[Dixielandjazz] IAJE - TJEN - Some thoughts.

Larry Walton Entertainment - St. Louis larrys.bands at charter.net
Sat Jan 20 12:17:17 PST 2007

Mike said- It would also help if the teacher knew about jazz
improvisation. My former teachers did not.

This is a universal problem with H.S. music teachers.  When I got into 
college I already had played professionally for several years.  That is I 
was making money and for a high school kid it was a lot.  I found when I got 
to college that what I had been doing and continued to do was not acceptable 
in their eyes and was seen as damaging to my future as a classical musician 
and teacher.

Teachers weren't supposed to hang around in bars and clubs with other low 
life.  Even my father in law sat me down and lectured me about how, as a 
teacher, I had to watch how I acted and who I associated with.  You would 
have thought I was studying for the priesthood or at least to be a 

I think this attitude has changed a lot in the past 40 years or so but I 
still think that there is an attitude against jazz in the average college. 
Now they have harnessed the beast.  There is a class or two in jazz that 
might even cover improvisation.  But there is little to no practical 
experience except maybe playing in a stage band.  In this way they can pat 
themselves on the back and print in the brochures that they have a great 
jazz program.  This is not to say that all the programs are bad but we are 
talking primarily about teacher training and I think there is still an 
undercurrent there.

A very good friend of mine appeared on HEC channel in a show on jazz 
primarily discussing the book City of Gabriels about the history of St. 
Louis Jazz.  She is very knowledgeable and has arranged a couple of pretty 
good big band jazz tunes.  She plays with me in the Gary Dammer Big Band and 
is a very competent alto sax player.  Her father was a jazzer and she grew 
up with jazz.  She teaches in a high end private school and runs a great 
music department.

You would think that all this combination would be jazz dynamite.  Not so, 
she is terrified to stand up and play a jazz solo.  What's wrong with this 

The problem is that High School music teachers don't have time to do all the 
things that you need to do to become a competent jazz player.  If they are a 
competent musician they don't have the time to play and advance themselves 
with after school football, basketball and other activities.

Typically high school band directors are not educated in jazz but in a 
pseudo jazz that says that if you know the structure and you know the scales 
and you know something about progressions you are a jazzer.  In other words 
go buy a book, take a class and you can do it.  That is an auto mechanics 
approach to music.  While there isn't anything wrong with knowing how your 
car works and it's helpful to know how to fix a car but it won't teach you 
how to drive.  You can graduate from college with a degree in music 
education having never had even a single class in jazz or jazz studies or 
played jazz.

The average high school band director can't play a horn to the level of 
being a professional musician.  That's not to say that coming right out of 
college that they can't play but wait 10 or 20 years and see if that isn't 
true.  I work with two great guys who are very good teachers but they can't 
play jazz.  However one does play semi pro percussion and Tympani but the 
other never plays.  I also associate with two other recent graduates who 
play exceptionally well and are of Symphony quality.  They just aren't 
jazzers.  I think the colleges here are doing a good job turning out 
traditional classic musicians of a high quality.

There are exceptions of course,  I believe that Steve Lilly of the St. Louis 
Stompers is a retired history teacher.  Too bad he didn't teach music but on 
the other hand maybe that's a good thing.

I of course deplore the status of jazz at the High School level but it's not 
really the teacher's fault.  It's almost impossible to be more than a hobby 
musician and be a good Band Director too.

Personally I always thought that I had to be a competent player.  Who would 
take typing from a person who couldn't type or driving from a non driver?
St. Louis

----- Original Message ----- 
From: "Mike" <mike at railroadstjazzwest.com>
To: <dixielandjazz at ml.islandnet.com>
Sent: Saturday, January 20, 2007 12:27 AM
Subject: Re: [Dixielandjazz] IAJE - TJEN - Some thoughts.

> Yup.
> You hit the nail on the head Harry. When I was in High School
> back in the 80s we read charts twice a week for about an hour at
> a time. No improv was ever taught. Explanation of the chord
> changes was to "play the scales".
> No one ever taught us about listening to recordings and finding
> out what the pros did. I started buying my own recordings in
> high school. I bought about one CD a month(minimum) and have
> continued that practice to this day.
> As far as arrangements goes, I'd personally like to see much
> more ear training utilized. Especially at the lower grade
> levels. It would also help if the teacher knew about jazz
> improvization. My former teachers did not.
> Mike
> hsalotti at aol.com wrote:
>>  I agree with Steve's comments.
>>  I would like to comment on some relevant observations. Most public 
>> schools music teachers have a limited background in jazz. If they have 
>> any experience it is probably from playing in a big band at some point in 
>> their music career. In most high school big bands you might find only one 
>> or two members of each section that have the ability to improve and play 
>> by ear. (there are many players who can play over chord changes but can't 
>> play melodies by ear.) Most players first learned to read and play 
>> concert band music in public school and then were taught by their high 
>> school band director how to read the swing rhythms. The shame is that 
>> many of these students were taught by rote and not exposed to recording 
>> of bands like Basie, Ellington and Goodman. This resulted in hundreds of 
>> high school bands where you had over sixteen students in each band and 
>> maybe only four students in the group could improvise over a simple blues 
>> or rhythm changes. Very few of the improvisers were eve
> r taught how to play an actual melody. Many band directors started playing 
> rock based charts so the students wouldn't have to learn to swing.(many of 
> the open solo sections are based on one to two modal scales, not any real 
> chord progression.) You can find big band arrangements now that are 
> written quite skillfully for junior high bands where the range and ability 
> level of the individual parts are appropriate to the grade level. These 
> charts require no improvising or a solo is written out.
>>  The problem as it relates to OKOM is that:
>>  1.Most directors teach jazz from a reading music approach. Trad is based 
>> on improvisation and playing by ear.
>>  2. Directors are expected to include large groups of students in their 
>> ensembles. Trad bands contain six or seven players at most.
>>  3.Directors have a limited amount of rehearsal time for their jazz 
>> program, mostly one day after school or one night a week. It is easier 
>> and quicker to teach a group of fifteen students to read an easy 
>> arrangement of Watermelon Man than it is to teach six students The 
>> Original Dixieland One Step by ear. God forbid your trumpet player is 
>> sick on the night of the concert.
>>  4. The priorities of most school boards and parents are marching band, 
>> concert band and large amounts of students in the program.
>>     If your want directors to start introducing trad jazz into their 
>> programs they need:
>>  1.Arrangements that include more than just one trumpet, clarinet and 
>> trombone. An arrangement could be based on the street bands of New 
>> Orleans such as the Dirty Dozen Brass Band. The best setting for these 
>> arrangements is for a smaller section of the marching band to play them 
>> in the stands at the football games. Riff based arrangements that contain 
>> two or three trumpets parts,clarinet,alto,tenor,and bari sax (bari could 
>> be used as a bass instrument ie. Adrian Rollini) trombone, tuba and 
>> snare, cymbals and bass drum. Since the music would be used as part of 
>> the marching band program, directors could justify using more rehearsal 
>> time to teach this style of music. Songs with simple three chord 
>> progressions could be used at first (yes, I mean The Saints Go Marching 
>> In) to teach basic improvisation by altering the melody(all instruments 
>> should learn to play the melody). A simple riff by alternating horn 
>> sections could supply the background for the soloist. This ensemble coul
> d be brought inside after football session and developed into a great 
> group. Possibly even broken into smaller groups based on ability level.
>>  If you really want to do something to help this music survive, sit down 
>> and write a simple arrangement and GIVE it to the high school band 
>> director in your home town.
>>  If you give the directors the tools to teach this music we have a chance 
>> of preserving this style of jazz into the future and not only for our own 
>> lifetime. Harry Salotti
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