This was before the sharing process. During the week students were working in separate rooms to come up with ideas to share out.
Post-concert is seemingly a difficult time for a teacher and the students. It seems as though we are always working towards the next performance. At South we are so lucky to have Jazz Band be a credited class that meets every single day (albeit at 7:15 am). However, this allows for a lot of flexibility and time to get out of the must “prepare to perform” mentality--something I am very grateful for. I really enjoy digging into the history of jazz and we do a lot of listening (every day, in fact) to jazz, because, well, that’s just how you learn the language.
In Minneapolis we are fortunate to have a thriving jazz scene with a decent amount of jazz clubs (although that has declined in the past ten years). One of the clubs, Jazz Central, is a great spot for budding jazz musicians to go and listen and participate in the jazz musicking experience. When I started my job at South four years ago, I wanted Jazz 2 to experience playing in a jazz club. Jazz Central opened its doors to us and we have done a concert every year there with a local group curated by Graydon Peterson (who happens to be my life-partner, so that is handy). This year’s show, scheduled for March 10th, is going to be all originals. . . by the students.
So, back to that first paragraph. We have been focusing a lot this first semester on listening to jazz “standards”-especially tunes that have a simple head that can be learned by ear. This past Tuesday, the day after our concert I tasked the students with self-selecting groups who would then work together to create a head chart. They have to come up with a form, melody, and bass line. I should mention that this is completely a “let’s see what happens and go with it” kind of experience for myself and the students.
So, they went off into their groups and worked, struggled, grappled, laughed, fought, and came together today to share their progress-not the product, because writing music can be hard, especially when there are multiple ideas going on. They all shared their progress and we all workshopped what they shared with us. One group had put together a “call and response” type of chart except that the calls and responses didn’t really make a whole lot of sense when played together, so the rest of the band helped them choose one call and one response (and one key!) so that it would make a bit more sense. One group had what felt like a 12 bar blues but was only 8 bars, so the band helped them figure out the last four bars.
I should mention that 80% of these students are freshman and about 50% of them have not been in jazz band before. We haven’t talked a whole lot about theory, but they have LISTENED enough to have a basic understanding of the language. So, I would suggest that they are learning the theory through the creating process. Additionally, notation is not required (yet) but as we start doing more of this they may need to figure out a way to notate this in a way that makes sense to everyone.
I’m pretty proud of the students. I told them that we are just going to figure this out together, that it WILL be a struggle, but that is part of the learning and creative process, but at the end of it all, they are going to have five charts that they wrote together. How freakin’ cool is that?? Next month, Dave Stamps from Gustavus Adolphus and Adam Meckler will be workshopping some more with these students. Dave and Adam are both amazing educators and writers that I know will offer additional nuggets of wisdom for these students.
So, I offer this as another way to create with students and have them experience another form of music making. Let go, take some risks, and be a learner with your students. I will document this process as we go!