Arriving for the Snake Davis workshop, I was nervous. Being in the presence of such an esteemed musician, let alone playing in his company was seriously daunting (check out hisfor a full list of his credentials).
The venue was great, easy to find and ample parking. I had a hot coffee upon arrival which is always a good start to the day. Consisting mostly of alto and tenor saxophones, we settled into a horseshoe arrangement and set up our stands and instruments. Following introductions, the man himself started…
I was quite surprised that we started with specific sax breathing exercises lead by Snake. It did feel a bit odd and reminded me of a group exercise class but I went along with it… it certainly got the brain in gear and the blood flowing!
Snake suggested we pay close attention to our strap adjustment. Any tendency to stoop or reach for the mouthpiece meant incorrect airflow into the mouthpiece. Beginner stuff really but absolutely vital for producing a good sound. When I get home I will be checking my stance whilst standing in front of a mirror to help me see and correct poor posture, even if the downside is I have to see my ugly mug when playing!
These are ideal world situations but we all know that our practice regimes may be far from ideal so it’s always good to be reminded of the basics. We learned the power of ‘long tones’, concentrating on pitch and dynamics and listen carefully to the sound – don’t overblow.
The first session was very relaxed and Snake was quick to put everyone at ease so my early anxiety was misplaced.
After lunch, Snake demonstrated the jazz standard, ‘Summertime’, played straight, exactly as written, no embellishments. It sounded great but then he played it again and made it more interesting and musical… Wow! What a difference and what an incredible sound!
How did he do this? The secret… embellishments! He selectively used turns, jaw bends, flicks, vibrato, growling, glissandos, flutter-tonguing, etc. He then demonstrated many of these techniques and the 20 Snakelets had a go with most people being able to reproduce some or all of them.
Towards the end of the afternoon we were introduced to group improvisation using a blues scale. Great job by most but I know I have room for improvement in this area.
So that was my day with Mr Snake Davis. A great musician, but also a very nice chap. Sign me up to the next workshop please!