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Imagine the scene: The room is dark, pitch black. Not a sound is heard. The players sit quietly, poised, ready to perform. No distractions, just the musicians and their instruments. Instructions are given. The music begins to fill the room . . . The scenario is actually a classroom setting, a course called “Black Out” where students learn to sharpen and sensitize the acuity of their ears to the feeling of their instruments, to focus on making music without any extraneous diversions. It is one of several innovative concepts that David Bloom has integrated into his program at the Bloom School of Jazz. Whether it is the professional wishing to deepen their musical expression or the amateur in need of the basics, the school welcomes students from all levels, ages and backgrounds. “Our goal at the school is to take beginners and teach them to be good enough to go out and play, and for professionals to compete on the world stage,” says Bloom. The institution was conceived in 1975 when Bloom taught theory and ear-training to eager instrumentalists of every type from his classroom on Rush Street, upstairs from the supper club and jazz lounge, Jilly’s. After listening to Motown bands in the mid-60’s and blues musicians such as Buddy Guy, Bloom began to realize that jazz music was about personal expression. “That has guided me a lot in terms of what I try to do with students. . . a lot of people have really come out of their shells.” This idea of observing the masters and articulating their concepts was, and continues to be, the driving force of his program. Four years after the school opened its doors the jazz combo program was born. Musicians could now focus on group interaction, building arrangements, and crafting the nuances that make a jazz combo’s sound sparkle. Throughout the years Bloom has seen many musicians pass through his tutelage, including notable Chicagoans Larry Gray, Ryan Cohan, Cliff Colnot, Steve Rodby, Loren Cohen and Todd Howe. Some players have studied at the Bloom school since 1997, when Bloom moved to 218 S. Wabash in the heart of the loop. A quick tour of the premises reveals the working environment that has shaped many who have passed through. It’s an impressive space, with ample room for rehearsing, practice and recording. One room houses a grand piano, amplifiers, a drum set, and various books and recordings. In another room sits a CD listening library, while still another has a multi-track recorder. Bloom has designed a well-balanced curriculum, consisting of courses like “Intro to Jazz,” an ear-training and theory course, “The Jazz Artist Program” and “Jazz Awareness,” a four-week history course that examines the great musicians of jazz and explains why they are revered.
A special source of pride is Bloom’s “Perfect Set” course, designed for the serious jazz musician deeply commitment to making art. It runs for an intensive six-month term. “The idea of the course is that the students prepare all the music, all originals. We work a lot on group interaction and improvisation,” states Bloom. Recently, these groups have brought the result of their hard work to Jazz Showcase, where their focused listening, and their composing and performing skills in the spirit of the jazz masters have culminated in a series of impressive concerts before large, attentive audiences.
All students, regardless of their level, will get the chance to perform. “We have about ten to fifteen concerts a year, vocals or the groups . . . or together on the same gig. For the vocal course we have a professional (pianist) in every class,” says Bloom. The final session is a dress rehearsal for the concert. To accompany the vocal students, a professional bassist and drummer are brought in to form a trio with the pianist. At Jazz Showcase and Andy’s they show off their stuff after a semester’s hard work. What better way to end a course than an evening of fun?
It is clear from talking with Bloom and reviewing student feedback that his pupils receive a great deal of personal attention. Since jazz is an art form that allows room for personal expression, nurturing talent is crucial. “We usually have six or seven people in a class, which are three hours long. We tape them, we play them back, we fix things . . . we give everybody the opportunity,” Bloom says. Musicians can be assured they won’t be lost in the crowd!