javan (Keys), Hiroki (Guitar), Yuka (Flute) and Zacharie (Guitar).

“When I used to do this at BluJaz, we would do like one hour straight. The only thing that I always don’t know how to do is… end the song. For this particular ensemble, it was so funny because it ends… then somebody starts playing and another thing starts!”

“A certain story climaxes a few times, and both you and the audience know ‘yeah, we’ve talked about this already, so let’s not talk about that again.’ Improvisation is not random. There’s quite a lot of thinking and negotiation, and I think it’s beautiful.”

There was a short break at around 5.30 pm and Aya resumed the session with a brief explanation on how blues was borne of suffering by the enslaved and represented a lament of hard times as well as a vehicle for call-and-response improvisation. The second group featured additional performers and Aya kickstarted the new group by asking the participants to play a musical idea (motif) one after another.

Second group (from left to right): Namie (voice), Zhizhong (Keys), Adam (Bass), Eric (Guitar), Yayoi (Xylophone), Ashlee (Melodica) and Daniel (Drums).
Zhizhong really feeling it!
Aya getting in on the fun!

Among both groups, it was truly amazing how everyone paid attention to the preceding and succeeding lines, which ranged from anything like one note to more complex melodic/harmonic sequences. It was immensely interesting how there was a tendency for the pieces to explore and take on different rhythmic grooves, after starting off as sporadic noodling on individual instruments one after another.

Here is a video shot by Dylan Boudville

Though everyone had different musical sensibilities, there was an unspoken universal understanding of give and take, as well as the mature crafting of space and texture that seemed incongruent with the nascent nature of the instantly formed groups.

Towards the end of the second group’s performance, even the listeners alike chimed in with their voices to form a massive group of around 30 improvisers. What a spectacle to behold!

Group photo of those who stayed till the end.

As a participant, I initially wondered if the sheer size of the group would hamper our attempts to produce good music that had direction and dynamic/structural integrity. Jungle Jam showed us that if everyone was an immensely attentive and considerate listener, it was rather hard to NOT make good, spontaneous music and have a great time!

We Love Jazz SG has more awesome and engaging events in the works, so stay tuned for the next instalment of We Love Jazz Participatory Series and more!

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