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6/2008 BJAM Session Newsletter

THE BJAM SESSION

(June 2008)

Previous issues of the BJAM Session are available online at www.bakersjazzandmore.com/news/

You are welcome to copy and distribute these newsletters to other directors, students, or anyone else who might be interested.

TABLE OF CONTENTS:

INTRODUCTION – Spring cleaning, Summer fun
NEW MUSIC – New Series and new charts are now available
FEATURE SOLO – formerly Guest Artist – Jazz Festival Judges – What are the most common comments you make?
OPEN CHORUSES – Open for discussion
SHOUT SECTION – Upcoming Jazz Camps and Clinics, TBA info, Stephen F. Austin HS/Essentially Ellington
CODA – Final Words
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INTRODUCTION – Spring Cleaning, Summer Fun

It’s been awhile since our last issue, and in that time a number of topics and newsworthy items have been collecting on my desk. So, in a frantic effort to reclaim my desktop and hard drive space, as well as catch a gasp of fresh air, I’ve collected them all into this one issue.

“Reading Jazz” by Robert Gottlieb – a marvelous collection of essays and articles written on and BY the masters themselves. For instance, there is the recollection of Hoagy Carmichael and Bix Beiderbecke laying on the floor, blown away listening to a recording of a brand new Stravinsky piece – The Firebird Suite. Or, Louis Armstrong’s diary of life and gigging when he first arrived in Chicago from New Orleans.
“Considering Genius” by Stanley Crouch – a collection of his articles and columns through the years, full of social and philosophical insights into the music and musicians.
“Stompin’ the Blues” by Albert Murray – “By far the most stimulating interpretation of the meaning of jazz in African-American life.” – Martin Williams, author, “The Jazz Tradition”
“Music is My Mistress” by Duke Ellington – Ellington’s recollections of his life and career in his own words – tremendous insight into his style and character, personally and musically speaking.
“Chasin’ the Trane” by J.C. Thomas – probably the quintessential biography of John Coltrane, and a good starting place before diving into the myriad other books analyzing his music and life.
“Gil Evans – Out of the Cool” by Stephanie Stein Crease – an interesting look behind the scenes at the reclusive genius arranger who is responsible for landmark recordings and so much of today’s music.
“Footprints” by Michelle Mercer – a biography of Wayne Shorter, legendary saxist with Miles Davis in the 60’s and with Weather Report in the 70’s and 80’s, this book offers insights into a life of creativity in approaching all things.
“Miles” by Miles Davis – I highly recommend Miles Davis’ autobiography, but be forewarned, it pulls no punches with regards to language or subject matter or viewpoints. Also recommended is “Miles Davis: the Definitive Biography” by Ian Carr for a tamer approach to the man and his music.
“Jazz Ensemble Director’s Manual: A Handbook of Practical Methods and Materials for the Educator” by Rick Lawn – as the title suggests, an excellent book and resource.
“Experiencing Jazz” by Rick Lawn. – Rick’s newest magnum opus, complete with rare recordings

This is just a brief sampling. There are many, many more titles available. Try a quick search on “jazz” under the Books category at Amazon.com for more ideas.

We are proud to announce our new Mike Vax Series of new feature charts! Give your talented trumpet soloists a chance to shine with these new charts. Currently, we offer “El Viento Caliente” which is a Grade 4 showcase for trumpet, and “The Chanteuse” which is available as a Grade 4 showcase for trumpet or flugelhorn. All of these charts can be found on our new demo CD which will be available at our TBA booth, #819 Baker’s Jazz And More, or by request at any time. Excerpts of the recordings in addition to a full recording of each chart will be available online as well in the Charts section of the website. New additions will be announced in this space in the coming months.

As always, check <>for all of our charts for middle school, high school, and college programs. If you’re looking for a particular type of chart, let us know. We might be able to fill your need with something we have already in the works – OR – we are available for commissions and will be happy to work with you and your band to create custom music for your band. Contact paul@bakersjazzandmore.com to discuss further.

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FEATURE SOLO – Jazz Festival Judges’s Most Common Comments

Now that the jazz festival season has concluded and page after page of comments have been written and mountains of microcassettes have piled up, it occured to me, and was confirmed by several colleagues, that we had ended up writing some comments over and over on practically every sheet we turned in. So………I thought it might be useful for directors and students alike to see what some of these comments are, accompanied by some discussion of methods to correct or improve certain issues. Comments have been underlined for identification. Did you receive any of these on your sheets?

THE RHYTHM SECTION

No section is more critical to a jazz band and yet it’s the section that most directors know the least about since, after all, they’re BAND directors who grew up playing in concert bands and marching bands, and, less frequently, jazz bands, though that is slowly changing over time. We know what we want it sound like, but we lack the experience or insights as to how to communicate that to the players. It’s just not making it – why is that?

Several of the most common comments shared by adjudicators revolve around a lack of cohesion in the rhythm section. While everybody is playing their parts at the same time, they’re not playing TOGETHER. What does that mean, playing together? It really comes down to listening, to each other and to the ensemble and to the soloists. The two most critical tools in the rhythm section are the bassist’s right hand and the drummer’s left foot (on the high hat). All time derives from those two things being completely locked up in sync with one another. If those two aren’t together, there’s little chance that a solid time feel can be achieved. To help improve the swing feel even more, have your bassist accent beats 2 & 4 more than 1 & 3. This helps contribute to the forward momentum of the music.

Now that we have a foundation established, we add the ride cymbal. Often with small drum kits there are just two cymbals, a ride and a crash. While both are designed for their respective purposes, the drummer doesn’t have to stay on one cymbal all the time. The crash cymbal can be used for playing time, too, and it offers a nice change of timbre and feel for the listeners and other performers. Additionally, a change of cymbal can be used to demarcate sections in the music, such as moving from an ensemble passage into a sax soli or into an improvised solo section. Also, within that solo section, it’s very helpful to the soloist for the drummer to change cymbals at the bridge and then back at the top of the repeat again. Often overlooked for playing time is the high hat. Aside from being a cool change of pace, it can work wonders for enforcing our next topic – DYNAMICS.

Young rhythm sections tend to stay within a small dynamic range, typically from mp up to f . The music, however, calls for a much broader range, equal to that of concert music. It’s very exciting to hear a big band cooking along at pp and then, all the sudden, drop the hammer and kick into a huge ff shout section. Be sure to use all the available dynamic range. The rhythm section needs to follow the dynamics as much or more than the horns.

What about the piano and guitar? What about a vibes player? These instruments provide the harmonic colors used to support the ensemble, but there is a tendency to create a swath of muddy brown where there could be a rainbow. The key, as with everything else, is listening, along with some strategizing ahead of time. When playing in an ensemble passage, unless parts are specifically written out, the chordal instruments tend to play over one another. A solution to this is to decide ahead of time who might lay out in certain sections. Another strategy is for each player to play more sparsely, thereby leaving more room for the others. Another approach is to think in terms of registers, and this is where listening is key. If the guitartist is playing low, have the pianist play higher up, or vice versa. Another approach is to have the vibist play whole notes while the pianist comps a rhythm pattern. Finally, have only one or two chordal instruments play behind a soloist, maybe only the piano or only the guitar. For the next soloist, switch it around. Let the vibes play behind the tenor solo or guitar solo. If the pianist is soloing, using both hands, then no other chordal instrument is necessary. The overall strategy is divide and conquer. Some pre-arranging in the rhythm section opens up a lot of space and provides more clarity for the listeners and the ensemble.

Final notes on the rhythm section: Young drummers tend to either overplay or underplay. A medium balance point needs to be found. Some want to show off all their chops, but aren’t musically aware enough, yet, to know when not to do that. Conversely, some drummers are too mechanical, playing the one “swing feel” or whatever that they learned and never adding any accents or variety. They need to be encouraged to explore more. Have them listen to the famous drummers like Jo Jones, Sonny Payne, Buddy Rich, etc. to hear what to do and what not to do (in some cases).

Another downfall usually occurs with Latin beats. In Texas, we have more experience with these than many other parts of the country, but attention needs to be paid to the specific style presented by the composer. A bossa nova is different from a samba is different from a rhumba or cumbia or cha cha, etc. Homework needs to be done to be authentic and bring the most out of the music and your performance.

THE HORN SECTION

Most of the problems in any young horn section come down to one thing – AIR. They’re called wind instruments for a reason! Most problems relating to pitch are due to a lack of support. Most problems relating to response and precision are due to a lack of air and support. As opposed to concert band techniques, loud playing is encouraged – so long as it’s with a good sound. Often, on stage clinicing a band after a performance, I will have the ensemble play a passage “as loud as you can”, which usually brings the volume up to f from mf or mp, but which also usually creates a fuller, more in tune sound. Why? A-I-R.

Once the instruments are making enough sound, the issues begin to center around balance and phrasing. Good charts will have lots going on in addition to just the main melody line. Look for counterlines and fun background figures. As with concert music, moving lines take precedence over static parts. Each player in each section needs to be aware of their parts in those terms and be taught to respond accordingly – bring out the moving parts and then get out of the way. Sound familiar? To harken back to the old saw – listening is crucial. Particularly, with only one player on a part usually, there is great potential for ensemble interaction that often goes unutilized. Bring out all the musicality you can. It’s not just about playing high, fast, and loud. Those days are long gone. Modern jazz music requires as much attention to detail as concert music, because it is concert music.

Phrasing issues generally have to do with listening and inexperience. Inexperience because students have never heard or played this type of music before. It’s a style they have to learn, and it runs counter to the absolute metric time feel they’ve learned in concert and marching bands. One doesn’t “lay back” while marching to a click. Jazz precision is arrived at in a totally different manner. Rather than interoperable mechanization where any player can be plugged in to a system that enforces his sense of time and rhythm, jazz requires sensitivity and flexibility and constant attention to where the beat is at any given moment, and it’s always shifting. Every player must be aware and listening for the bass line and high hat. As with the rhythm section, the ensemble can’t play simultaneously, they must play together!

Given this newfound flexibility, the single biggest mistake ensembles make is to rush the syncopated figures. In short, they don’t know how to “lay back”. Granted, this is a difficult concept to teach, and I feel that, beyond focusing on subdividing the triplet feel, it really has to be taught through reinforcement such as careful listening over and over to recordings, instruction from players or clinicians who know how to swing, and hearing it done live. As an example, my last year in college, I was in the top band at our school and we went on a tour that included an appearance at the Village Vanguard in New York City, home of the Vanguard Orchestra, formerly the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra. After playing our set and feeling pretty good about our performance, the real pros sat down to play – and, of course, mopped the floor with us. BUT, that night we all heard how it was done, by the best in the business, and from then on our band played at a much higher level because we finally “got it”. I wish every band could have that type of experience or exposure. No matter how hard you think you’re swinging, you can always swing harder. Experiment and see what you can accomplish, without going overboard, of course. There is an imaginary line out there somewhere. You can’t see it, but everyone knows when you’ve crossed it!

Hand in hand with phrasing is articulation. I like to think of articulation as the punctuation marks of music. There is no proper phrasing without proper articulation. Each note must have attention paid to it, and each player must also listen to his/her lead player and match that phrasing and articulation. If the lead player is playing heavy accents, the section players should follow. If the lead player is scooping a lot, the section needs to scoop, too, and so on. Without attention to articulation, the music becomes the equivalent of tonal mumbling rather than clear and succinct speech. Listen to recordings of the Basie bands of the 50’s and 60’s to hear what I’m talking about, or Buddy Rich’s bands. No articulation = no clarity = equals sonic mush, and more importantly, so many missed opportunities to have made music instead.

Another topic is lead players, of all three sections. Playing lead is more than just playing the highest part. Playing lead is an attitude that the player must present to the rest of the section which, in effect, says, “This is the way we’re going to play this music. Fall in behind me.” Young players are often afraid to assert themselves in this manner, but, if they can be encouraged to do it, the ensemble will begin to take on shades of character and personality and the music begins to become personal to them. It begins to become a personal expression rather than just notes on a page. All the sudden, those notes belong to the players and they care about them. Such attention is obvious to an audience.

IMPROVISATION

Aside from rhythm sections, improvisation is the other great mystery of jazz, and probably the scariest for players because so little is known about it at the school level, by directors or students. Yet, solos must be played. How to approach? There are a number of factors in play here, obviously, and therefore strategies with which to work. From a chart selection standpoint, take solo changes into account when selecting charts. It might be a fun tune, but if your soloists don’t have a chance, whether due to complexity or tempo or both, then the overall experience is marred and debilitated. Improvisation is a technical skill that can be taught and nurtured. Few players are born with “the knack”, but the real challenges are ego and confidence – the confidence in one’s technical proficiency to stand up and play something that may or may not work, which you’ve never played before, in front of an audience, and the humility to understand that the performance might not be wonderful, but nobody’s going to die because of it so let’s all move on. A good sense of humor comes in handy, too.

There are numerous methods of learning and practicing improvisation, notably the Jamey Aebersold Series of recordings and books, but the absolute best way is to get together with other players and just play tunes. If you suck, have a laugh, get over it, learn the lesson, and keep practicing. Instruction in at least basic music theory is vital here as well. A player must know the essential scales associated with each chord and should be able to identify key centers. There are some good books on the subject, particularly Dan Haerle’s “The Jazz Language”. Beyond that, it wil be helpful to know what all those numbers and + and – signs mean, too. Don’t worry, they’re in the books.

Playing together with a rhythm section not only helps the soloist, but it also helps the rhythm section to work on accompanying the soloist. If the soloist builds, the rhythm section should, too. If the soloist gets quiet, the rhythm section should reduce volume as well. Once again – LISTENING. Speaking of, another very strong foundation piece of improvisation is listening to the masters, or anybody else who does it well. Especially in this day and age with an Internet full of mp3’s and easy exchange of files, so much music is available so simply now, moreso than any other time in history. There’s no excuse anymore for not listening. As with playing, start out simply and work up to the more complex end of the scale. Learn who the master players are and were and get online! Listen, transcribe, learn by ear.

As an adjudicator and cub reporter, these are the topics that I and fellow adjudicators most often encounter at festival performances. These are the topics they most wanted to get off their chests. My hope is that they will be taken into consideration and implemented in the coming semesters and will become part of the bedrock of your teaching and the experience of jazz education.
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OPEN CHORUSES

Have any topics for discussion? Have any questions you’d like to ask? Have any comments you’d like to make? This is the place. Send your topics, questions, and comments to paul@bakersjazzandmore.com and we’ll put them in the next issue of the BJAM Session. The goal is to share knowledge and experience for the benefit of all, teachers and students alike.

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SHOUT SECTION

A big Congratulations to Tonia Mathews and the Stephen F. Austin High School Jazz Band, Austin, Texas, who recently participated in the Essentially Ellington Program produced by Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York City. As one of only 15 bands selected from 88 nationwide, the band performed three selections chosen from this year’s list which is provided by JALC. In addition to the band being chosen for this honor, Matt Kennan was selected as outstanding tenor saxophonist, and Stuart Davis was awarded Honorable Mention for his clarinet performance, which is high praise in this group of exceptional musicians. Director Tonia Mathews had this to say about the experience – “It was so completely awesome! Wynton jammed with the kids and also had a good talk with them too. They performed really well. Everyone was impressed.” The Seattle area had three bands in attendance, two of which won first and second place! Texas needs to get to work. In addition, there were multiple bands from Wisconsin as well.

To hear the Austin HS Band and the other bands, go to http://www.jalc.org/jazzED/ee/res_hearing.html

For more information about the Essentially Ellington program, go to http://www.essentiallyellington.org or feel free to contact Tonia Mathews at Stephen F. Austin HS, Austin Texas.

JAZZ CAMPS – Contact Schools for more information

UT San Antonio – June 22-27
Texas State – June 8-13 – Jazz and Salsa (middle and high school) Butch Miles Rhythm Section Camp – June 8-13
Texas Christian University- Saxophone Workshop with Joe Eckert – June 25
University of North Texas – Vocal Jazz Workshop – June 22-27 Jazz Trumpet and Trombone Workshop – June 16-21 Lynn Seaton Jazz Double Bass Workshop – June 9-13 Jazz Combo Workshop – July 13-18

Finally, come out and see us at TBA! We’re in booth #819 in the main room (East Hall). We’ll have all of our charts available to peruse and purchase, and we’ll be happy to answer any questions you might have about us or the music.
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CODA

Thank you for taking the time to read our newsletter. It is our desire to make this newsletter a valuable tool for you by hosting letters, posing questions to the community, offering rehearsal, performance, or arranging tips or whatever you’d like to see discussed. If you have a jazz education topic you want to explore, please contact us at paul@bakersjazzandmore.com and we’ll include it in our next newsletter. Eventually, we’d like to get enough response to set up a discussion forum on our website http://www.bakersjazzandmore.com.

If you find this information valuable, we encourage you to forward it on to anyone else who you feel might benefit from it. One of our main goals is to “spread the word”. The more information educators and students have about jazz, the better the music will be and everyone benefits.

We’re looking forward to hearing from you, and we hope that you’ll be looking forward to hearing from us as well.

Until next month,

Paul Baker
Owner and Composer
Baker’s Jazz And More
paul@bakersjazzandmore.com

If you would prefer to not receive future issues of the BJAM Session newsletter, then please email us at paul@bakersjazzandmore.com and you will be unsubscribed post haste.

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