Can't talk. Busy.

It's been a busy semester, which may not actually make me special (no matter how much I think it does), but I'd like to take some time out to chart this fall's ups, downs and everything in between.  

Teaching

I'm still rehearsing the MSM Jazz Ensemble, but I've also added to my load with a music appreciation class this semester. Instructing a class is a lot of work, even my little class! While I never thought I'd be on the other side of the grade book, I have found it to be an enjoyable experience. Teaching students how to comprehend music has been an exhausting challenge, one that I hope I've been successful at. The learning curve has been difficult, though. Preparing lectures, organizing materials for presentation, handouts & guidelines for assignments, grading those assignments takes a lot more time than expected.

My big goal has been  to offer solid, practical advice on understanding jazz music as an art form. The ability to communicate one's thoughts are critical, and I only hope that I've sharpened some students' skills when it comes to expressing their opinions more clearly. It's a lofty goal, I know. But one that I'm interested in seeing accomplished, if only marginally. Between the classroom and the rehearsal room, I'm constantly telling people that they need to be clear in their message. My days are filled with a longing forclarity. This is most certainly a metaphor for my life, I just haven't pinpointed exactly what yet. Too busy.

There have been some great moments, however. My favorite comment from my class this semester has been from this listening journal entry (in reference to this video of the Stan Kenton Orchestra):

It's the first time I've seen a big band drop all of their instruments and sing together with June Christy. The sound is good but honestly the lyrics ruin the song I think. It's almost like they are complaining about all the cheap products in Mexico. Nobody likes a complainer. June Christy's voice is good though. Malaguena >Tampico

And my favorite quote from another jazz history class: "Jazz is more profound when it doesn't help pay the bills."

JAZZ: The Smithsonian Anthology

Speaking of jazz, history and jazz history...did you know that the Smithsonian Folkways label is releasing an updated collection of jazz recordings? It's about time, since their last update was nearly 30 years ago. With it, there is a revised track listing and several [drumroll] NEW recordings! There's a better representation of the last 60 years, especially, with a more diverse selection of cool, hard bop and avant-garde artists. It seems that they could have done a better job with newer material from the past 15 years, but I appreciate the inclusion of newer artists all the same. Maybe a completely new set featuring jazz music from 1970 and onward? Just a thought.

As part of their marketing campaign for the new set, Smithsonian Folkways has posted a jazz history listening test for all 111 tracks. If you're on limited time (like me) you can also take the shortened 25-track test. I'm pleased to say that I named all 25 fairly easy: usually identifying the artist better than the song title.

Infographic Madness!

The Beatles are the J.S. Bach of popular music. Their output is both prolific and incredibly influential. More than any other pop group EVER. Time well tell, but I'm fairly certain that I'm correct in this assumption. Which is why there are so many analytical and historical reports on the guys. As a musician, though, I get totally excited whenever I see study of their musical compositions, like this infographic:

Click to enlarge

Michael Deal did a great job of compiling several strains of information (from song keys to lyrics to collaborations) on the Beatles, resulting in this fantastic page of graphic goodness. For a complete musical analysis of their output, I suggest reading The Beatles As Musicians: Revolver through the Anthology by Walter Everett.

winter Project

I'm loving the recording of "Love for Sale" by the Miles Davis Sextet on The '58 Sessions album. Especially noteworthy is Cannonball Adderley's solo. I need to transcribe this and use it in an arrangement for big band. I've never spent a lot of time listening to The '58 Sessions, but if my Listening to Jazz class has done anything for me on a personal level, it's been a joyful revisiting and rediscovering of jazz classics.

Teaching a class: some thoughts

So my big news this month is that I'll be teaching a new course that I developed with a colleague at the Moores School of Music. You can read all about it at the new UHjazz.com site. In the process of gathering and organizing information to teach people how to listen to (and appreciate) jazz music, I've discovered a couple things and formed opinions that I did not previously hold. In other words, I really need to unload my brain.

Assembling a YouTube playlist

As part of the course, I've decided to implement a journal for students to record their listening habits and tastes as a means of developing their "active listening" skills. To help with this, I've started to build a YouTube playlist for each student to remotely access and write about. (Remember less than 10 years ago when copying CDs for playlists could be such a hassle?) In a recent post by another Houston jazz artist/advocate, I noticed the phrase, "Isn’t it funny...how YouTube has become the world’s largest free music jukebox?" This is so true, and yet, I'm a little apprehensive about the notion of assembling a large playlist of videos to obligate students to write about.

First:

Should I program their listening selections? They will already be responsible for knowing a handful of truly great landmark recordings for exams. Is it smart that I should try to continue to cram this stuff down their throats? Would that give me or the student a more honest depiction of their habits and observations? At first, I thought that maybe I should instead open up the listening journal to all musical styles, but this seems counter-productive. After all, I'll need to be reading these entries and I don't really need to read 20+ entries on hip-hop or country music or whatever else. Instead, I'll just try to include as much significant jazz music (and jazz-based music) that can be had on YouTube, whatever I feel will be relevant to the course. I just hope it doesn't discourage anyone from exploring a new realm of music, something I consider to be the most exciting aspect of listening.

Second:

YouTube has those darn user comments. Do we really need to be subjected to some anonymous person's pretentious and/or racist remarks on ANYTHING? I just read a great CNN article on this. My vote? Eliminate these completely from YouTube.

Future of Jazz?

Here's another good read on the future of jazz, or better yet: jazz today. I'm really looking closely at the history of jazz music in the United States, its cultural impact and its significance. I'll have to be teaching this to people who I assume will have had little to no encounters with the music in their past, and if they did, it was probably unpleasant. Because of this, I've been reassessing all those big artistic questions that need to be answered in order to explain and defend anything deemed "relevant" or "important". I have no problem doing this and I think it's something that a lot of artists should do more often, especially in the 21st century. (For instance: "cool" ≠ "art")

I have yet to watch Icons Among Us, but I speculate that it's a worthwhile documentary that appeals to both the jazz enthusiast as well as the newbie without being shackled by the pre-conceived notions of historical conventions of the art form. And really, that's my goal for this course. I want new people to appreciate a music that has played a crucial role in the development of our country, in addition to understanding why it's still significant and NOT dead. While you must acknowledge the history and the classics, you cannot also lose sight of the present and future.

I just hope this works. (crossing fingers)