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.
I had the delight of visiting a very exciting project in Warrington today. Warrington Music Service, under the direction of Janice Pounds, has been running a project in which Yamaha Music School teacher, Fran Sixsmith (from Dawson's Warrington YMS) is giving 10 weekly 60-minute whole-class KS2 keyboard lessons with 65 of the authority's 72 primary schools.
The organisation of such a project is worthy enough of our awe but the very high standard of teaching, the complete joy and engagement of all the children for the whole session and clear evidence of learning, were a tribute to Warrington Music Service, Fran, Dawsons and of course to the participating primary schools and their staff. Further details of this project will be featured in the Summer 08 edition of Yamaha's YES magazine.
There are many such projects in operation around the UK's primary schools at present, in response to the national focus on whole class instrumental and vocal teaching at KS2. It would be great to hear of your experience of similar activities in your area. Please respond briefly to this blog and let us know what your project's aims were, whether it achieved them and what lasting benefit it has left behind.
I was stunned to hear that Yamaha's Clavinova electronic piano range celebrates its 25th birthday this year! The original instruments were based on the old FM synthesis, the heart of the DX7 synthesiser, but by today's standards sounded more electronic than piano! The latest Clavinovas though are quite a different story and are these days permitted in exams for most exam boards - high praise indeed.
If you have used Clavinovas in your teaching at any time in the past quarter century, tell us a bit about it here.