Jazz education in the UK owes an enormous amount to Graham Collier (alongside Eddie Harvey and Lionel Grigson) without whom our current positions and extent of provision would been considerably harder to achieve.
As well as being an instigator of projects for young jazz musicians, Graham was an articulate and politically astute advocate for the music within the academic world, at a time when degree courses did not exist within the conservatoire sector. To initiate and establish a course at the Royal Academy was no mean feat in those days and assisted us in all institutions.
Unfortunately I didn’t know Graham well but he was always generous and supportive to me, never assuming a protective position regarding his host institution or his own position as Head of Jazz at the Royal Academy. Instead he actively encouraged vigorous debate and even criticism of his own work.
Jazz Education in the UK has lost a pioneer, advocate and supporter.
Do read this, a touching letter from Sonny Rollins to Coleman Hawkins in 1962 (from the website www.jazzclef.com). The greatest players possess not only self-discipline and powers of concentration, but generally, great humility.
Yes, its about to start, another “silly season”, the Jazz Summer School season. Actually, many of us feel that this is a special and immensely valuable time for aspiring musicians to immerse themselves and experience the music in a concentrated fashion. It is my understanding that great British composers of the mid-twentieth century such as Vaughan-Williams and Finzi considered the summer school to be the most important learning experience of all.
Nowadays, jazz schools are businesses, but they also offer a transformative (and frequently healing) experience. The Barry Summer School changed my own life, making me determined to pursue a career having on the first night heard Tony Oxley, Alan Skidmore, Gordon Beck and Ron Matthewson. I was later privileged to co-diorect the course.
There are many such events, just click here for details (Jazz Services Education Database)
Or check out these summer-schools with which I have a close association (in alphabetical order):
Mediterranean Jazz Summer School (small course in the south of France with top UK jazz musicians Liane Carroll, Julian Siegel, Martin Hathaway, Geoff Gascoyne, Simon Purcell et al) – click here
JAZZ’S COOL 2011 (a big event in Rome with International figures such as Dave Liebman, John Pattatucci, Daniello Perez, Sheila Jordan and a host of top European musicians and educators including me!) – click here
Trinity Jazz Summer School (the wonderful setting in Greenwich hosts the descendent of the historic Barry Summer School, featuring many of the top UK artists Bobby Wellins, Dave Hassell, Liam Noble, Pete Churchill, Dave Wickins, Nikki Iles et al) – click here
Shock horror – jazz genius recorded “Nardis” 41 times (as far as we know)…
I wonder why? Perhaps he wanted to go deeper.
I have heard many famous jazz musicians advocating the necessity to learn a lot of repertoire. Nameless esteemed artist number one recently encouraged students to know at least 100 tunes, while esteemed artist number two advocated just 20 – and that some musicians are just “tune nerds” (not very helpful).
Number two misses the deeper and more useful point which is about and memory and the challenge to be thorough enough in our practice so that song-forms present as few problems as necessary, while we deal with the principal issues of improvising and expression. Many aspiring jazz musicians struggle with the repetition required in order to internalise, often losing focus and moving their attention to another new tune, the next good idea or something they have heard at a gig or on Spotify. it is worth noting that Bill Evans recorded “Nardis” at least 40 times, and quite possibly played it on most gigs. I encourage you to welcome the sensation of boredom with a form, and see it instead as indication of the right time to go deeper.
Click here for a practice strategy for learning tunes – thoroughly and usefully.
A poet of the music, Paul Desmond was both self-deprecating and deeply insightful. This medley of quotes might tickle and provoke us…
“I tried practicing for a few weeks and ended up playing too fast… I have won several prizes as the world’s slowest alto player, as well as a special award in 1961 for quietness”.
Regarding his tone:“I honestly don’t know! It has something to do with the fact that I play illegally.”
On why he changed his name: “Breitenfeld sounded too Irish.”
More seriously, Paul Desmond challenges students and teachers of the music: “Complexity can be a trap. You can have a ball developing a phrase, inverting it, playing it in different keys and times and all. But it’s really more introspective than communicative. Like a crossword puzzle compared to a poem.”
And most telling… “Writing is like jazz. It can be learned, but it can’t be taught.”
Sadly his perception about the jazz audience appears to remain pretty much spot on…”Our basic audience begins with creaking elderly types of twenty-three and above.”
For more Paul Desmond, click here:
For a transcription of Paul Desmond’s solo on “Samba with some Bar-B-Q” click here…