TAKE YOURSELF TO SUMMER CAMP!
by Todd Stoll
Ahhhh…warmer weather, sunshine, languid days, kids heading off — all signs that summer is just about here! While perusing a popular jazz magazine, I noticed there were almost 25 pages of summer camps for students. That’s an amazing resource for musicians with a desire to improve their playing. But, what about the educators? While there are numerous adult camps and professional development opportunities nationwide, I’m thinking of more “self-imposed” camping ideas that will help a jazz educator go into the new school year rejuvenated, rededicated, and rewarded.
Here are a few ideas for the summer months.
- Get deep into the literature. Chose a composer, pull a discography online, and start checking out the music. When you can, pull scores or lead sheets for the works and read along with the recordings. For big band directors, chose a composer you may not know much about (or whose music may seem daunting), then reach out to other directors, a university, a local sheet music store, JEN, and see if scores are available. Listening to a piece with the score in front of you is invaluable. Take notes, write down what you hear, compare versions, watch YouTube videos, note how live versions are different from studio recordings. Take a single work and spend a week or two on it — get to know that piece inside and out. I once carried around the score to Ellington’s masterpiece, “The Tattooed Bride,” for nearly a year and tried to memorize the entire thing. I failed miserably, but I can still sing most of it!
- Focus on a single skill. Take a jazz technique, maybe minor ii-V’s, and focus on JUST that for the entire summer. You could choose piano skills, transcribing a specific solo, or playing the blues in all 12 keys, or whatever you’ve wanted to learn, then set a goal for weeks down the road. Organize your time so you do something every day. That could involve a lot of practice time, or a little, spending time playing piano, and listening.
- Listen. This is the holy grail of jazz. And, if YOU listen, you will realize how valuable it is for your students to listen. Create playlists organized by style, instrument, or genre. And listen. Don’t worry about constantly finding “new” tracks. Go deep. Spend time with the recordings and keep a journal of what you hear. Repeated listenings will imprint on your affective domain and writing about it will imprint on your cognitive domain. Try to sing along with all the parts, from the bottom up — bass-drums, piano, everything. Another great technique is to listen to recordings of all the side men on a single record. Think about it — Kind of Blue can lead you from Miles Davis to the recordings of Coltrane, Cannonball, Bill Evans, Wynton Kelly, Bill Evans, and so on…
- Analyze a work. Pick a single piece, one for which you have a score, and analyze it. Just like you did back in college for that conducting class, but now for jazz. It really can be anything. Use whatever techniques you have to break it apart — themes, counter themes, key changes, styles. Then break down the jazz elements — solos, rhythmic changes, blues inflections, etc.
- Read a book. (A jazz book!) Pick some biographies of your favorite (or not so favorite) artists. If biographies aren’t your thing, grab a book like Mark Tucker’s Duke Ellington Reader that has a compilation of various authors’ takes on Duke. Some of my favorite books are Bill Crow’s Meet me at Jim and Andy’s, Waiting for Dizzy, or Jazz Masters of the 30’s by Rex Stewart, which are delightful recollections of another era. Others I love are Blues People by Amiri Baraka, Stompin the Blues by Albert Murray, The Jazz Tradition by Martin Williams, and Living with Music: Ralph Ellison’s Jazz Writings. No excuses — there are plenty of choices!
- Get deep with a single artist. Choose your favorite jazz artist, say Sonny Rollins, and immerse yourself in their music for a summer. Listen, transcribe, listen, transcribe, rinse, and repeat.
- Take private lessons. (and practice) This is a GREAT way to inspire yourself and reminds you what it’s like to be a student. Almost all public-school educators need hours to renew licenses and certificates, so see if lessons at an accredited institution will count towards this.
- Go to a weekly jam session. For you educators who are less experienced, or perhaps haven’t spent time at jam session, learn some tunes and go. Most sessions are friendly and will welcome a beginner with open arms. You’ll learn a lot about the traditions and rituals of our music.
- Or…do a combination of these! You can combine a few and do a complete deep dive into the music. Choose a book, then combine that with listening, analysis, and lessons. Spend your summer getting inside an artist and their music. It will change your perspective and give you transferable knowledge and skills that will deepen your teaching.
The summer is a great moment, where, if organized and planned correctly, you can raise your level of knowledge to a degree that it not only inspires you, but will inspire your students. If you need a nudge, feel free to reach out at any time. And on behalf of the Jazz Education Network Board of Directors, keep swingin’ and we’ll see you in NOLA for JEN2020. Have a great summer!
Todd Stoll has spent nearly thirty years as an educator, performer and leading advocate for jazz. He currently serves as Vice President of Education for Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York City where he oversees programs that reach more than 200,000 people each year. His leadership at JALC has revived the institutions commitment to the underserved while embracing 21st century technology as a means for greater access to the music. Since his tenure began in 2011, the education department at JALC produced nearly 20,000 individual events both in its home at Fredrick P. Rose Hall, throughout the US, and abroad.