Monday, July 8, 2019

A New Lease on Learning & Teaching

Continuing Education

*Learning is never over*

I was fortunate in June to be among 16 musicians selected at the guinea pigs for a 4-day summer Improvisation Workshop led by drummer/composer Bobby Previte in Hudson, NY. Bobby is a brilliant musician, teacher, and radiant creative human being, and his enthusiasm captivated all of us from start to finish. I highly recommend you all check out his work if you haven't. Much to unpack there.

This workshop was a wonderful opportunity for me to set aside what I thought I knew about music and improvising (never easy to do) and simply enjoy the learning process with these other musicians, who came from 16 completely different musical backgrounds and had never played together. We quickly established a rapport, and I truly enjoyed everyone's creative contributions and individual personalities.

This was a hell of a process. 6-hours per day of intensive work together, exploring aspects of music so often forgotten or taken for granted, and far too often left unspoken in the academic sphere. 
By day two of this process, I already heard changes in everyone's playing (including my own).

 On day 4 we performed for about 100 people in Hudson Hall. It was an immersive concert experience, during which the audience and musicians were all in rapt attention while the music unfolded on its own. (I was excited to meet master improviser/violist Mat Maneri, who was in the audience that evening). It was a wonderful experience to share with so many folks, and I hope to create more experiences like this for people in the near future. 

One of my favorite experiences from the workshop was playing solo saxophone across the concert hall, delivering 30 seconds of my best musical effort for the other 15 musicians (plus Bobby), and then comparing that experience with the feeling of playing RIGHT ON TOP of that same group of folks, who were all standing right in my personal space! Wow...

The change in spacial relationship created a huge shift in the energy of the room! A powerful reminder that performing FOR PEOPLE is very different than being in your little bubble. We got to hear a few other musicians in the group try this same experience for themselves, I imagine it was as intense for them as it was for me. 

(Reminder: Get OUT of your bubble!!)

**Clicker was composed for 3 flutes, baritone saxophone, drumset, voices & synthesizer. It is a concept piece meant to simulate the feeling of turning radio dials through AM stations, and stumbling upon disparate stations along one's search for the right station.**

This whole experience in Hudson intensified my feelings about what it means to make music, and what it really means to TEACH music. Throughout the entire workshop, there were no discussions about what notes, harmonies, rhythms, or language we were expected to play! Rather, the whole series of exercises were designed to get us out of the "should" orientation, and into a frame of mind based in POSSIBILITY. What does the music need here and now. Nothing else matters.

Already, I can tell that my playing has changed since this experience, my listening has certainly changed, and my teaching concept is much much clearer to me. I've long wished to avoid "shoulds" in my teaching, insisting instead on empowering my students with the courage to CREATE from day 1.

Thanks to Bobby Previte, Hudson Hall, and all the musicians involved, for this wonderful experience!

Benjamin Zander

Along this journey toward awakening possibility in each student, learning to teach the WHY and HOW of music, not merely the WHAT, I have discovered the work of musician & teacher Benjamin Zander. 

Benjamin is a fantastic musician, conductor of the Boston Philharmonic & Boston Philharmonic Youth Orchestras, and a world famous speaker, teacher, & author. Benjamin & his wife Rosamund Stone Zander co-authored a wonderful book entitled The Art Of Possibility back in 2000, and they made and even MORE wonderful audiobook version that I just finished listening to this weekend. Their passion for people and our ability to create lives worth LOVING is infectious and actionable. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

Also worth checking out are Benjamin's "Interpretation of Music" series on Youtube. Absolutely marvelous teaching and playing. Very thought-provoking, and an incredible reminder of WHY we play music!


Recommended Videos

In 2 recent blog posts, I posited (rather strongly) that jazz education is largely missing the mark. I think it is important to use this platform to bring people's attention toward the gems as well as the pitfalls in this artistic pursuit of ours. Let's also remember that this is all about love, and expressing the human experience through song. Doesn't get much more direct than that!

Here are a couple of quirky yet extremely informative videos that bring attention to aspects worthy of more attention when we are teaching and learning jazz music. The processes highlighted here are intended to arm the student with the means of discovering themselves in their practice of standard songs, without prescribing the note choices or language required. The ear is here to guide us through the choice of pitches. Bill & Joe are offering us all a framework for discovery. 

(I'll add that Bill Frisell & Joe Lovano are two deep influences for me, and represent top-notch musicians of world renown who encapsulate both a love of musical tradition and a sense of adventure and possibility in their music.)


**Pay particular attention to the way both of these great musicians are practicing RUBATO, free from strict pulse - allowing space to HEAR what they are playing, and deliver each phrase in its own unique way. Notice ALSO, the strength with which each plays when a pulse IS enforced. Clearly there is power in our phrasing and sense of rhythm when we do not simply take metronomic pulse for granted, but instead, practice "time" as its own discipline, inclusive of the challenges of playing rubato**

Bill Frisell on "Days of Wine and Roses" & Practicing Tunes (Excerpt From The Guitar Artistry of Bill Frisell)

"Any song that I play, the MELODY is what gives an ARCHITECURE to what we improvise. If you combine all the theoretical knowledge: chords, scales, patterns, but keep the MELODY going - that's what will give you your own individual sound, really." - Bill Frisell

Joe Lovano on "Developing a Personal Approach to Improvisation"

"You're not practicing 'PRACTICING' - you're practicing PLAYING!" - Joe Lovano


Tootin' My Own Horn

A reminder that I am doing the life long work of integrating all of this into the work I am doing as a teacher for saxophonists & musicians who wish to get deeply in touch with their own creative impulses. 

I teach in the Baltimore & New York City areas.

visit my teaching page to learn more!

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