Feature | Learning From The Masters On Jam Cruise 12

Words & Images by: Andrew Bruss

At its core, the Masters Camp at Sea is a world-class musical fantasy camp embedded within a top shelf music festival that takes place aboard a Caribbean cruise. An all-star lineup of elite musicians on the jam circuit came together to teach a class of several dozen amateur musicians the finer points of speaking the language of music from within the confines of an on-board disco sixteen decks above the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea.

Jam Cruise has been hosting the best party on the high seas for eleven years now, but months prior to departure, the wizards behind the curtain over at event organizers Cloud 9 Adventures announced they were teaming up with Full Moon Resort to bring their Music Masters Camp onboard the MSC Divina. As instructors, the lineup consisted of Victor Wooten from Bela Fleck and the Flecktones (bass), Butch Trucks from The Allman Brothers Band (drums), Luther and Cody Dickinson of the North Mississippi Allstars (drums and guitar) as well as the Tedeschi Trucks Band’s Kofi Burbridge on keys and Col. Bruce Hampton belting it out into the microphone.

Some of these guys have a history together while others had never shared the stage, let alone teaching duties. Trucks and Hampton’s personal and professional relationship goes back decades. Burbridge’s brother, Oteil, plays bass with Trucks in The Allman Brothers Band, and Trucks nephew, Derek, drops jaws playing slide guitar with his wife, Susan Tedeschi, while Kofi backs them on keyboards.

Throughout the course of the five-day program, my fellow students and I had the life changing experience of learning not instrumental technique, but musical communication. Additionally, my participation in this program as both student and reporter placed my editor and I in a unique situation that allowed us to be at the forefront of the breaking news that both Derek Trucks and Warren Haynes were leaving The Allman Brothers Band.

All of our musical masters had something to bring to the table but it became clear early on that Victor Wooten was the defacto leader of the crew. Trucks teamed up with the Dickinson boys for a Roots Rock Revival program at Full Moon Resort, but Wooten has a history as an articulate and passionate educator the others lacked. A few years back Wooten released a book called The Music Lesson that details his life-changing artistic growth as a result of his friend “Michael,” whose exploits are hard to believe. Real or not, the lessons in the book have been known to change the way musicians see their craft and the messages in the book were apparent in his teachings on the ship. When I asked Wooten if Michael was real, he replied, “Michael would say, ‘does it matter?”

The curriculum was divided between lectures and participatory ensemble work. The lectures incorporated faculty superjams that rivaled whatever was taking place on the main stage down on the pool deck. Faculty spoke about music’s essence as a language made up of so much more than notes, chords and scales. Wooten noted that he’s made a habit of asking people every chance he gets what music means to them. Answers ranged from life to love, therapy, fun and so on. One answer he never receives, he said, is scales or modes. While learning to play music, the student often focuses on the technical aspects of education but from Wooten’s perspective, he made clear that understanding music as an emotional language is far more important.

For the first ensemble session, I wound up on stage with Luther Dickinson, Butch Trucks and my fellow classmates on keys, bass and sax. Then there was 10-year old Brandon Niederauer playing guitar with me. His Les Paul looked oversized strapped to his body and while he was the youngest student in the program, he was also the most talented. By the time this kid’s fingers are done growing, Derek Trucks better watch out.

The instructors told us to start out by jamming on a groove and not to play any lead lines or solos. After a few minutes they told us to stop. Wooten would ask one student what the other was playing, only to be answered with a blank stare. He’d continue asking my fellow students what the guy next to him was playing and none of us had answers. “You weren’t listening to each other,” he noted. The first lesson of this jam was the importance of listening. We took it from the top and the student body concurred that on the second jam, we sounded a lot better now that we were paying closer attention to each other.

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