The 13th Session

By Lee Evans

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I meet my Jazz History class at Pace University once a week, three hours each session, 13 times per semester. I divide the 13th session into two parts. One part is devoted to playing examples of jazz musicians whose work I admire greatly, but who are not given significant attention in jazz history books. I’ll get to that aspect, which I call “Loose Ends,” later in this article.

The other part of that final class session is devoted to 40 points of the final examination – Jazz Genre Identification – during which I play several unannounced excerpts from recordings played in class throughout the semester. Students must select the jazz style that each represents, from a given list that includes:

A. Early Small Combo Dixieland Jazz

B. Blues

C. Swing Era Jazz

D. Bebop

E. Cool Jazz

F. Free Jazz

In some cases I play a minute or so of each of two examples of a particular genre, rather than just one example, in order to give students a better shot at the correct answer. The musical examples I play, in the order in which I play them, include:

1. “Shaw Nuff” (Gillespie/Parker)

2. “Django” (Modern Jazz Quartet) and “Boplicity” (Miles Davis)

3. “King Porter Stomp” (Benny Goodman) and “Opus One” (Tommy Dorsey)

4. “Grandpa’s Spells” (Jelly Roll Morton) and “Black Bottom Stomp” (Morton)

5. “Lost Your Head Blues” (Bessie Smith)

6. “Enter Evening” (Cecil Taylor)

7. “Struttin’ With Some Barbeque” (Louis Armstrong)

8. “Ko Ko” (Gillespie/Parker) and “Criss Cross” (Thelonious Monk)

One reason why I administer this exam is that in my syllabus I state that one of the behavioral objectives of the course is to teach students to be able to make jazz genre distinctions based upon criteria taught during the semester. For example, if my students were to hear a small combo consisting of trumpet or cornet, trombone and clarinet, plus a rhythm section likely to include banjo and tuba or string bass as well as drums and possibly piano, all playing with a polyphonic texture such as that produced by collective improvisation, my students will know that these were among the principle characteristics of Early Small Combo Dixieland Jazz. College administrators these days place great emphasis on being able to measure learning outcomes, and an exam such as the one described above satisfies that requirement.

The other reason why I have created this exam format is to encourage students to attend every class without exception, because – as I tell them at the course’s very first meeting – all the musical examples on that exam are examples that will have been played and discussed in class during the semester. With students having been so notified, there will be no surprises.

I should mention that students unfailingly find this challenge extremely interesting and become totally involved in it. After I collect their test papers, I tell them exactly what I had played, and I then hear all kinds of “ooh”s and “aah”s and animated discussion among them.

Loose Ends

I devote the “Loose Ends” part of the thirteenth class session (which I actually do first, before giving the exam), to playing recordings of several jazz musicians whose work I especially admire and believe my students will benefit from knowing about. These include:

Fred Hersch – From this marvelous pianist’s trio recording called Heartsongs, I play a few minutes of “The Man I Love,” but I first point out that this group employs the same distinctive approach that had first characterized the work of the Bill Evans Trio. Instead of consisting of a piano soloist being accompanied by a bassist and drummer, that group functioned totally interactively, the bassist and drummer playing in a subtle soloistic style rather than serving as mere timekeepers.

Michel Petrucciani – From this always-interesting pianist’s trio recording called Pianism, I play a few minutes of “Night and Day.” I not only first point out Petrucciani’s having conquered severe physical disabilities and limitations to become an exceedingly gifted pianist/composer, but I ask my students to listen intently to his polyrhythmic musical approach and incredible independence of each hand. At times, it almost sounds as if he has two brains, each one controlling a separate hand.

Eddie Daniels – From the large recorded oeuvre of this supreme jazz clarinetist of our time, I play the entire four-minute cut of “Sun Dance” from his album entitled Nepenthe (a drug mentioned in The Odyssey as a remedy for grief, according to the liner notes) – which, musically, borders on jazz/rock fusion. I ask my students to pay particular attention to Daniels’s portamentos that give his clarinet work such a distinctive and individual sound, and I also remind my class of the influence on Daniels of Sidney Bechet’s clarinet and soprano saxophone playing in this regard.

Toots Thielemans – To my class, I praise Thielemans as one of the world’s most interesting and soulful jazz improvisers. When I tell them that his primary instrument was the harmonica, they become quite intrigued. The fabulous musical example that I play for my students is the first cut – “Comecar De Novo” – from his marvelous album entitled The Brazil Project.

Stephane Grappelli – My students wouldn’t ordinarily associate the violin with the jazz idiom, so by playing the Grappelli example “It’s All Right With Me” from the disc called Joue Gershwin et Cole Porter (Playing George Gershwin and Cole Porter), they get to hear the sheer sound of joy that always emanated from his superior violin playing; in this context I also get to talk about the violin work of Joe Venuti from earlier years, as well as that of contemporary violinists Regina Carter and Christian Howes, the latter whom I once heard at Jazz At Lincoln Center some time back, in a scintillating quintet with master jazz accordionist Richard Galliano. Additionally, I speak about guitarist Django Reinhardt, and recommend to my students that they acquire a few Grappelli/Reinhardt recordings. I also suggest to my class that they should rent the excellent Woody Allen film Sweet and Lowdown, which centers on a fictional guitarist character, played by actor Sean Penn, who idolizes Reinhardt.

Dave McKennaLeft Handed Complement is the album of this distinctive piano stylist that I most admire, but I advise my class to acquire any solo-piano album by this ever-so-accessible and easy-to-listen-to musician. The cut that I play for the class is McKenna’s original 12-bar blues entitled “Splendid Splinter,” McKenna’s tribute to baseball legend Ted Williams, the last (and one of the very few in history) major leaguer to hit over .400 in a complete season. However, I first talk a bit about how hard it is to succeed as a major league baseball player. I tell my class to consider that if, as a batter, one fails as many as seven out of ten times, his batting average would be .300 and he’d likely be offered a major league baseball contract worth millions. But if he were to fail as many as eight out of ten times, his batting average would be .200, far too low to be able to sustain even a modest career in baseball. That’s how slim the margin of success and failure is in that arena. Getting back to McKenna, I direct my class to listen intently to his signature-style creative left-hand “walking bass,” as he simultaneously improvised an inventive jazz melodic line with his right hand.

Clare Fischer – An extraordinary example of Latin/jazz fusion by this enormously gifted pianist/composer might be any piece from his marvelous LP entitled Lembrancas (Remembrances). However, I play the first cut on the album for my class, a Fischer tribute to Latin/jazz pianist Charlie Palmieri, entitled “C.P.”               

Chick Corea and Gary Burton – I play the entire opening cut from their Live In Tokyo video, which gives me an opportunity to talk about the vibraphone and about the opportunity and challenge of Burton’s use of four mallets to create four-note chords, as opposed to employing only two mallets for the creation of melodic patterns. I also point out Burton’s having been a jazz educator, including his having been a Dean at the Berklee College in Boston, that truly outstanding jazz conservatory of which the amazing pianist Corea is a graduate.

End Note

There you have it, the contents of my semester’s thirteenth Jazz History lecture…an interesting and fun way to cap off a fulfilling semester featuring the music of America’s most exciting and original art form.

Lee Evans, Ed.D., is a professor of music at NYC’s Pace University. His most recent solo piano book is his very latest Jazz Piano Scales and Exercises (Hal Leonard); also Starter Classics (Stipes Publishing), a collection of 32 essential solo piano classical repertoire at the late beginner to early-to-late intermediate levels, compiled, edited and/or arranged by Dr. Evans; the popular solo-piano books Opera With A Touch Of Jazz (Hal Leonard) and Classics With A Touch Of Jazz (Hal Leonard); and the acclaimed foundation performance/theory workbook Crash Course In Chords (Hal Leonard). For additional information, please visit www.leeevansjazz.com.

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