As part of their prizes awarded at the 2010 finals of the first Yamaha Jazz Experience competition held at Cheltenham Jazz Festival in May 2010, the three winners of the competition were each awarded a gig at a top London jazz venue, thanks to the generous support of the Jazz Experience programme's venue partners.
The under-17 winners, 'Cheltenham 8', an eight-piece ensemble from Dumfries directed by Christine Barbour, who leads the Dumfries youth jazz group, played to a packed house at the Bull's Head jazz club in Barnes, pictured above at the gig in south-west London, in September.
On Sunday 17 October at 1pm, the under-15 winners, 'Blue Shift', from the Junior Guildhall School of Music & Drama, will play at the 606 club in Chelsea, supported by one of the under-19 Jazz Experience runners-up, 'Friendly Bacteria', also from Junior Guildhall.
The winning ensemble in the under-19 category, 'Tomorrow's Warriors Biggish Band' will play at Ronnie Scott's to celebrate its Jazz Experience win, supporting leading jazz vocalise exponent John Hendricks, from 7:15pm on Saturday 20 November.
For further information on the next Yamaha Jazz Experience scheme, which will incorporate a teacher improvising workshop tour in 2011 and a competition in 2012, more information can be found on the Yamaha education website.
I'm delighted to announce the nine ensembles shortlisted to take part in the Yamaha Jazz Experience competition finals, hosted by Cheltenham Jazz Festival on 1 May 2010. Jazz FM broadcaster Helen Mayhew joined leading jazz educator Richard Michael and me, Yamaha's education liaison manager, Bill C Martin, to make the selection at Yamaha UK headquarters in early March.
The finalists for each category (ages as on 1 September 2009):
11 & under 15: Blue Lizard (Manchester Music Service); Pimlico Junior Jazz (Pimlico Academy); Blue Shift (Guildhall School of Music & Drama Junior Department)
11 & under 17: St Ignatius Jazz (St Ignatius College, Enfield); Dumfries Youth Jazz Group (Dumfries Youth Jazz); Time Team (Northampton Music & Performing Arts Service)
11 & under 19: Tomorrow's Warriors Biggish Band (Tomorrow's Warriors, London); Friendly Bacteria (GSMD Junior Department, London); Chetham's Jazz Sextet (Chetham's School of Music, Manchester)
Jazz ensembles from all over the UK - from Shetland in the north of Scotland, down to Devon on England's south-west peninsula - entered ensembles for the competition, with a chance to win gigs at Cheltenham Jazz Festival, Ronnie Scott's, The 606 Club and The Bull's Head Jazz Club in south-west London on 1 May 2010, along with a total of £9,000 worth of Yamaha prizes for their school, college or community centres.
To enter, participants had to set up a jazz ensemble comprising piano (or keyboard/vibes), bass, drums and optionally up to five additional performers. They had to prepare a blues and either a jazz standard or a piece of their own choosing, with impro at its heart, video their best performance of them and send them to Yamaha them to Yamaha.
Then in early March 2010 two of the distinguished Yamaha Jazz Experience judges, Helen Mayhew (jazz broadcaster, Jazz FM) and Richard Michael (2009 Parliamentary Jazz 'Jazz Educator' award winner and Yamaha Jazz Experience workshop leader), joined Yamaha's Bill C Martin for the difficult job of choosing only nine ensembles to take part in the competition finals in Cheltenham.
Helen, Richard and I had a fantastic time watching and listening to the wonderful video entries, from every conceivable kind of educational and music institution and from all over the UK. I was particularly pleased to hear entries from some of those teachers new to jazz who took part in our Jazz Experience workshops in 2009, and who have clearly moved their own skills on tremendously. We were stunned by the overall quality of musicianship in the entries, which made it very difficult to choose only nine finalists! We want to thank all the teachers and music leaders who have clearly put in so much work with their ensembles and, even if they haven't got through to the finals on this occasion, they may be consoled to know that Helen has noted names and will be on the lookout for emerging new jazz stars, no doubt to feature on her Jazz FM programme, 'The Yamaha Jazz Jam', in the future!"
On 1 May the nine finalists will perform before a distinguished judging panel of: Julian Joseph (internationally acclaimed jazz pianist and Jazz Experience workshop leader), Andrea Vicari (jazz professor at Trinity College of Music, professional jazz musician with Andrea Vicari Trio, director of Dordogne Jazz Summer School and Jazz Experience workshop leader), Liane Carroll (inspirational jazz singer, winner of 2008 Parliamentary Jazz 'Musician of the Year' award winner), Helen Mayhew (jazz broadcaster, Jazz FM), Peter Ind (Jazz Experience patron and legendary jazz double bass player) and inspirational jazz educator Richard Michael.
The judges will announce the winners at the event.
We would like to thank the Yamaha Jazz Experience venue partners, Cheltenham Jazz Festival, Ronnie Scott's, the 606 Club and the Bull's Head Jazz Club in London. We wish all the finalists the greatest success.
I had a wonderful day yesterday with Jazz Experience's Richard Michael and Jazz FM broadcaster, Helen Mayhew. (A big thank-you to you both.) Our task for the day was to shortlist the entries down to nine ensembles - three under-15s, three under-17s and three under-19s - who will then go through to the Jazz Experience finals, kindly hosted by Cheltenham Jazz Festival, on 1 May 2010.
The whole point of Jazz Experience was:
The competition was open to young people under-19 on 1 September 2009 from any institution or organisation within the UK. We were staggered by the very high quality of entries for the competition, which came from schools, music services, community organisations, regional youth jazz groups, conservatoire junior departments and venues. We had entries from as far north as the Shetlands to the deep south-west of England. Many of the performances were approaching a professional standard, which has been very exciting (and which Helen Mayhew has noted with particular interest, for possible future Jazz FM programmes!).
The preliminary judging panel has now made its selection of the nine finalist ensembles, who must now confirm their availability to attend the finalists' event in May, before we can announce them in mid-March. We are delighted that we have such a wonderful geographic spread, as well as ensembles from all kinds of institutions.
During the judging, we were looking for evidence of musicality, good internal and external communication and creativity. Those ensembles which exhibited all these qualities strongly are the ones we've chosen for the finals. However we were struck by some highly accomplished and talented performances by individual musicians or maybe the rhythm section in some of the ensembles. These are highly talented musicians and we hope they take this further, even if, on this occasion, their ensembles haven't made it to the finals.
We will be contacting all the ensembles and will provide feedback where appropriate. You are all stars! I hope to visit some of the ensembles which were of very high quality but who were pipped at the post on the day - which is particularly true in the under-19 category. I want to encourage and support these ensembles and their musicians to continue their studies and will be able to share our feedback with them in due course, which I hope they'll find helpful.
The UK has a much-deserved world-class reputation for music education and our conservatoires offering full-time jazz degree courses (which Yamaha supports through its parliamentary jazz scholarships) help nurture some of the UK's most gifted and talented young jazz musicians. We're delighted that we've had outstanding entries from several of the conservatoire junior departments. But in our finals, these sit alongside equally strong entries from ordinary schools, specialist schools, music services and community music organisations too.
Everyone who has taken part in our competition will have won: they have worked hard to gain new experiences, new learning, maybe new friends and new confidence as performers. We're very proud of all of them - whether they are new to jazz and improvising or more seasoned performers. My experience is that music - and in particular improvising - provides us with a lifelong journey, which all those who sing, play or compose are on. We may be at the beginning of the journey or much further along the road. The joyous thing is that none of us ever gets to the final destination. So there's no end to what we can learn from this, no matter how long we've been on the journey.
But all of us who travel the road together will improve as musicians and grow as human beings. This is a powerful testament to the fact that music education in the UK is very strong and highly effective. It just works! I would like to thank all the teachers and music leaders whose passion, inspiration and plain hard work demonstrate this so clearly and continue to enrich the lives of their young people.
Bill C Martin
Education liaison manager, Yamaha Music UK
Award-winning jazz singer, Liane Carroll, who has been wowing audiences at clubs and festivals both inside and outside the UK for many years, has just confirmed that she will join the judging team for the Yamaha Jazz Experience competition, which culminates in a finalists' event at Cheltenham Jazz Festival on 1 May 2010.
Liane joins Jazz Experience workshop leaders, Julian Joseph, Andrea Vicari, Richard Michael and Peter Ind, which means that the 11-18s in participating ensembles will get the benefit of a superb jazz panel to provide them with valuable feedback on their performances and award the three winning ensembles valuable Yamaha prizes as well as gigs at London's Ronnie Scott's, The 606 Club and The Bull's Head jazz club in Barnes, South West London.
Competition details on the Jazz Experience page.
My thoughts on the future of jazz, in the UK, are that maybe the 'jazz' word has become a problem, not for current jazz musicians and audiences but for those who don't know what jazz is. A bit like the 'folk' word in UK roots music. This has nothing to do with the quality of the some of the excellent music that the label, jazz, encapsulates but - to put it into marketing terms: the jazz 'brand' image has an image problem! If a successful multinational company owned the name 'jazz' I'm sure it would be pulling its hair out by now and changing it, rather as happened with the Skoda brand, for example.
We use labels as a short-hand way of describing something. The label, chair, means something that you can sit on. And while there are lots of kinds of chairs, the basic concept remains constant enough for us not to have to describe a particular chair every time we want to refer to one!
But the breadth of music that the word 'jazz' can now be used to describe, which has grown and grown for almost 100 years, is now so broad as to require further explanation in almost every situation. Because of this the public gets confused: "If I go to a jazz gig, what will I get?" And because it's so variable I believe that many decide not to risk it, especially if, like me, they've been disappointed by one or two jazz gigs where the music seemed so incommunicative and formulaic. And because of that experience, they may then miss out on the vast range of jazz performances that are truly engaging, enlightening and entertaining.
But there's also another problem: the jazz community must decide whether it wants to be primarily in 'preservation mode' or in 'development mode'. Of course both are inextricably linked and are on the same timeline but it's a matter of direction. Preservation mode looks backward; development mode looks towards the future - the journey that jazz music and musicians are on, now.
Let's not forget that the jazz language - its syntax, grammar, phrasing, dialect, etc - can be found in almost every sub-genre of popular music - rap, rock, hip-hop, trance, pop, gospel, reggae, funk, etc. But it seems to me that the most amazing thing about jazz - which inspires so many people - is improvising: the ability to seemingly to pull an endless stream of musical rabbits out of musical hats during a gig, creating something wonderful musical magic out of thin air, which can equally enthrall, captivate, anger, confuse, excite, make us want to dance, cry, laugh and sing!!
We need to help young musicians develop their skills so they can take the music on their own personal journeys. In other words, as jazz 'parents' we need to let our jazz 'offspring' go their own way! At the same time we need to be bold in ignoring and even countering the lazy kind of musical criticism which, in the absence of real understanding, finds it easier to dismiss all improvising as vacuous 'noodling' and then attempts to galvanise readers or listeners to rally behind this misinformed view. This kind of criticism says more about the author than the music being attacked and creates an obstacle for would-be musical creatives, who may feel that improvising is somehow 'uncool', just because a journalist tells them so. Instead we all need to write about and review excellent improvising and explain to the public - especially those who are interested in jazz but have no idea what to listen to or listen for - why we think it's great. In this way we can help remove some of the barriers which may prevent audiences for this music from growing. This will encourage young people to improvise and maybe explore earlier incarnations of jazz. And in so doing they'll hopefully make the their own kind of jazz and grow their own new audiences, who will then encounter music with a strong jazz DNA, whatever that music may be called in another 100 years.
Following the success of the acclaimed Yamaha Jazz Experience teacher improvising workshops in March and April 2009, we are excited to announce the launch of the second phase of Jazz Experience: a national UK-wide jazz ensemble improvising competition for musicians aged 11-18.
Yamaha prizes and gigs at Ronnie Scott's and the 606 jazz clubs will be awarded for the 3 winning ensembles at the finalists' event at Cheltenham Jazz Festival on 1 May 2010. Judges will include Liane Carroll, Peter Ind, Julian Joseph, Helen Mayhew, Richard Michael and Andrea Vicari.
Each ensemble should prepare a blues and a piece of their own choosing, featuring real improvising. The judges are looking for good musicianship, creativity, communication and rapport. So why not have a go? If you are in the 11-18 age group, based in the UK, your school, college or other organisation can enter any jazz ensembles that it coaches. You can read the Jazz Experience competition 2009-2010 details for yourself and send the link to your teacher, music leader or the person who coaches your ensemble.
If you are a music leader, teacher or someone who coaches or who is about to start a jazz ensemble, this competition is made for you! Entries must come from you, as the person who coaches the ensemble, and you may be from a school, college, arts or community centre, music club, music service, local or regional youth jazz orchestra, etc. Read all about the Jazz Experience competition 2009-2010 details and get working with your ensemble. We look forward to seeing and hearing you play!
The hugely successful, high-powered and influential partnership between Yamaha and Classic FM, in association with Jazzwise magazine, Jazz Services, the All-Party Parliamentary Jazz Appreciation Group & PPL, continued into its third year with a wonderful event last night at Portcullis House, Westminster, when another six scholarships of £1000 each were awarded to six outstanding young jazz students, nominated by the heads of jazz at six of the UK's leading conservatoires. The annual scheme is designed to support young, emerging jazz musicians by providing valuable funding and important marketing support through performance and recording opportunities.
This year the six jazz scholars to benefit from the scheme are: Alex Munk, a guitarist studying at Leeds College of Music; drummer, Daoud Merchant, a student at Guildhall School of Music & Drama; drummer, Gethin Jones from the Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama; pianist Kit Downes, a scholar at the Royal Academy of Music; Mark Perry who studies trumpet at Trinity College of Music andSam Wooster who studies trumpet at Birmingham Conservatoire.
All six scholarship winners performed live at the All Party Parliamentary Jazz Appreciation Group's annual Summer Jazz event in the Atlee Suite, Portcullis House, House of Commons on Wednesday 1st July, where award-winning jazz broadcaster, Helen Mayhew, presented the scholarships to the six award winners.
Guests at the event included members of parliament from both Houses who are interested in jazz, along with invitees from the jazz community, press and venue operators. Additionally all six scholarship award winners will be featured alongside some of Yamaha's most highly respected and established jazz artists on 'The Yamaha New Jazz Sessions 2009' promotional CD, to be recorded and cover-mounted on Jazzwise magazine's Xmas and New Year double issue, with the chance to perform live at the CD launch at London's internationally renowned 606 Jazz Club on 25 November 2009. Last year's acclaimed 'Yamaha New Jazz Sessions' CD, produced by Andy Ross at Astar Studios, included tracks by Julian Joseph, Gwilym Simcock and Jason Rebello and, with 15,000 copies circulated, and was one of the most significant jazz albums of the year.
Congratulations to the award winners and we will follow their careers with interest in the coming years.
Saturday 4th April saw another in the series of 1-day Jazz Experience workshops, hosted by Birmingham Music Service in the Birmingham Conservatoire's Adrian Boult Hall. Leading the workshop, Julian Joseph and Richard Michael gave teachers from Birmingham and surrounding areas lots of ideas for developing their own jazz improvising, as well as some exciting ways to engage young people, when they take the Jazz Experience legacy back into their schools and form their own improvisation ensembles.
Richard Michael led some superb rhythm warm-ups, which involved everyone in stamping, clapping and whooping - all in the name of creating a great jazz groove that was to lay the foundations for the improvising that was to come later in the day.
Richard's mantra of 'mistakes are cool' put everyone at their ease and we had some excellent impros from the various sessions we ran.
A highlight for many was when Richard - himself a very experienced and able jazz pianist - joined Julian at the Yamaha digital piano for a couple of impromptu duets. Richard's teaching is inspiring. There's no other word for it! Combine it with the power, sensitivity and craft of Julian's piano playing and you have a winning formula. Ask anyone who came to the workshop!
As an experienced keyboard/piano player but a relative newcomer to jazz piano playing I decided last year to start the journey to get my jazz piano playing working. Following a week at a jazz summer school in 2008 I've kept up my practice during most evenings but have not yet found a regular practice routine that I feel is really moving me on.
That is, until I started to work on the listening activities that almost every jazz musician will tell you are the key. But what do they mean by 'listening'? And what should one do, having listened? Well, the idea is to listen repeatedly to a piece of music you'd like to learn, so you get to know not just the notes but every nuance of the performance.
So, having heard the late Will Michael's amazing piano solo, 'Elegy', which jazz star, Julian Joseph, played as a tribute to Will at his Ronnie Scott's gig in November 2008, I set out to learn it. Jazz musicians speak about transcription but they don't necessarily mean writing something down. There's nothing wrong with writing down the music that you've worked out but the notation doesn't contain enough of the original performance to allow you just to read it. So sketch it out if you need to but treat the notation just as a guide, not as 'the music'!
With 'Elegy' I started by working out some of the harmony and melody - just a short section initially, over a period of 2-3 weeks, whenever I got a moment to listen on my iPod. When I felt I'd got it, I played along at the piano to check. As time went on, constantly referring back to Will's wonderful performance, I was able to add additional sections of the piece and more and more of Will's performance detail - expression, ornaments, phrasing, chord voicings, tempo fluctuations, his expressive use of rubato, etc. I soon found that even my performance had begun to come alive!
After a while I did get to the stage where I felt the need to write something down to guide me but I am clear that working it out first by ear is the key; sometimes it may be tempting to write it down straight away but I must resist for as long as possible! When I did finally need to capture on paper what I had done so far, even then I only sketched it out, using the manuscript pad and pencil I now keep permanently by the piano.
I've now got to the point where I can give a reasonably convincing performance of this and at last week's Jazz Experience workshop, played part of it to Will's brother, Richard, who was leading the workshop. He was very moved and suggested that I tell people about the transcribing process I had gone through, so here I am!
This whole so-called 'transcribing' process really is the best way to learn the language. Listening and copying is the way we all learn to speak, so of course it works! My plan now is to tackle some sections of piano improvisations by some of my heroes - maybe from McCoy Tyner's 'Walk Spirit, Talk Spirit' or Herbie Hancock's 'Cantaloupe Island' to begin with. Thanks, Will, for showing me the way!
We had a fantastic workshop last Saturday, 21st March, kindly hosted by Access To Music (ATM) at their Hackney premises, the British Academy of New Music (BANM). The day was led by international jazz piano star, Julian Joseph, and the inspirational jazz educator and musician, Richard Michael.
More than 20 teachers attended, including some of ATM's own teaching staff, and were joined by class and instrumental teachers from as far afield as Hampshire and Bucks! In his 35 years or so of teaching jazz, Richard's philosophy has always been to keep it simple. Considering that jazz improvisation is psychologically challenging for good musicians who come to jazz later in their musical careers, this approach was very welcome!
With some great piano accompaniments from Julian, Richard led an energetic physical workout at the beginning of the day, with shouts, stamps, claps and body movements, all designed to get us really feeling the rhythm which, as he says, is central to playing with a true jazz feel. Everyone felt energised after this and it really helped us all get into the swing of the vocal improvisations that followed.
Later in the day the workshop focussed on the business of leading improvisations with 11-19s and some brave volunteers, who ventured to try the approach Richard had modelled, were surprised at how well they had done in such a short time!
Richard Michael and Julian Joseph will run further workshops in this series. Others will be led by Andrea Vicari and Neil Cowley. Teachers relatively or completely new to jazz impro may join any of the remaining workshops, free, by booking with Angela Whittington.
On Saturday 7th March the Yamaha Jazz Experience took the first of its 1-day jazz improvisation workshops to Portsmouth. Teachers from Portsmouth and surrounding music services, who were new to jazz inprovisation, attended the workshop, which was led superbly by jazz stars/educators, Tim Garland and Andrea Vicari. Teachers attending the day enjoyed a range of activities including sessions on how to tackle improvisation repertoire with young people as well as a wonderful performance by Tim and Andrea, just to show what could be done!
The day was a great success and many of the teachers who attended have already asked where they can go for additional training/support. Our growing list of suggestions can be found here, including the Dordogne Jazz Summer School, directed by Andrea Vicari.
We understand that some teachers were unable to make the Portsmouth session. Anyone who teaches music to 11-19s can apply to attend ANY of the workshops, simply by completing the application form and returning it to Angela Whittington at Yamaha.
Yesterday I visited a superb National Youth Jazz Collective (NYJC) workshop in Huddersfield which is part of a 4-weekend jazz workshop series for young people, also running in Kendal, Rotherham, Norfolk and Devon. Led by the visionary jazz composer/educator, Issie Barratt, the project uses some of the UK's top jazz musicians to provide coaching and inspiration which is giving the targeted young players the skills and confidence to enjoy playing a broad range of jazz and improvise with their peers.
One of the sessions I dropped in on yesterday involved players of varying abilities being coached through a very funky chord sequence (reminiscent of Miles Davis' 'So What?' from his 1959 'Kind Of Blue' album) where 8-bar sections over a single chord enabled new improvisers to find their way around the harmonic and scalic terrain with the minimum of stress and in a non-competitive, safe environment. Similar activities were being led skilfully by NYJC's jazz educators throughout the day. Though they each brought their own workshop styles and a range of different starting points, they very clearly shared the same, simple, common objective: to enable each of the young musicians to contribute creatively in an ensemble and enjoy the journey!
What NYJC is not trying to do is to 'convert' everyone to the jazz religion. What they are about is giving young people the creative skills, through improvising, which will liberate their personal expression and creativity. The fact that jazz is the playground on which this happens will no doubt provide a positive first encounter with the genre to most of the learners who attend the workshops. But the skills that jazz improvisers learn transcend musical genres and this hands the control over their musical destiny to the young people themselves.
As our own Yamaha Jazz Experience project gathers momentum, we hope to be able to point our participants - both the young musicans and their teachers - to the activities of the likes of NYJC, for further skill development and, arguably more importantly, the simple joy of inventing music and performing with other musicians, regardless of their skill levels or experience.
NYJC is still a young organisation but I believe that, through its planned annual 5-centre workshop series and summer school for young people, it is set to make a powerful impact on young musicians' lives. All power to them, I say!
Yesterday I spent a wonderful afternoon at Chappell's music shop in Wardour Street, London, with Yamaha jazz artists Julian Joseph and Tim Garland. If you're just getting into jazz but haven't yet heard these guys, you really should! The occasion was to record a short video clip with each of them on two subjects:
1) what first got them into jazz
2) what improvisation practice advice they would give to music teachers who can already play their instruments well but who are taking their first steps in improvising.
The insight of these two amazing musicians is stunning! We kept the camera rolling afterwards while they chatted about a range of jazz-related topics that are essential viewing for anyone who wants to improve their improvising. We will post a link to highlights from the video here in a few days but teachers should enrol on one of the Jazz Experience workshops to get the full picture and begin the journey to really get your improvising working well. Once on that journey you'll have access to some great new ways to inspire young people musically and to help them unleash their own personal and musical creativity, in whatever genre they wish to apply it.
To join the project, download the application form and return it to Bill Martin at the email address on the form.
If you are a head of music service in one of the above regions (shown in red) and would like to take part in this free national project, please contact me, Bill C Martin at email@example.com. Further information is available from the home page of this site or you can phone me on 07970 196013.
My week at the Jazzwise Summer School seems eons ago, now. But I've made good use of the copious notes I made during some of the sessions and have developed a robust practice routine for my jazz piano playing which seems to be producing results.
I can usually manage an hour-or-so's practice probably 3 evenings during the week and a bit longer at the weekends. In that time I have been focusing on working on really getting inside individual scales for 'What Is This Thing Called Love?' and transcribing a couple of solo piano impro pieces. If there's time I go back to work started a couple of months ago on 'My Foolish Heart'.
I'm really enjoying the process as my fluency at impro increases day by day.
The summer school taught me that ensemble playing and jamming with other musicians is a great way to progress quickly. And yet those opportunities aren't currently available to me. It would be great to find some 'minus-one' type jazz piano practice materials - say with just bass and drums or maybe with a lead instrument too. That would allow me to practise the ensemble pianist's comping role as well as some soloing. But to my surprise I've been unable to find any audio or MIDI file backing tracks that will do the job. Of course there are lots of jazz playalongs available but most of them still ask you to pan the stereo mix hard left or hard right (to remove the piano form the mix). Problem is that I haven't seen a home stereo system with pan settings on it for years. Certainly my mp3 player doesn't allow it.
The only thing would be to edit the audio playalong on my PC/Mac to pan the mix to remove the piano. That would probably be highly illegal and in any case is not how I'd prefer to spend my precious practice time. So I've decided to go along to my local Saturday morning jazz jam session (the nearest one to me is in Sheffield, though there are many such events dotted around the country).
Despite this small obstacle I'm really enjoying the process of discovery and of getting my piano playing working again. It's prompted me to replace my old digital piano with a new Yamaha YUS3 Silent - allowing me the delight of playing a gorgeous and tonally rich acoustic piano again but still with the ability to practise silently on headphones, in order to maintain family peace!
For me this was a breakthrough day for my own playing. Denys Baptiste's skilled direction of our Combo session this week brought us to a point where the rhythm section (including piano) was finally beginning to really gel and members of the combo beginning to listen to each other a much more. The front line - our 4 saxes and trombone players - are all very good players in their teens and Denys helped them interact a lot more during the performance, listening more closely to each other's solos and passing melodic fragments from one solo to the next.
My personal brick wall at the start of the course has been 2-handed comping and even this began to come together today. The course maestro, Jamey Aebersold dropped into our rehearsal a couple of times and gave me some superb guidance on both soloing and comping - thanks Jamey! As well as the tunes where the chords come thick and fast - particularly challenging for a fledgeling jazz pianist sightreading the chords in the unfamiliar tunes and having to choose good chord voicings and suitable scales for impro on the spot! - Denys had us play a modal piece with extended periods over each chord. The horns found this particularly challenging as a musical result happens only when you do more than just find notes that fit. Denys was very helpful in getting them to think about shaping a solo and not giving away all their ideas in every repeat. Modal jazz seems to demand perhaps a more meditative approach, where restrictions can reap rather special dividends. This is something I can now take away and develop further.
My study of McCoy Tyner's playing over the past couple of years, really helped me in the modal piece. I found some of the voicings with much less brain work and I was for the first time able to concentrate on building what I think was my most interesting solo so far this week. (Note to self: practise doing this with tunes with a faster harmonic rate too!)
I loved Dan Haerle's piano masterclass today. Dan really focussed on 2-handed piano voicings that use a complete major or minor triad in the right hand. Fore example, an A13b9 chord had us using root and 7 in the LH (A and G) while the RH played an F#maj triad over the top (provinding the 3, 13 and b9) - a fabulously exotic sound, which his excellent book 'Jazz Piano Voicing Skills' is now in my growing pile of great publications to take home and work on. (Additional note to self: leave the credit card at home next time!)
The day culminated in a concert by our tutors (some shown here, course leader Jamey Aebersold centre, on sax) - stunning and inspirational players all! It showed us how some of the best US and UK jazz performers can paint a wonderful melodic, harmonic, rhythmic and textural picture, drawing of course on their immense experience, technique and profound musicianship. They provided a great musical model for all of us on the course, which I'm sure we'll have in mind when we give our more modest final combo performances during tomorrow's final concert.
Today is characterised by moments of real enlightenment along with a growing realisation of the enormity of the journey I'm embarking on: to become a competent jazz pianist. As a reasonable pianist already (when playing in almost any other style) the challenge is that when I play jazz I'm still having to think too much when comping or improvising, making me often sound (and feel) like a rather poor player.
Of course there just isn't enough time during a performance to be thinking about scales or chord voicings. Pat Harbison's Theory session today was once again illuminating. He explained that all the thinking about scales, fingering and melodic patterns, and chord voicings needs to be part of the preparation before a performance. The big question for many of us remains: how to organise a practice session in order to get the greatest benefit and development.
Yesterday Pat recommended that we focus on a single scale for half an hour and showed us how he would practise simple patterns, starting with the entire scale in a single key. When he played the various 2, 3, 4, up to 7-note patterns, starting on successive degrees of the chosen scale he played "at a speed that made him feel relaxed and in control, with only rare mistakes occuring". When he played he started with no metronome, playing in quite free time for each breath's length. It was expressive, beautifully phrased, almost narrative and meditative.
In our combo session we are working on the song, 'Caravan' which begins with a C7b9 chord, against which I will be using the 5th mode of F harmonic minor to create my impro and chord voicings for this chord: C Db E F G Ab Bb. In a short practice session I tried Pat's approach and found I was able to internalise some of the terrain around this scale in this key quite rapidly. I can't wait to get home and put this into further practice.
Denys Baptiste, who leads our combo class, emphasises the importance of jamming with other musicians as the best way to put any theory into practice. In our combo sessions I'm still far from satisfied with my piano playing, though I can now comp in a useful, rhythmic way to support solos. I can already hear changes in scale types being used by the soloist which I can respond to in my own chord choices. Also our rhythm section is beginning to work together really nicely as we each begin to listen more carefully and are starting to sound like a band, rather than a collection of individuals.
Another really excellent Pat Harbison theory session began today's activities. Pat is a fantastic US trumpet player and gifted and experienced tutor who continued from yesterday's focus on getting to grips with the scale patterns for an 8-bar chord sequence, with some particular scale/chord choices being selected for 'What Is This Thing Called Love?':
| Gm7b5 | C7alt | Fm (melodic)| Fm || Dm7b5 | G7 alt | Cmaj7 | Cmaj7 ||
This time Pat added more notes to the scales we'd started on yesterday. We listened to his playing, copied on our instruments then sang. The first time round we did it ascending but we all noticed how it somehow seemed much harder to play the descending scales! (Note to self: practise all scales descending then ascending - not as easy as it sounds!)
Pat is a great raconteur and told us how his own teacher had once got him to record himself singing his impro over a backing track. He had his trumpet in his hands while doing this, fingering the valves as he sang and told us that he had obviously begun playing at some point in the exercise but got so involved in the process that he didn't notice when this actually happened! His next step was to record his own soloing during a gig, transcribe it then edit the transcription to produce the solo he wished he'd played! Transcription of great jazz performers' playing is a crucial activity for would-be jazzers and this was a neat twist on that approach.
As one among many participants who are relatively new to jazz performance but who've studied academically, we learnt that 98% of improvement in jazz skills happens through extensive listening and focussed practice habits that allow one to dig down deeply to really grasp a concept so it can become second nature.
The combo sessions with Denys Baptiste today went better than my dubious efforts of yesterday. I even had a few moments where I think I played well. The comping was better than yesterday, though I want to work on further as it is the main activity for a pianist in a jazz combo. Terry Seabrook led our piano masterclass today. Key learning points for me were again on 2-handed comping where we learned how to create complete triads in the right hand (known as upper structures). Eg, when playing a C7 chord, using a diminished/whole tone (or altered) scale - C Db D# E Gb G# Bb) the LH plays the 3rd and 7th while the right hand can choose notes from an Ab or Gb triad (all of which are found in the scale). It creates a wonderfully exotic harmony quite simply! I want to try this out also with Lydian dominant scales (maj scale with #4 and b7) and diminished scales (8-note scales with alternate half-whole tones which harmonise a 7b9 chord).
Today's second combo session had us select our combo piece of the final performance on Friday: Caravan. I have some work to do on some of the voicings of 7b9 and half diminished chords, so I don't have to think so hard about the notes when I play.
Had some great conversations with several other participants today - particularly on how we can encourage teachers to attend summer courses of this quality to have fun developing their own skills and confidence in jazz (as I'm trying to do), which will inform many aspects of their music teaching.
(A fun supervised jam session to end the first day.)
We all arrived back this morning curious to know which groups we'd been put into for jazz theory, combo and masterclasses. I discovered that I'd been put into the advanced theory group where Pat Harbison began his superb 90-minute session with a look at the tension between 2 approaches to impro: one that generalises about key and therefore the scale to be used for impro over a number of consecutive bars; the other looking at each chord as describing the 'key of the moment'. .
To date I'd focussed so much on trying to learn the scale types to go with each chord type (though fluency remains a mostly elusive goal) that I'd almost forgotten to explore the creative possibilities of chord-tone impro. Pat led some inspiring chord-tone exercises, where he'd play, eg, just 1 and 3 from each chord in the sequence. We'd have to play it ourselves on the repeat, then sing it accurately on the 3rd pass. He did the same with 1, 3 and 5, then 1,3 5 and 7. The great thing was that the restricted pitches allowed us to become confident and play with greater conviction, as well consolidating an approach which is a great unifying harmonic device in impro. He gave us the idea of focussed practice sessions, where we'd try to really master, say, 12 songs in a year and maybe spend 30 minutes really exploring the melodic and harmonic possibilities from a single scale, in just one key!
The combo class was less joyous initially for me. Again I'd been put into a more accomplished class, led by the superb Denys Baptise but, as the pianist in the group, most of my focus was on comping. I can manage the left-hand comping that I've worked on to support my right-hand soloing but this activity really required 2-handed comping which is a weakness for me. My first attempts were fairly dire, leaving me feeling slightly out of my depth and rehearsing my lack of confidence as a jazz pianist.
Thankfully for me Phil deGreg's piano masterclass after lunch put me on the spot and he helped us precisely on the 2-handed comping that I needed. So, armed with some new strategies I went to the second combo class of the day and already felt more in control with some things I can easily mprove further at home. This allowed me to begin to enjoy the combo session, especially as we covered a couple of tunes I knew quite well.
Jamey Aebersold had warned us that the first combo session would be emotionally and possibly technically challenging for us. I certainly didn't disappoint him in that but already feel I've moved a few tiny steps forward.
So I'm finally here at Richmond's Adult Education Centre for the 2008 Jazzwise Summer School, led by legendary US jazz teacher Jamey Aebersold and his team of top-notch US & UK jazz tutors. Though I'm a pianist and former session keyboard player with some skill and experience in rock and blues impro, to my shame I'd never managed to get my jazz piano playing above a disappointingly rudimentary level. I've come here to remedy the lack of jazz in my skillset once and for all, having found time to practise scales and chord voicings over the last 3 months in snatched practice moments outside normal working hours. I know I've already made some progress in the past few months and I hope this week will help me clarify how I can make further progress.
By midday a queue of nearly 130 people snaked through the main hall, the day's 30 degrees adding to the gently simmering sense of anticipation that I, for one, certainly felt as we waited to register, complete a simple scale and chord theory test before being sent for a preliminary assessment, in order to be put in a group best suited to my level of playing.
While in the queue the extensive Jazzwise bookshop tempted us with jazz self-help offerings. Aebersold's prolific output was in evidence, alongside various jazz 'real' books and playalongs; tutor books and books on jazz harmony. As with the self-help boom in business and personal development one is tempted to believe that simply by reading and playing through enough of these publications the mysteries of jazz impro will be magically unlocked. As a confirmed self-help junkie I got my fix, just in case!
But Aebersold himself stresses that listening to lots of jazz (both recorded and live) is vital, along with carefully focussed, structured practice. The particular things I'm hoping to get from this summer school include improved fluency in impro; a stronger sense of communication; two-handed comping; and a clear practice routine that will help me achieve the greatest improvement for the precious little practice time I, along with most of the nations music teachers, usually have. I'll let you know how I get on!
The Jazzwise Summer School, supported by Yamaha, begins next Sunday, 27th July. I am attending as a piano student to write up my experience for YES magazine (and hopefully improve my jazz piano playing too!). I will be blogging about it every day here so why not check in from Sunday evening and see how it's going?
Jazz is an important element of a balanced curriculum at KS3 and above, but many teachers feel they have only a basic jazz skill level themselves. With the right approach and a good practice routine, considerable progress is possible. I hope other teachers are inspired and may want to attend some jazz workshops or summer schools for themselves.
Last night I went to the Liverpool Philharmonic Hall to see one of my jazz piano heroes, McCoy Tyner, and his quartet in concert. Following the September 2007 release of his album, 'Quartet', the concert showed Tyner as the master of modal jazz, with some superb numbers from 'Quartet', like 'Walk Spirit, Talk Spirit' and 'Mellow Minor'.
For teachers wanting to enthuse their students in jazz - especially at secondary level - material like this very approachable and highly recommended. It is not difficult to transcribe the 'head' and the chord changes don't come too rapidly so beginners can really concentrate on structuring and building their solos, rather than worrying overmuch about integrating lots of different scale types.
With the revisions to music in the National Curriculum at KS3 in England & Wales - which kick in in September 2008 - there is increased emphasis on demonstrable skills as an outcome. Improvisation continues to be any area that teachers request help with and which also gets a special mention in the new curriculum document.
Yamaha is now developing ideas for some wide-ranging activities specifically for secondary level. One possible project would be based around the idea of a jazz piano trio or a rhythm section. Students (from around grade 4 standard and higher) and teachers would be able to attend workshops to kick-start work in this exciting but challenging area, with a national event to follow.
If this is something that would interest you as a project in your school, please tell us here and explain what you would like to get from it, both for your personal development and for your pupils and state which age groups you think would benefit most from it.