Do visit this website, dedicated to the late Robert (Bob) Cornford… click here. Besides being a tribute to one of Britain’s unsung artists, the site is an invaluable resource of British jazz from the late 1970s and early 1980s, music that was so influential for my own generation of musicians.
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.”
Musicians and students are prone to a bit ranting as to how improvisation occurs and whether or not the analogy with language acquisition is appropriate. In supervising students’ (and their own) personal practice, teachers of improvisation can encounter blocks to progression and development, spending a lot of time untangling a student’s perception of their learning experience.
While Improvising is fun, once studied or practiced, it is my experience that inexperienced students and some seasoned musicians can mistake the sensations associated with play or the “flow state” with the slower and “creaky” mind that learns the initial stages of concrete skills. You might say confusing the self-expressive state is confused with the learning state.
“Watching a musician in the throes of an improvisational solo can be like witnessing an act of divine intervention, but embedded memories and conspiring brain regions, scientists now believe, are the source of ad-hoc creativity” So suggests Amanda Rose Martinez… see her article in SEED MAGAZINE – click here.
I suggest that our experiences as students of improvisation will be easier if we undertstand the learning process, so thank you Ms Rose… but now the community of jazz educators will be well advised to consider precisely how the research can be applied to enhance schemes of work, learning strategies and practice in general – and to be fair, the findings of this research have been alluded to for at least 30 years through applied (as distinct to cognitive) psychology. This is where the work of figures such as Guy Claxton et al, George Odam and the tried and tested Inner Game authors is useful.
The Curriculum – all that is taught and learnt… Core and hidden…
Planned and received…
Formal and informal…
Can we have an informed debate please?
We find ourselves in an historic time when education is about to the redefined by the course of political determination, we would be well advised to be mindful of the purpose of education and how teaching and learning occurs. While the nature and content of learning experiences have already changed due to the technological revolution, for whatever reason and whatever political persuasion suits you or I, the presence and provision for a range of subjects and learning processes are possibly about to change through a course of action that will be described as progressive, radical, essential, urgent… or reactive, dangerous and without educational rationale – depending upon your perspective.
Would it not be prudent to be informed? Even if a radical reassessment is necessary, all parties would be better served through deep consideration and evidence-based understanding of the core issues. Vic Kelly understood the curriculum and engages us in a thorough consideration of the psychological, philosophical, political and operational drivers that form the learning culture of schools and colleges. Derived form a latin word referring to a race track, perhaps we should prefer curriculum is less of a race to acquire information, and more a consideration of “all that is taught and learnt”, built upon values as much as operational mechanics and transient values.
A.V.Kelly’s “The Curriculum: Theory and Practice” – click here.
Wise person sayeth…
"Sometimes you have to play a long time to be able to play like yourself."... Miles Davis