Listening and Learning

June 21, 2007

My wife and I inadvertently happened upon an outdoor dress rehearsal of the Boston Pops for their Fourth of July concert several years ago, while walking along the Charles River in Boston. Needless to say, we were thrilled when Arturo Sandoval stepped up to the stage to run through some of the pieces he was going to perform that evening. During one passage of a particular piece, the trumpet section just couldn’t quite catch the right rhythm of the jazz-oriented tune. Conductor Keith Lockhart stopped the group and ran through the part several times. After a couple of runs, the trumpets still didn’t entirely get the groove, so Arturo turned to the orchestra and said,“Listen” – and he promptly played the part for them. The section players picked it up immediately (plus, they gave a hearty applause to Arturo for his rendition). This exemplifies that even at the highest levels of playing, an auditory lesson can have instant and significant benefits. Of course for younger students, this type of dividend is even more valuable, no matter what type of music is being learned.

“Talking about music is like dancing about architecture” is an intriguing quote that trombonist and educator Steve Wiest mentions during his exclusive interview in this edition of JAZZed. Wiest’s approach to teaching is to find a method to “communicate the essence of the music in the same way that turned him on to the music…” This is certainly a keystone in the world of jazz, as most players in the past learned from listening and playing, and didn’t have as formal an academic setting as do many of today’s students. Getting kids excited about the music is a process which may include trial and error of hearing a variety of styles of jazz until something clicks and the rest is history. With today’s more formalized structure of learning jazz at a conservatory or college of music, it is important to step back and adapt some of the principles of these earlier, more freewheeling learning methods to meld them with current pedagogy.

Also in this issue, check out John Crawford’s roundtable discussion featuring an in-depth look at classic recordings and how to introduce your students to the great jazz artists. There are a variety of great suggestions from Mingus, to Miles, to Basie, to Sun Ra#133;

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