Reaching out…

DYJO’s core function is the education of our players, but also a very important part of our purpose is to get good jazz out there to the general public. In these days when there are so many entertainments on offer, it can be quite a challenge to reach a wide audience, so DYJO is always looking for partners to promote concerts throughout Devon. As well as festivals such as the Dart Music Festival and the Teignmouth Jazz Festival, we also get requests to do charity concerts with partners such last night’s with the Honiton Lions at the Beehive in Honiton.

The advantages of such concerts are many – not only do we get the chance to raise funds for worthy causes (last night’s concert was specifically in aid of Honiton’s TRIP), but we get to play for an audience many of whom might not have come to one of our concerts otherwise. This concert was no exception: of a sell-out audience, about 75% had never heard us before, and they were clearly very impressed with the quality of the musicianship and the professionalism of our young players. It might sound a little immodest to say that within DYJO we know how good the bands are – and we celebrate that, of course – but it is so important that many more people know the level of accomplishment of our young musicians, and that they can celebrate that talent in Devon too.

And, of course, while they are doing that, they are getting to hear a wide range of jazz – last night’s gig ranged from Benny Goodman to Gordon Goodwin, and from Count Basie to Radiohead, and with a range of solo jazz voices from throughout both bands. So, as you see, our educational role goes much further than just our players!

dyjo2.2honiton2016

dyjo2honiton2016

dyjo1honiton2016

Aural learning

One of the reasons I so love big band music is its apparently contradictory mix of skills: on the one hand you have the relative freedom of jazz (I’ll not start a long philosophical debate at this point about just how much freedom!); on the other hand you have the discipline and challenge of reading the complex rhythms that jazz arrangers use to create the exciting sounds your hear in big band music. The question is, how do you integrate those divergent strands in an educational strategy?

If you’ve been to many live music events, you might have noticed that there are two rather distinct traditions. On the one hand we have groups such as rock, pop and folk bands, who almost uniformly play without written music – the music tends to be relatively simple and catchy, and the communication direct. On the other hand, there are ensembles such as orchestras, choirs and big bands who usually play from written music, and whose music tends to be more complex, with the musicians’ concentration on the written music.

A feature of general music education is that it tends to be either aural/oral (pop/rock etc.) or literate (classical, big band etc.). But big band is only really going to take flight if the players have the oral/aural jazz vibe and the ability to fluently see that vibe in notated arrangements: if they can’t feel the music on the page, neither will the audience.

So in DYJO we are on a bit of a mission firstly to get that jazz vibe centre stage, and then to link that to music the players will recognise in printed arrangements. Every Gathering Day in DYJO2 we will start with an oral/aural warm up: this not only gets ears working, but also forces us all to work out strategies how to internalise stuff, such as tunes, chord changes and form. (I challenge myself to get those in my head first, so I know the challenge the players are facing!)

We have also devised and chosen improvisation resources which are memorable and memorisable without recourse to written music: Roz uses these both in the DYJO2 group improvisation sessions, and with the Ambassadors in their workshop sessions in schools.

Through these activities we help to instill that jazz sensibility. But the crucial next step is to ensure that that sensibility is just as much there once the players’ eyes focus on printed music: the groove, the swing, the communication – if they are lost, the game is lost, and we’ve been wasting our time.

If you watch the best bands, whether they play from printed music or not is immaterial, be it Count Basie or Snarky Puppy. If we can help our players along that road, we’ll have done a good job.

Oh, if you’re wondering about the first photo, it was from last week’s warm-up: one of the tunes we’ve been doing this year is the Basie classic Jumping At The Woodside, and we were working on memorising its form, scales and chords, so that, even if we’re using printed music for it, it only reminds us of something we already know from the inside.

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