I love the Stanford Jazz Workshop for so many reasons. I attended the camp and the residency when I was in high school, and since then I’ve worked as a counselor, and now as a mentor. But the most valuable time that I’ve spent here, as a camper and as a mentor, has been hanging out with the jazz legends who I’ve looked up to since my beginnings as a musician and a music listener. Last week one of my favorite saxophonists Charles McPherson told me about a gig he played with the Charles Mingus band, where Mingus got so upset at the club’s staff after they didn’t pay him, that he punched a hole in his huge upright bass in the middle of the set! Today, I spent some time with Junior Mance, one of the legends of jazz piano. I grew up listening to him playing on record with Cannonball Adderley. Having the opportunity to ask Mr. Mance about his stints on the road with Charlie Parker and Lester Young has been an incredible educational experience for me. I feel very lucky to have met and played with jazz legends who are still inspiring audiences and musicians alike. I’m also really enjoying telling all of these stories to my students, I can’t wait to hear some more. So many memorable experiences at SJW!
Ben Flocks with Junior Mance
The Mentors perform “The Core” by drummer Cory Cox at the Stanford Coffee House on July 22, 2010. (Excerpt.)
Working as a teacher at the Stanford Jazz Workshop involves a great deal of responsibility. As someone that the students look to for inspiration, information, and guidance, I want to make sure that I’m doing the best I can to help the students grow musically. Finding the right thing for the individual student can be a difficult task, as each of the students have different needs, personalities, and backgrounds, in addition to various strengths and natural gifts. That being said, the I believe the most important element that a teacher can pass onto any camper is inspiration. If the teacher can find a way to inspire the student, then the student will seek out the information that he/she needs with curiosity and vigor. In this regard, I have seen that the more experienced teachers have a phenomenal way of inspiring the students with an astounding consistency. These experienced educators find a way to reach students who have a variety of different experience levels and make them want to learn and get better. This talent also requires a creativity and spontaneity that is analogous to playing jazz. In other words, if something isn’t working, a good teacher will quickly come up with a new idea that will grab the campers’ attention.
Having to run my own combo this week has allowed me to test out some ways to inspire my own students. I find that the most effective way to do this is to show the guys in the band how much they can accomplish on their own. By guiding them while they lead themselves, they come to the realization that they have the power to make music on their own. The importance in this method lies in the comments that I make to guide the players in the group. Effective strategies can be anything from playing a short solo to demonstrate a concept, to making the horn players more engaged by playing backgrounds, or trading with each other. In the end, it’s about helping the young musician on his journey that will undoubtedly require passion and inspiration if he is to enjoy the process that is learning jazz.
Martin gets the horn section ready to do some backing parts behind the solos.
The workshop here at Stanford is a great experience for young people who are interested in learning more about jazz music. I’ve had a great time so far getting to meet all the people that an event like this brings together. One thing I love about playing music is the “hang”, the time when you get to know the people you’re working with on a personal level. Often times when I get a chance to talk with some of the great musicians that serve on faculty at the SJW, I wind up learning things I’d never known about before. Hopefully the same is true for the students at the camp – I know that when I was a youngster attending various music camps, I’d routinely find myself in awe of the great musicians that were on faculty and I’d try to learn as much as possible from them when an opportunity came up to hear them play or teach. Now, being on the other end of the court in the teaching realm, I’ve found a completely new challenge in trying to find the right words and musical examples to convey meaningful information to the students about this great music. Hopefully, after the week is over, the students at the camp will come away with a greater understanding of how this music works, some new ideas to work out on their instruments, and new techniques to apply to their improvisations.
This video excerpt features a composition by saxophonist Matt Marantz, entitled “Daybreak.”
It’s been a great couple weeks working here at Stanford! My biggest lesson so far has been the realization that engaging the students and getting them into the music is way more important than trying to overload them with a lot of information. It’s easy to want to focus on every single area that needs improvement, but if students are overwhelmed with too many things to think about, they really won’t retain anything by week’s end. It’s so much more effective to work on the most important aspect that needs work that will have the greatest impact on their playing. The reward of teaching this way is the “ah-ha!” moment when students are able to solve a technical problem or suddenly understand an improvisational concept. That moment is just so rewarding for me, I’m pretty sure that’s the reason I like teaching so much. The kids in my classes this week are so fantastic, they have such great energy and its a joy to help them get to the next place in their development as young musicians.
I’ve had a great time so far at the workshop! My experiences teaching young jazz students have given me invaluable perspective on the challenges of jazz education. In every masterclass, rehearsal, and private lesson, I feel great responsibility to pass on a beautiful musical tradition to young people. The main challenge is to engage students and inspire them to develop or continue their interest in jazz music, even if they may not have much experience as listeners or players. I try to talk to students from my perspective as a student rather than as a teacher so that I can express to them how I learned the music. My goal is to present students with concrete concepts which will grow like seeds into branches of learning where they are inspired and empowered to learn for themselves. Oftentimes I remind students that scales and theories can help them, but that the most inspiring source is the music itself, and that they can only really feel the music by listening.
Reuben teaching during the SJW Eddie Harris jam.