651

Passing the Torch: Jazz in the Next Generation

Tom Greenland By

Sign in to view read count
As young jazzers mature, their listening becomes more focused, their musical vocabulary expands and their visions broaden.
The concept of jazz education is problematic, perhaps even oxymoronic. How do you teach someone to swing, to improvise creatively, to play with soul, to be him- or herself? In other words, Can jazz be taught? While some might argue to the contrary, numerous folks out there, on the scene, are making a difference, kindling and stoking the jazz flame, sharing their love and expertise with the music makers and listeners of the future.

Jazz education begins with listening. Those who are lucky enough to have been raised by parents with "curious ears or who have been exposed to sonically creative environments have had an early ("ear -ly?) peek at—and may have been piqued by—the possibilities of improvised music. Others catch the bug later on in life. Now a globe-spanning language, the ways of jazz are understandable at almost any age, in almost any culture. As early as preschool, children can learn to listen to and perform jazz.

Manhattan-based singer and educator Louise Rogers has accomplished amazing feats with her youngsters, some only two years-old! To develop their aural skills, Rogers uses call-and-response techniques: she'll play a background track or her husband Rick Strong will walk a bass line, then students echo her scat vocals or drummed improvisations; alternatively, she'll put on Ella Fitzgerald's "How High the Moon and have them transcribe the "doo-s , "dwee-bah's and other scat-icisms. To hone compositional instincts, she has students imagine a scenario about Charlie Parker, then compiles their ideas into an original lyric set to the tune of "Now's the Time, which they perform. She finds that connecting the musical ideas to a story line is especially effective for engaging and holding the attention of her youngest participants. To develop children's improvisational skills, Rogers has them pass a play-microphone around the circle with each student extemporizing a response to an open-ended prod such as, What did you have for breakfast? Interestingly, she reports that even kids from culturally diverse backgrounds, whose primary language may not be English, quickly become comfortable with the no-wrong-notes atmosphere of her classrooms; two children with a previous cultural and/or linguistic barrier can instantly open up a dialogue in scat-ese, producing a sense of confidence and camaraderie that transfers to other social activities.

Middle-school musicians face issues and challenges unique to their physical and mental maturity. One of under-sung miracle workers in this arena is pianist/composer Eli Yamin, the driving force behind an extremely successful series of jazz musicals staged at the Louis Armstrong Middle School in Corona, Queens. Can you imagine fifty-plus youngsters singing and dancing their hearts out to topical tunes steeped in blues, bebop and swing, including free-form interludes inspired by Sun Ra? Believe it. "Message From Saturn is one of five original jazz musicals composed by Yamin for the Jazz Drama Program; "Nora's Ark , the first in the series, is now available as a score, script and demo-CD for schools wishing to immerse their student body in jazz's cultural aesthetics.


Shop

More Articles

Read The Word is Beat: Jazz, Poetry & the Beat Generation General Articles The Word is Beat: Jazz, Poetry & the Beat Generation
by Jakob Baekgaard
Published: August 12, 2015
Read The Harlem Renaissance and American Music General Articles The Harlem Renaissance and American Music
by Mike Oppenheim
Published: March 3, 2013
Read Goodbye, Cecil's General Articles Goodbye, Cecil's
by David A. Orthmann
Published: March 14, 2012
Read Hear Me Talkin' to Ya: Jazz Aphorisms General Articles Hear Me Talkin' to Ya: Jazz Aphorisms
by Chris May
Published: December 23, 2011
Read "Security Project: Live 1" Extended Analysis Security Project: Live 1
by John Kelman
Published: May 21, 2016
Read "Harvey Mandel: Snake Pit" Extended Analysis Harvey Mandel: Snake Pit
by Doug Collette
Published: November 19, 2016
Read "Jakob Baekgaard's Best Releases Of 2016" Best of / Year End Jakob Baekgaard's Best Releases Of 2016
by Jakob Baekgaard
Published: December 28, 2016
Read "The Power Quintet at Jazz Standard" Live Reviews The Power Quintet at Jazz Standard
by Dan Bilawsky
Published: December 5, 2016
Read "Heard It In A Love Song: Ted Gioia & James Gavin" Bailey's Bundles Heard It In A Love Song: Ted Gioia & James Gavin
by C. Michael Bailey
Published: May 20, 2016

Post a comment

comments powered by Disqus

Sponsor: ECM Records | BUY NOW  

Support our sponsor

Support All About Jazz's Future

We need your help and we have a deal. Contribute $20 and we'll hide the six Google ads that appear on every page for a full year!

Buy it!