Tuesday, July 5, 2011


As far as teaching goes, summer time is always more laid back than the rest of the year. I always use the time to learn something new, something to challenge myself musically.  Over the past few summers, I have committed the hot days to learning Bluegrass Banjo, Irish style Mandolin, Eastern Sound Healing and Chanting, and even Belly Dancing. This summer I have chosen to work on something that scares me, something I have avoided for 4 summers now: Jazz Piano. I have to take a deep breath in after writing that, because now that I have told you, I have to commit to it.

I grew up around a lot of Jazz musicians. I remember the Jazz kids in school were such nerds, and I mean that in the most endearing way possible. They were so smart at music, and they loved showing it off to everyone. Every time I tried to have a conversation with one, I would get lost within the first minute. They spoke so fast, and it seemed like they were striving toward degrees in Math instead of Music. The Jazz kids always seemed to be 10 steps ahead of me as far as Music Theory knowledge goes. I couldn't keep up. But I have always loved improvising, and I admit, there was a big part of me that felt jealous of these musical brainiacs. When each summer starts and I begin pondering what my new challenge will be, Jazz Piano is always the first thing that comes up. This idea is always followed by a frantic mental search of all the other musical concepts I long to learn. Even Fiddling sounds less intimidating to me. (It's not.)

So today, I pulled out the old Jazz Standard Fake Book, downloaded a few podcasts, and got to work. I have to give myself credit. I did all right. I'm certainly not ready to be humiliated in front of a group of real Jazz musicians, but I thought I did a good job swinging the melody in my right hand, and keeping the left hand steady with the rhythm. After an hour of playing "Cheek to Cheek," I had a smile on my face and more energy than I usually have. My desire to learn Jazz was confirmed.

There is something magical about Jazz. I listen to Jazz more than any other style of music because I find it impossible to be sad when Jazz in on.  I have been slowly reading a book by the famous trumpet virtuoso and talented music educator, Wynton Marsalis, titled, "Moving to Higher Ground: How Jazz Can Change Your Life." Marsalis makes a great argument about how playing Jazz in groups can be so beneficial for teaching communication, conflict resolution, quick thinking, discipline, and focus. Sometimes when I read his thoughts, I think I am reading my own on this blog! The way I feel about music in general, Marsalis feels specifically about Jazz. And he is right. Jazz is an art form that is totally focused on Improvisation, and Improvisation is usually how I make my argument that music is important for teaching communication, conflict resolution, focus, etcetera, etcetera. The biggest difference between the improvisation I do and what Jazz musicians do has everything to do with harmony. Harmony is all about the way you piece notes together, also called voicing. Jazz Voicings are different from other styles of music. The music theory behind Jazz is like a whole other language. To me, if music is considered to be a language, Jazz is like a specific dialect of that greater language. It has it's own traditions, history, grammer, forms, rhythms, and man do they talk fast!!! You have to be really prepared in order to keep up.

So for some reason, this is the summer I have chosen to really push myself. Previous summers have given me the tools to play Banjo and Mandolin in a country band, which is super fun. I wonder if I will do well enough to play with real Jazz musicians? As long as I stay committed to practice, I will. That is all there is to it. When it comes to challenges, it's all about following through to the end. Staying committed to overcoming challenges.

All right... enough messing around on this blog... I should get practicing.  


  1. thanks for link to great book! there is also great bio book of the Bird - The Legend of Charlie Parker. these books make us happier cause show us a talented persons which have/had big open burning hearts.. with melody.

  2. You are very welcome. I will check out the book on Bird :)