On January 24, the Youth Jazz Collective had its first rehearsal, and we got off to an excellent start! I’m taking over from Professor Derrick Gardner this year, and I’m looking forward to working with this talented group of kids from high schools across the city. They are hungry to learn and excited about continuing to study jazz and grow as musicians in the coming years.
We’ll be playing some simple, loose arrangements of tunes that all the kids have some idea about improvising on—blues, standards and modal tunes. We’ll also be playing some more complex original compositions and arrangements by Professor Gardner and myself. Those tunes will challenge and help to strengthen the students’ reading and technique for sure. And it will also serve to expand their abilities as improvisers.
I’ll also be showing them some things about how to balance a set of music, how to improvise simple backgrounds behind soloists, how to create informal arrangements on the fly of tunes they know, and how to start and end songs. Maybe most importantly, I’ll have an opportunity to give each student some direction on what they need to work on going forward to be the best they can and to have the most fun playing.
One of my favorite things to do as an educator in this music is to play some recordings for students that they haven’t heard and that really inspired me. After our first rehearsal, I sent them a YouTube video of Sonny Stitt playing “Buzzy” with Howard McGhee and JJ Johnson—nothing gets any better than that! I’m eager to see how much of that Sonny Stitt language these kids can learn in the weeks ahead.
We’ll be meeting every Saturday through the spring, and working hard on repertoire, ensemble playing, improvising, and musicianship. We’ll also be soaking up the time making music together—often those bonds are so strong they last far into adulthood. Stay tuned for news about our performances this spring, because we’ll have some great music to share!
For a jazz educator, teaching kids who love the music and are hungry for it? Nothing gets any better than that either!