A jazz improvisation curriculum: Junior high through college

The following is a suggested curriculum for teaching jazz style and improvisation to students from junior high school through college. The materials listed are geared toward the developing saxophonist, but may be substituted or adapted to meet needs of other instrumentalists. The curriculum assumes the student has a basic command of the instrument, and should be used in conjunction with classical study. The layout of the curriculum suggests materials for junior high, high school, and college, but will of course need to be altered to fit each individual student’s needs. Continue reading “A jazz improvisation curriculum: Junior high through college”

Ideas for directing student jazz bands

The following is a summary of lessons learned from observing rehearsals of jazz big bands. A great debt is owed here to Dr. Ray Smith of Brigham Young University, director of the Synthesis big band.

A picture is worth a thousand words

The student jazz group should be exposed to recordings (or, when possible, live performances), especially of the arrangements they are learning. This benefits the band in several ways:

First, the band members further absorb general concepts, such as swing feel, sense of time, and concept of tone, as well as bits of jazz “vocabulary” (melodic, harmonic, and rhythmic ideas, for example). These concepts, no matter how clearly explained, can only really be learned by listening and imitating—like learning the correct accent for a foreign language. Continue reading “Ideas for directing student jazz bands”

Multi-instrument method in Rahsaan Roland Kirk’s “Creole Love Call”

The artist1

Roland Kirk was born in 1935. As an infant, he was blinded, possibly by negligent medical care. He attended the Ohio State School for the blind, where he played in the school band. At the age of sixteen, he led a dance band that performed around the Midwest. It was also at age sixteen that he got the idea to play more than one instrument at once, an innovation he claimed to have received in a dream. He acquired a battery of instruments, including such oddities as the stritch and manzello (obsolete cousins of the saxophone), and set about mastering them individually and in combination.

Kirk recorded as early as 1956, but got little attention until 1960, when critics began to accuse him of gimmickry. Kirk maintained that his unorthodox techniques were born of musical expression rather than cheap showmanship, and his following began to increase.

In 1970, he added “Rahsaan” to his name, having been prompted to do so by another dream. Continue reading “Multi-instrument method in Rahsaan Roland Kirk’s “Creole Love Call””