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Posts tagged ‘jazz’

Where Music and Culture Intersect: Reflections on Rock

I had the pleasure of talking to Geoffrey Gevalt about music, life, and the unfolding of rock music and its surrounding sources as he grew up. This was so fun because the combination of Geoffrey’s archived experiences and the fact that he is a masterful storyteller meant that he could articulate and paint a picture for those of us who weren’t there in person. This semester I have been gathering interviews with people who work in the music industry or have specifically poignant experiences in order to supplement published books. How can you do justice to a subject so rich as rock music by reading a book? Don’t get me wrong, that’s part of it, and so are the videos, but even all the live footage on a great big screen doesn’t match the hype of a real concert. (not to mention all the added factors of getting there, finding the loo, managing to get better seats somehow and then experiencing the event with however many other people)

For me, experience is a great teacher, and those with experience can be great teachers too. This is the fourth interview. You can find them all listed HERE.

In this 41 min video, Geoffrey and I discuss some important issues relating to music performance. He drops a million names (please do look them all up!), and there are some real seeds for future discussion about the nature of performance and what artists are aiming for – I don’t have answers, but I give these questions to you as listeners, as music lovers, and as performers. Please do start the discussion by leaving a comment, and enjoy!

Featured image CC BY-SA by badgreeb RECORDS

Talking Jazz and Rock with Reuben Jackson

I had the (undeserved) privilege of being introduced to a poet and music lover who exceeds any ordinary music listener’s, and even most performer’s knowledge of groups, their influences, and their impact on music and life. Reuben Jackson is a curator, an archivist, and has long written and spoken about jazz. He was curator for the Smithsonian Jazz collection for 18 years, and so an invitation to speak to him was something not to pass up.

This year I’ve been teaching a new class (new to me) and naturally I’ve re-vamped it considerably from what I inherited. What does that mean? Homework for me. Research. Buckets of it. At least I can tell my students I’ve done at least 10 hours of homework a week. I hope they do too 😉

What you find below is the audio and the transcript of my talk with Reuben. Questions are in bold, so you can scroll through and pick the ones you are interested in. There are SO MANY names and references to people and works. I really do recommend you follow up on them and learn. Be a sponge. Challenge yourself – especially if you hadn’t considered crossing, and certainly not straddling the jazz / rock divide.

Enjoy! and huge thanks to Reuben for his generosity, both with his time and sharing his experiences and knowledge. For me it’s people and their living stories that make history come alive. (I also talked to Reuben about his upcoming book, and that segment will appear in another post)

Reuben Jackson Interview (with Laura Ritchie)

Tuesday 16, October, 2018


Good morning Felix Grant Jazz Archives.

-Hi, this is Laura Ritchie, I’m ringing for Reuben.

Yeah, hi, how are you?

-I’m very well. Thanks for making time to chat. And of course permission to share the call – I’m happy to transcribe it.

Oh absolutely. That’s fine.

-Thank you

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Give me a stage…

A stage is like an open invitation to a musician. Just seeing a big stage makes me want to get up and make music. It’s a feeling that courses through me like lava.

I was asked to speak at the Talis Insight conference, May 1-2, at the Birmingham REP, and they specifically asked if I could integrate performance into my talk. Yes yes yes! FAB! I am sure I can meaningfully integrate performance into a talk on how I use an e-learning tool (that allows teachers to integrate and link through to various sorts of resources). I knew it could be done- I use the tech and teach about performance, so that’s easy, but I didn’t want to talk and then play Bach on my cello, as that just didn’t feel right. So I brought a couple of students and we became a live case-study/demo.

Something I have learned over the years is everything is more fun when students are involved – and I have some fab students on the MA Performance course at Chichester. Fortunately for me they all use this tech tool too and they were happy to take on this project with me.

Here’s what we did after our talk and before the Q&A:

I always learn so much from and with my students. What did we learn? Oh, we learned our individual strengths and weaknesses, interpersonal dealings, how to navigate support and freedom musically within this trio, logistics… (!) We had to transport everything, make sure we were self-sufficient in terms of sound equipment, and navigate the tech side as well as perform – so that’s loading, set-up, sound check, on – off stage, tear down, & transportation. -and the skills of talking and then performing.

Was the performance just an add-on to the talk? No. My co-presenter/performers had just done this very thing for their assessment (each their own topic) as part of their MA. Performers today need to interface with the audience and this was definitely a worthwhile experience in so many ways.

I’d like to think I will always be learning (and improving!) – For me neither music nor life is the kind of thing where you get to a certain level and then ‘if the shoe fits’ you wear it because you’re done. Life is constant growth and I am very grateful for the opportunity to have such a wonderful environment – both people and place – to continue to challenge myself to learn and grow.

A big thank you to Dave and Luke for working with me and to Talis for inviting us. If you’re interested in hearing the full talk you can see it here. We had so much fun!


On repertoire: How do you know it?

This week’s #MUS654 topic is Repertoire, and the music we play whether we call it songs, pieces, repertoire – it is the stuff that serves as the vehicle for our musical communication with listeners, each other, and ourselves. In thinking about repertoire, we’re encouraged to look back and see our own development as musicians. How have you come to know the music you know? What was the first music you knew? Maybe it had nothing or little to do with your instrument. How did you get into the music of your instrument and did you use the same mechanisms to find music there as you might have for other listening or music you engaged with?

When you begin to think about it, it is fascinating, and as a teacher it will have relevance. You are beginning to focus on the learning and become aware of the processes that you have undertaken. Sometimes through happy chance we find ourselves on a great musical path, but often it is through the dedicated guidance, planning, and nurturing of others – parents, teachers, and fellow musicians.

I’ve already presented a few different topics there and I’d like to start with this one:

How do we come to know the music we know?

As a child, I grew up with records – LPs, 33s, 78s. Yes, we even had a Victrola (as well as the fancy hi-fi record player). These were a mix of classic songs from the 1930s – 1950s, a good dose of Jazz quartets and trios, a very few classical records (1812 overture), lots of folk music, and a couple of very cheesy Christmas albums – one man with a deep voice singing to an orchestral accompaniment, with a touch of sleigh bells in the background…  That was it. There was no piano in the house. There were no other instruments. Those records were magic.

That is a starting point. I remember walking around with a little radio and we would search the channels to find whatever there was – eager to hear new things. It still happens like that with much of pop music. People eagerly await the next single or album from an artist. When did that die with other styles of music? (responses please – that’s a real question, not just a rhetorical one) As a cellist my knowledge of music, certainly at the beginning, was very limited and nearly completely reliant on whatever the teacher gave me to learn. Having a background in the LPs in the sitting room and the pop songs on the radio didn’t help me to know about the cello, and in the beginning, my years of first position etudes didn’t come close to giving me a clue about the repertoire for the instrument. The first time I heard a cello concerto was when I was learning one. That is the wrong way around.

Now people aren’t reliant on the records in their house or the two channels that might have good reception on the radio. We have access to so many recordings it is really mindblowing. So the question – do we (and do our students) seek to expand what we know? Do you look for new music to play? That could be new old music – it doesn’t have to be modern. I think we do, but the impetus is different. Think about reading books. We are taught to search from a young age. Children are taken to libraries and talked through what there is. (How often do we start students by giving them a tour through great works for their instrument?) We are taught how to find it. We are encouraged to seek and read. And when we get proficient at the basics, we are allowed to have preferences and to suggest our own content.

I don’t like horror books. I prefer comedy or mysteries where I have to think.


If a young learner is asked what would they like to play/sing, would they have the same musical literary knowledge to say – I would like to do X because I enjoy that style or period or composer… It may be a different way of looking at it, and it may take more work on the teacher’s part, but think how empowering it could be for the student.

I wonder what is your  experience with learning? Do you learn music and musical repertoire with the same relish you read or the same enthusiasm you find a new tv show to follow? Or the same way you follow popular charts? I wonder why or why not? Perhaps through understanding how and what we do, we can take the best bits from all our learning and bring those together as tools so we can be the best facilitators and teachers to guide ourselves and others.

Quite aside from the #MUS654 class, musician and author Bill Benzon blogged about his Jazz education in a series of posts, and it is fascinating. He did it the right way around and in these posts he expresses a breadth of listening, learning, and understanding that is noteworthy. I recommend you definitely read Bill’s first post:

My Early Jazz Education 1: From the Firehouse to Louis Armstrong59229006_2fb282fe23_z

and if that sparks your interest, Bill is very articulate (in music and words) as he goes on in successive posts. He takes us through influential repertoire and how he came to it. I wonder if we could each do a similar thing? What shaped you? …if you are drawing some blanks, maybe it’s time to go to the virtual musical library and check out some tunes.

I have linked to Bill’s further posts on his education below, but am saving the last one for when we talk about observing lessons. You’ll have plenty to read and listen to with these first ones… enjoy! (image CC BY-NC by Allert Aalders)

My Early Jazz Education 2: Maynard, Miles, and Diz

My Early Jazz Education 3: Herbie Mann and Dave Brubeck

My Early Jazz Education 4: Thelonius Sphere Monk

My Early Jazz Education 5: Al Hirt and (again) Maynard

Featured image CC BY-NC-SA by Via Tsuji

Cry me a river

I love the idea of dressing up and why not do this with a melody? There is so much that can be learned from listening to other people and other instruments doing the same things. Today I went did this with Cry me a River. This morning I went in search of people to help me make a backing track and I was extremely fortunate that my colleague Rob Westwood agreed to play the chords in the key I requested so I could go home at the end of the day and work on it for this post. Melodies played by different instruments is not a new idea. There are transcriptions of music for so many instruments – whether it is because the saxophone was invented just over a century ago and that instrument is perfectly capable of playing music that was written for another, so there are transcriptions to help that instrument access the centuries of music that came before across various styles or just because something is beautiful and someone wants to play it.

There is also something to be said for understanding music as it is played/sung/performed on another instrument. As a cellist, I do not need to breathe in order to make sound. Well of course I do, but If I hold my breath I can still produce sound, whereas a singer or wind player actually needs to breathe.

As my last post for this week’s topic on What makes a melody? I decided to take a melody that is typically performed on an instrument different from mine. So what about process? Did I just look up the music and go?


I listened.

and listened

and listened some more.

Then I played it.

Then I listened some more.

then I played it while thinking about the words.

If I had more time than a short spell in an evening to spend on it, I would refine … links where different words are emphasised, and perhaps I don’t want you to hear a bow change, or maybe I do want you to hear a bow change.

As an aside, I am also learning to sing this (yes, I have singing lessons – I’m a student too!) and I wonder if having played it on my main instrument will have an impact on my capability to access emotional and technical expression when I sing it.

It’s a new topic for those of you following #MUS654 tomorrow. Hope you have enjoyed thinking about melodies in all their forms this week.

Featured image CC BY-SA-NC by Guy Mayer