Winnipeg's Jazz Magazine


Help Aplenty for Aspiring Jazz Musicians

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We often lament that we are not living in the time of Bird and Diz, with lots of live music and jam sessions galore. On the other hand, in some ways we are living in an amazing time because of the resources that are so accessible. Recordings have never been more available, and wisdom from the masters, although maybe not accessible first hand, can be found online in interviews, books and articles.

One of my favorite resources is a website called Learning Jazz Standards. Brent Vaartstra, a professional jazz guitarist and educator living in New York City, owns and operates the site, and is the head blogger and podcast host. has six portals to help you find what you need:

  1. Learn Jazz Standards
  2. Get Jazz Tips and Advice
  3. Learn Jazz Theory
  4. Get Help with Practicing
  5. Learn About Jazz History
  6. Play Better Solos

The “Learn Jazz Standards” portion features nearly 300 jazz standards, complete with recordings, play-alongs, and chords. Each tune comes with a brief description, highlighting aspects of the standard that need special attention. Thankfully the site does not include lead sheets with the melody, so you need to learn the melody by ear.

“Jazz Tips and Advice” is provided in both podcast and blog form. Topics range from developing your voice to gig etiquette, navigating chord changes to deciding whether to pursue jazz in an academic setting.

The “Jazz Theory” topics are practical and well explained and the “Jazz History” section helps us stay connected to the roots of jazz. The “Get Help with Practicing” portal host topics such as “How to Stay Motivated to Practice” and “How to Plan an Effective Month of Practicing.” In the “Play Better Solos” section you can find “How to Learn a Jazz Solo by Ear” and “Easy II-V-I Licks” amongst others resources.

With links to great recordings and sprinkled throughout the site, is a superb resource and one that was not available to musicians of the past.

Of course, access to great resources is only one ingredient to becoming a jazz musician. At the end of the day, it is what we do with the resources that will make the difference and that hasn’t changed. Diligent practice is key. Focused listening is indispensable. Being open to your teacher’s coaching and advice is so important.

No, the legends are not playing down the street but we do have access to resources that they never did. It is up to us to take advantage of them.

Jazz educator Bill Kristjanson dips into his extensive experience for tune-up, our jazz education column.

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