The Bloom School of Jazz

Michael Jeffers By

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Since the classes are small there is much interaction between the students and their teachers. The rest of the faculty is seasoned veterans. Jim Sellers teaches piano and is a vocal coach. Jim Trompeter handles piano and improvisation. Paul Wertico teaches drums, Spider Saloff voice, Kevin Guin bass and Nick Besesi saxophone and flute. Students can choose to take one-on-one private lessons with these teachers on their instruments for an eight-week period, with the option of renting an instrument. Besides the regular Chicago faculty, out-of-towners will occasionally make special one-day appearances. Bloom, like the others surveyed, agrees that these guest artists strengthen the program. “One of our concepts here is that students should learn right from the horse’s mouth. The real truth comes from meeting the jazz legends themselves.” Working with the masters allows students to find out the why and how of they achieved their level of greatness. Within the last several months saxophone guru Dave Leibman and young tenorist Chris Potter have imparted their wisdom in these seminars. Other impressive artists in the past include Donald Byrd, Johnny Griffin, John Scofield and Randy Weston. Bloom schoolers are always encouraged to perform in the masterclasses. What these masters possess is really what is at the heart of Bloom’s teaching. “I demand directions in solos,” he emphatically states. “Technique that does not serve ideas or human expression” is not music making. “There is so much sense-making with great players,” he adds. From his years of listening and performing, Bloom always strives to impart to his pupils not only what constitutes a good solo but what makes a good musician: “When you listen to Coltrane, or whatever your exalted stuff is, [you] don’t hear an ounce of self-reference . . . all I hear is people who are showing us how much they love music, how much they revere it.” It’s not about ego, it’s about serving the music. Bloom’s perspective on teaching differs from other conventional approaches. “Within these walls we demand a very strong aesthetic. Jazz is freedom with form rather than freedom from form,” says Bloom. “Most players are not great in making melodies up in pure, static chords,” adds Bloom. Rather than teaching a series of memorized “licks,” Bloom sees the learning process in a different light: “Most of the restrictions [in jazz programs] have to do with harmony. My restrictions are much more linguistic, having to do with language, hearing sentences, paragraphs, dynamics and articulations. I demand it.” Details and subtleties lead an average-to-competent soloist into a more artistic realm. Bloom has seen over the years many of his students use these concepts in their playing. And how they have grown! When asked about the Chicago scene, Bloom agrees that the city is filled with plenty of talented players, but many lack the fundamental skills that would transform them from being merely a good soloist to a more complete musician. “I think the jazz players neglected the whole idea of presentation of music . . . getting carried away with their own chops,” says Bloom. When hearing the masters, Bloom has seen time and again that “every note is connected to emotion.” What would David like to see more of in our city? “I would like to see a camaraderie with musicians again. The old Jazz Showcase on Rush Street was a great place . . . people were looking up instead of down. People were in awe.”

Bloom sums up his program with these words: “We try to find people that are very hungry for jazz, and then we give them the tools that they need in order to express themselves.” As the 2002 semester comes to a close and students take their holiday break, the memorable, visceral experience of “Black Out” will stay fresh in their minds. After the music is made and the lights in the rehearsal room are brought up, Bloom smiles and asks one female student, “So how did you feel about it?” The girl responded, “Kind of special.”

This article was submitted on behalf of Chris White. It was first published in Chicago Jazz Magazine .


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