Let’s face it- most of our students are not jazz afficianados. Case in point, my second jazz band (I have two in my program) consisting of 4 saxes, 2 trombones, 2 trumpets, 4 guitarists, 3 bass players, and 3 drummers (Memo to guidance…I can’t accomodate all of the garage band wannabes in my Jazz program!). Even though I am thrilled to have such an interest in the jazz rhythm section, it should not come as a shock that none of them can read music. Further, most of them play by ear. But ALL of them are in a band outside of school, and according to all accounts are going to be the next great rock star.
I took the first class meeting to liken learning jazz to learning a foreign language. I began by opening the itunes music store and asking them what they listened to. I got quite a diverse sampling of today’s styles, along with a smattering of classic rock. All of the music was the typical “electric band” guitars, bass, drums, keyboard. There was one kid who listened to ska style- I actually liked that style and added it to my music list- that came closest to the style I was looking for.
Then I played some Freddie Green style for them. I told them that this was the language I was going to speak. If they didn’t understand this language, how could they be expected to learn the concepts associated with it? We got into a great discussion on what makes great music (no matter what the style) and the importance of being well rounded- especially if you are going to make a living as a musician.
Because I was willing to listen to their language, they were willing to listen to my language. Itunes was a great way to bridge the gap and build some common ground. It was great to hear the more advanced students drawing similarities between jazz and what they listened to!
My itunes setup was a Mac powerbook running itunes with a wireless connection to an airport express (which was hooked up to the stereo. I then used the itunes preview feature by typing in the names of the bands they called out and did a search. It was great fun to see their faces when they realized that they weren’t the only ones who knew how to do that. Granted, itunes is not a master’s level technology skill, but the students appreciate technology on any level.