I was one of the coaches at Jon Gindick’s Harmonica Jam Camp in Natick this weekend, and it was a blast.

I went to Jam Camp because 1) I wanted to learn a few things from the other coaches, and 2) I wanted to help the campers learn a few new things.  Both objectives were realized.  All of the 20 or so campers, all men roughly between the ages of 35 and 55, learned something this weekend.  You could hear a big difference in a lot of people’s playing from Friday afternoon to Sunday afternoon, when everybody got to play a couple of songs backed by a solid blues trio of guitar/bass/drums.

I learned a lot about communicating what I know to other people, and about summing up what I know quickly and clearly.  I focused with the campers on how to think about music and improvising, and on how to listen in particular.  I used a few exercises that Phish’s keyboardist talked about in an interview to help steer campers towards more active listening and response, and I did a long presentation, illustrated with solo versions of Gershwin’s “Summertime” and my own “Widow’s Walk,” that discussed the use of contrast as a tool for structuring both lines and solos.

There were a lot of high points.  Here are a few:
— Fellow coach Dennis Gruenling explaining how tongue blocking works in Chicago blues style.  It was great to hear an expert demonstrate exactly how tongue blocked chords contribute to texture and rhythm.
— Working with Dennis to develop a blues harp patch for my RP200 that sounds EXACTLY like Dennis’s Fender Champ.  I am grateful to Dennis for playing while I tweaked the tone in the RP200. 
— Hearing Annie Raines play Walter Horton’s “Easy” with Richard Sleigh playing guitar.
— Doing a duet jam with Annie, backed by the band, on one of my favorite blues rhumbas, “Comin Home Baby.”  Jon Gindick recorded that one on his video cam–you may see it on YouTube soon.  It was a great opportunity to demonstrate all the stuff I’d discussed with the campers about using contrasting elements to build a solo, and about listening actively and responding.  And of course, it was terrific fun to duet with Annie, one of my favorite blues players.
— Hearing the campers play.  I really enjoyed Blunt White’s playing in particular–he’s got a great sound and a solid sense of what works, and he would be a strong addition to a lot of blues bands out there.

In short, Jam Camp was a blast, and everyone there, including the instructors, got a lot out of it.   I’ll be glad to do another any old time.