Take Five Switzerland: Edition II

TakeFive_EditionII

With musicians Yilian Cañizares, Christoph Irniger, Yael Miller, Mandla Mlengeni, Manuel Troller, Julie Campiche, Nils Fischer and Joel Graf.

I’ve just visited the second edition of Take Five Switzerland, an invite-only, professional development course for musicians. There are sessions on everything from legal affairs to communication skills, and time to network with a selection of European promotors and experts. Run by Serious, the UK’s most standout organisation in jazz, it’s an intense week, softened by the setting of a beautiful, organic farm in the ‘garden of England’ (Kent).

Christoph_Irniger

Christoph Irniger

“… great to meet someone from every aspect to build a career” Yilian Cañizares
Edition 1 of Take Five Switzerland in 2013 was my personal introduction to the creative intelligence and ambition of Swiss artists and honestly, my love of music was re-invigorated by them. Their feedback maybe shaped Edition II and the latest group were unanimous in their appreciation of the week. “There is a lot of information that I need to digest,” said Yilian Cañizares, “but it’s been really great to meet someone from every aspect to build a career and in my case that’s what I’m looking for: how to meet the right people to push me, help me with skills to get to the next step.” The experienced Christoph Irniger agreed, “Nothing is really new but when you hear it enough, it becomes clear: there are no shortcuts, you have to be really patient and it’s all about personal connections.”

The ‘personal touch’ was a key theme. It can be used to build a fan base and to address promotors when looking for gigs. The saxophonists, Nils Fischer of the Great Harry Hillman, Joel Graf of pommelHORSE and Christoph, were all keen to think more deeply about what venues might like their sound and target them as part of developing a strategy. Christoph said he would, “Check out who might programme my music and go for that…The spam is what makes the business so hard.”

“…choose clubs that fit our music” Nils Fischer
Jan Ole Otnaes of Nasjonal Jazzscene confirmed this and advised putting thought into targeting venues and writing personal emails to promotors. This came out in useful Q&A sessions that were in relaxed settings (literally around the fireplace) encouraging open dialogue. Nils heard the message clearly, “Now we know to focus on specific countries with the booking, really using personal contact, and choose clubs that fit our music.”

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Manuel Troller

“You sharpen your consciousness about things” Manuel Troller
The Sony consultant Wulf Muller was another expert happy to hang out with the musicians and harpist Julie Campiche recognised it was a privilege to have quality time with such experience, especially at a time of uncertainty. “You know, as an artist you feel something – I want to go in a direction, but am I right or am I wrong? Is it my fear speaking or is this good intuition?” Her conversations at Take Five were, “a confirmation that I’m on the right path.” Manuel Troller, a guitarist to watch out for, intelligently observed, “You sharpen your consciousness about things – if someone speaks about something that you completely disagree with then you feel even more strongly about it, or if you agree, it helps you develop new ideas.”

“To have…something that helps you artistically and personally was great” Joel Graf
Yael Miller noticed that one expert said Facebook ‘likes’ were vital, whilst another promotor ignores them. Yilian felt the best advice was to forget Facebook ‘goals’ and, “Look at your audience as ‘friends’, you are building friendships – people you communicate with through music that have common values and ways of seeing life.” In order to do this artists need to learn how to speak openly. “The work with Mary McCusker [a communication coach] was fantastic,” said Joel Graf, “…to have all this information on the course, but also something that helps you artistically and personally was great.” They made short videos simply talking about their music and although Joel wasn’t sure of their usefulness, having to think of concise phrases to describe themselves and their creative work was helpful.

“It made me define what I want to do next, better” Yael Miller
When I arrived at Take Five I discovered that the band Orioxy were splitting up to allow Yael Miller and Julie Campiche to follow new creative ideas. Both were unsure whether to attend the course because everything was changing for them. However the promotors said they loved discovering artists who were transforming and it forced both of them to verbalise their ideas. Yael said, “So then I started talking about it and being open about it. It made me define what I want to do next, better.” Yael added of Take Five, “It was the thing I needed at this time because I’m in a transition period.”

There are some lessons that can’t be learned in Take Five. How do you face moving on from a band and deal with the consequences? These are situations that can be mis-handled but what spoke volumes to me was that Julie and Yael both turned up on the course. It takes balls to deal with changes and to face something like Take Five in a state of uncertainty. Yael’s concerns about taking a new direction were calmed, “One of them told me, ‘This is artist development.’ And it’s true, you have to take time to think about what you want, to be true to yourself…it was really reassuring.”

 

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Charming gardens of Bore Place

“For me, healing myself…was through making music” Mandla Mlangeni
The last word goes to Mandla Mlangeni, a trumpeter from Soweto invited onto Take Five. When he was just four years old his activist father was murdered by a bomb sent to his home. Mandla explained, “For me, healing myself and all the pain that lingered in me, was through making music.” Ultimately all these musicians at one point or another felt this power of music and the professional side of things is there to support that. Mandla added, “Take Five has opened my eyes to a whole new world of opportunity and made me think about my career in ways I never have before particularly when it comes to making contacts.” So, if it helps such people, the future generations of this music, get their work out there, then it’s doing its job.

Take Five

 

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Take 5: Switzerland

Take 5_Swiss team

(Left to Right) Andreas Schaerer, Elina Duni, Florian Arbenz, Marc PerrenoudStefan Rusconi, Tobias Preisig. Leo Tardin, Samuel Blaser. ©Emile Holba

The heated kitchen for innovative artists

Take Five is a “heated kitchen” for innovative, young jazz artists, with five concentrated days of coaching, learning, sharing and networking (along with some fun and seriously good food). Created by the UK’s foremost jazz producer, Serious, and funded by Pro Helvetia, Take Five:Switzerland was designed to isolate eight Swiss musicians in the lush setting of Bore Place in Kent – think bluebell woods, gardens bursting with wisteria and mock orange, slouchy sofas and log fires – and lead them through sessions with a performance coach (Mary McCusker), music promoters from across Europe, as well as, digital, legal and industry experts including Wulf Muller of Sony.

“It’s been a rich experience,” said Tobias Preisig, as a comment on the variety of “inside information” they could garner, even when that meant facing tedious home truths. Musicians, such as Florian Arbenz, were aware they could improve their social networking and online presence, and some learnt the value of visual presentation, possibly helped by the photo shoot with experienced portraitist, Emile Holba. Scott Cohen of The Orchard gave a blistering session on aggressive digital distribution and ways to make money from music in an era of sporadic CD sales, with pianist Leo Tardin commenting, “He was the one to shake our ground the most, not someone to pat us on the head, but kick us in the butt, and he did that very well.”

“We need some space for our dreams” Andreas Schaerrer

Sometimes the message from promoters was dour, “We’re learning about the business, but there is no business”, said Marc Perrenoud noting that, “You have to build your audience because, apparently, no audience is interested in jazz.” However, as the vocalist Andreas Schaerer explained, “We need some space for our dreams,” and without exception they were resilient to negative messages. They have to be.

Jazz will need to go on beyond the passing of the classic “greats” and continue sculpting its own relevant identity whilst earning a living. Schaerer felt supported by some promoters learning that, “It’s not only our job to build up our career but it’s also that everybody is interested in having a future generation of active people.”

“We are a community, we are coming from the same place” Stefan Rusconi

What became achingly clear was the wall of work that faces these artists on a daily basis and that as they’d been given this break away from emails, calls, rehearsals, travelling, organising, etc, they were keen to squeeze every drop of tangible use out of the time with little patience for anything deemed irrelevant. Although Take Five is an extremely organised and detailed affair, thanks in part to the sterling work of Martel Ollerenshaw, it also tried to be flexible. So when the Swiss crew stood up to say they wanted time to simply hang out to share concepts, contacts and knowledge with each other, they were given it.

Something I was most struck by was the honesty with which the artists spoke to me about issues they were facing. Somehow the bombardment of information along with the intimate environment and maybe the odd glass of wine had enabled them to face up to their personal challenges: do they follow their business head or artistic heart, how can they deal with the amount they should be doing whilst having focused rehearsal/practise days, or time for their family, what step should they take next?

A Tribe Called Swiss

On the last day there was an extraordinary jam session led by one of the UK’s most exquisite saxophonists, John Surman. And there was an impromptu game of “football-piggy-in-the-middle”. It was actually in the kick about that I most clearly saw a key triumph of Take Five: the founding of a connected, bonded and inspired group. Let’s call it, A Tribe Called Swiss. Without exception each artist echoed Stefan Rusconi’s sentiment, “I knew all of them at least by name, but it’s been great to meet the other musicians. Also, to see we are a community, we are coming from the same place.”

Take Five can shake things up and it will take a while for the musicians to digest it all. I agreed with Rusconi when he said, “We need to be proud of what we’re doing. Swiss music is the new thing – chaotic, strange but rooted too.” Now all they need to do is buck the Swiss trend and force the spotlight onto themselves. As John Surman noted after their music session together, “I won’t forget you guys in a hurry,”  and if they utilise their newly found esprit de corps, they stand a chance of the music world saying the same thing.

Take 5 Switzerland website

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