I love to teach others about jazz. I love to put together handouts for classes and clinics. I love to go around the room and have kids play a chorus over the blues and them ask them what they thought about what they just played. I love to demonstrate a scale or concept to students and see them wide-eyed at what I'm doing. Not that what I play is that profound, but to them, it's a whole new world. I've done it for years as a faculty member at jazz camps, as a guest at schools, and in various other contexts. And I hope to continue to do so.
Jazz education changed the direction of my life as a young student. That education started when I was in junior high school. I had an awesome band director who got me started and I never stopped. He took me to the source. But you might be surprised to learn that he didn't give me a book. He gave me something called a cassette tape! It's kind of like a CD, or, well, nevermind, it was a recording! On side one of that tape was Clifford Brown Live at Basin Street. Having come up on rock music, I totally didn't get Clifford. But on the other side was Maynard Ferguson's MF I and II. Now that, I could deal with. No joke, I listened to that side for months. Then later after I could sing every note of the Maynard, I gave Clifford another try. The first thing I remember listening to was Jor-du. And my life was never the same. I didn't know exactly what they were doing, but whatever it was captured my imagination.
That was the beginning of my jazz education. But it didn't stop there. That same band director kept educating me, but oddly enough, he never gave me a book. He just took me to his house on a regular basis (with my parents' permission of course) and we listened to his record collection. He made me more tapes. He introduced me to Sonny Rollins, Thad Jones, Count Basie, Charlie Parker, and so on. The only thing he ever gave me on paper was his own hand written copy of Donna Lee and said, "Here, learn that." Of course, that blew my mind. I'm still learning that head.
What's the point of all this? It's pretty simple. Jazz education doesn't come from a book. It comes from the music itself, the records that the greats have left behind for subsequent generations. I'm not against using or writing books about jazz. But where a student like myself really learns this music is from the records. It's from listening to Kind of Blue a thousand times. Basie Straight Ahead over and over. A few years ago I spent about eight months listening to one single track from Coltrane's Live at the Half Note. The tune was One Down One Up. It had me mesmerized. The way Trane played, the way the band played. It's all I listened to for that long and it changed the way I play and feel about music.
What I learned from my junior high school band director is that jazz education is more relational than anything else.
It's people like him taking people like me under their wing and exposing me to the music, listening together, taking me to see live jazz, and getting out their horns and playing together. Through that time with him I caught his love and enthusiasm for the music. We never did crack open a book (though I eventually got my hands on some Jerry Coker and Jamey Aebersold materials and they we immensely helpful). That lesson has repeated itself over and over in my life through the years. The best players I know and am privileged to play with all have one thing in common when it comes to jazz education, we all love to share what we've learned from the records. A new recording we found, a transcription, a lick, a phrase, a scale, a chord, a head, a vibe. We teach each other what we've learned through listening. And it never gets old.
Will I use books sometimes and develop more teaching materials? You bet I will. They have their place. But the bulk of my time educating others about jazz will look just about the same old-school way my teachers taught me. We're going to get together, be it in a classroom or a living room, and put on the records. That's where the education begins. At the source.
More to come...