Jazz in an of itself is all American. It takes its roots from New Orleans and utilizes blues and swing to allow the performer one of the freest forms of musical expression. That is of course once they’ve mastered the foundations and techniques; even Louis Armstrong was a beginner once. Going around and watching these students perform made me realize that the students in the Jazz Division might have some of the most musical freedom of any of the divisions.
Beginning in Dr. Scott Belck’s band, I was able to witness a talented group of kids sight-read new music at an incredibly high level. Even with very little practice, these students were able to work together to create wonderful music. Practice, Dr. Belck explained, is like trying to find an easy way out of the music. When you reach a hard part in your music, you might start to wonder if there’s an easier way to do things, or wonder just how lazy you can get. Laziness can become good once you get into the practice room. It’s good to be loose and free when playing jazz, but it’s just as important to convey the right rhythm and style for to the audience to enjoy. This loose style was evident in Dr. Belcks teaching style, as he was able to grab his own instrument and actually get up and next to the students, playing along with them to work through their music together.
One aspect of jazz that I was able to observe in Freddie Mendoza’s rehearsal was improvisation. Each student has their own sheet music they play from, but at certain parts, students are given the opportunity to have a solo for their own mini improv session. This is a great way for the students to not only experience jazz, but also give them more of a spotlight to take on a leading role and to eventually better their musical skills, and specifically their jazz techniques. Improv in jazz requires that the performer has a good grasp on the scale that the piece is written in, and It requires coming up with which notes and which rhythm you play right there on the spot. It’s so easy to accidentally play a note out of the scale, or even just freeze up when all eyes and ears are on you; however, the satisfaction of being able to perform in front of a real crowd and receive a real reaction is a priceless experience. An experience the Summer Symposium is more than able to provide for all these talented groups of young musicians.