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Learning by Listening

Something extraordinary has occurred in Barcelona, Spain that is proving that the old adage, “don’t fix it if it ain’t broke,” is applicable when applied to teaching jazz. Over the past 12 years the Sant Andreu Jazz Band (SABJ), comprised of boys and girls aged 7 to 20 years old, has been organized and led by Joan Chamorro, a Spanish jazz multi-instrumentalist and educator. During this period, 60 youngsters have played in the SABJ and have demonstrated a remarkable level of musicianship and an incredible ability to improvise, well beyond their years, playing together like seasoned pros with a joy and energy that has captivated their audiences. Before we explore why this amazing ensemble has had so much success, let us explore how jazz has been taught in the past and then we can compare Joan’s teaching techniques with the current approach in the U.S.

In the first two decades of the last century, as jazz evolved into a recognizable form of music, it did so without the use of written music … because most of the players couldn’t read music. Also, with improvisation at the heart of jazz, written music wasn’t relevant. Instead of studying written music, jazz was learned by “ear,” also known as “aurally,” from the Latin word that refers to the ear or hearing. Learning music aurally enables a player to develop the capacity to hear pitches, chords, melodies, rhythms and intervals without reference to written music. This ability to recognize and internalize sound, very much like how an infant hears words spoken and learns to speak them back, was how jazz was passed on from player to player and generation to generation.

Howard Stone

Listening to music is a passive activity. Many of us listen to music, but never really hear it. You drive along in your car listening to music, but do you really hear it? This is the key; you must actively stay focused to train you ear to hear the music. You then hear the music in an entirely different way.

When a jazz musician takes a solo and begins to improvise, he is akin to a storyteller, only he uses musical notes and phrases instead of words to tell his story. Simultaneously, he has to play his instrument and compose his story and his ability to know what the notes will sound like before he plays them is crucial, if he is to successfully improvise. Choosing the right notes, harmonies, rhythms and more is what separates the pros from the amateurs in jazz and the pros can do it because they have great “ears.”

As the formalization of jazz education began to take place in the latter half of the last century, reliance on reading music and understanding the theory of the music, pushed ear training aside, as it was judged not a very intellectual approach to music. Today, young musicians are taught scales and to learn to read music as a starting point. Practice books abound and the focus is to learn to faithfully play the notes that are on the page. Jazz musicians today are educated at conservatories where the technical side of the music is emphasized and virtuosity is prized. This is now the “approved” approach to teaching kids and aspiring professional musicians all types of music, not just jazz.

So what teaching methodology does Joan use to create such astounding results? Joan is “old school” and believes that starting a youngster’s musical education by teaching scales and to read music is too mechanical. He believes that it is more important for a novice to learn what a given note will sound like, than to know how to read the note. He therefore focuses on connecting his students to the music by having them listen to the music they will play, so they can hear what it sounds like. He encourages the students to sing the notes of a tune so that they can internalize the melody. In short, this is the early jazz tradition of playing by ear and 100 years later, the SABJ is proof positive that it works.

As an aside, Vail Jazz annually brings 12 of the most talented high school jazz musicians in North America to Vail to participate in our award-winning Workshop and for the past 23 years our teaching staff has exclusively relied on ear training with no written music allowed during the students’ 10-day residency. I can attest to its effectiveness, as many of our alumni are now professional jazz musicians.

At 5 and 7:30 p.m. on Aug. 1 at the Sonnenalp Hotel and at 6 p.m. on Aug. 2 in the Jazz Tent in Lionshead, Vail Jazz is very pleased to present from Spain, Joan Chamorro and 23-year-old Andrea Motis, a vocalist, trumpet player and former member of SABJ, who is now an internationally touring professional. They will be joined by the marvelously talented American tenor saxophonist Joe Frahm and other Spanish musicians rounding out a sextet. Come listen … and hear.

Howard Stone is the founder and artistic director of the Vail Jazz Foundation, which produces the annual Vail Jazz Festival. Celebrating its 24th year, the Vail Jazz Festival is a summer-long celebration of jazz.

Vail Jazz turns on the hot jets for a full summer of shows

National and international artists on tap for Sonnenalp, Vail Square and Labor Day Weekend performances

Launching into its 24th year, the Vail Jazz Festival’s summer’s lineup is stacked with young songstresses, established Grammy winners and sky-rocketing new talent.

The summer kicks off with an eclectic variety of national and internationally acclaimed artists for Vail Jazz @ Vail Square every Thursday beginning July 5, the Vail Jazz Gala July 9 and five intimate evenings of intimate club performances in July and August. There are more free performances than ever, happening in Edwards every Friday in July and August and every Sunday all summer at the Vail Farmer’s Market as well as at The Remedy in Vail. Of course, the festival culminates with the Vail Jazz Party over Labor Day Weekend – five days of live music featuring the modern jazz world’s top talent with more than 35 headliners.

Here’s a little more about what/who’s to come this summer:

Vail Jazz @ Vail Square:

Taking place in the all-weather Jazz Tent in Lionshead, performances kick off at 6 p.m. and feature three tiers of seating/pricing: general admission $25, preferred seat $40 and premium seat $50. Four-pack subscriptions are also available for a 15-percent savings. Drinks are available for purchase. 

July 5 – Hot Sardines – Touted as one of the most energetic jazz ensembles out of New York City, the lively vocals of Elizabeth Bougerol fuel this eight-piece musical force that will inevitably incite some dancing.

July 12 – Nachito Herrera: A Night in Havana – Performing with the Havana Symphony Orchestra at age 12, the fiery Cuban pianist is joined by his high-energy ensemble for a spell-binding performance with plenty of Afro-Cuban flare.

July 19 – Django Festival All-Stars – Following the fast-finger phenomena of Gypsy jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt, this sparkling five-piece swings back into town by popular demand, delivering an extra dose of lightning pace for the big stage.

July 26 – Tony DeSare and H2 Big Band – Tony DeSare is famous for infusing a jazz twist on modern pop songs as well as mirroring a young version of Frank Sinatra. Whether belting out zippy originals, putting his own flavor on Songbook favorites or adding a swing beat to a Prince tune, the appeal of this keyboard-playing crooner is only magnified by the melodic thunder of the H2 Big Band Band.

Aug. 2 – Andrea Motis featuring Joel Frahm – Barcelona-born vocalist and trumpeter Andrea Motis has made short work etching her place in the international jazz world. At age 23, she has seven albums under her belt and a propensity to swing and bop with the best of them. Along with the renowned saxophone talent of New York mainstay Joel Frahm, this duet, backed by a quintet, is a rare treat.

Aug. 9 – Nicki Parrott’s Tribute to Peggy Lee – Having sold out both shows at Ludwig’s during her last visit to Vail, The Australian vocalist and bassist returns to once again pay tribute to Peggy Lee, tapping into a variety set of the late, great singer’s most revered and rarest tunes.

Aug. 16 – Veronica Swift – As a testament to her long-standing vocal talent, Veronica Swift was performing at Lincoln Center by age 11. At 23, her skill set has only amplified. Her American Songbook renditions have brought audiences to tears and with the backing of pianist Emmet Cohen and his trio, emotions will surely swell.

Aug. 23 – Akiko/Hamilton/Dechter – Among the top touring jazz trios in the nation, organ phenom Akiko Tsuruga, guitar virtuoso Graham Dechter and drummer extraordinaire Jeff Hamilton never fail to impress with high energy, innovative arrangements and world-class musicianship, always leaving rave reviews in their wake. Playing together for years, this ace trio combines the exceptional talents of three singular pros into a greater-than-the-parts amalgam of tasteful, creative, straight-ahead jazz.

Vail Jazz Club Series

These performances present rare opportunities for up close and elegant musical evenings with the high caliber Vail Square artists. The events take place on Wednesdays in the intimate setting of Ludwig’s at The Sonnenalp. The evenings comprise of two seatings, the first at 5 p.m. with music beginning at 5:30 p.m. and the second at 7:30 p.m. with music beginning at 8 p.m. Seating is jazz club style at small tables with dinner service available. Tickets are $40 per show or $136 for a four-pack subscription. A $30 food and beverage minimum applies.

July 11 – Nachito Herrera Trio
July 18 – Django Festival All-Star

July 25 – Tony DeSare

Aug. 1 – Andrea Motis featuring Joel Frahm

Aug. 8 – Nicki Parrott

July 9

Gala Performance

Bossa Nova Nights Vail Jazz Gala features Carol Bach-y-Rita, fusing her Brazilian-inspired vocals and fervor for Bossa Nova, Samba and Choro with the piano talents of Grammy winner Bill Cunliffe and a slew of Vail Jazz Workshop alumni for eclectic renditions of American Songbook favorites. This one-off performance is an annual fundraiser for Vail Jazz’s vast educational programs, which instill the art and wisdom of jazz to more than 1,400 young learners every year. The event takes place at The Sebastian in Vail and begins at 5:30 pm. Tickets begin at $250 and include a gourmet dinner, cocktails and appetizers.

Free performances:

Vail Jazz @ The Market

Follow your ears to more free live music every Sunday beginning July 1 at the Vail Farmers Market with a rotating lineup of acclaimed regional acts at Vail Jazz @ The Market from 12 to 3 p.m. in the Solaris tent. Showcasing a variety of regional talent ranging from the Cuban jazz of Los Chicos Malos (July 1) to blues duo Delta Sonics (July 8), R&B-flavored Robert Johnson & The Mark Diamond trio (Aug. 5) or local vocal icon Kathy Morrow’s (Aug. 12) unique takes on jazz classics or the across-the-world upbeat and ever-changing sounds of Fortunato (Aug. 19), the performances are worth hanging out for.

Vail Jazz @ The Remedy

Tony Gulizia and Brian Loftus (BLT) are joined by a rotating cast of visiting musicians for Vail Jazz @ The Remedy, which kicks off at 8 p.m. Sunday, July 1 at The Remedy in the Four Seasons Resort, Vail. The performances are free and take place every Sunday evening through Aug. 26.

Vail Jazz @Riverwalk

Having established itself as the ultimate way to end a week, Vail Jazz @ Riverwalk will launch the weekend in Edwards every Friday in July and August. The series brings free live music to the Riverwalk Backyard Amphitheater in Edwards beginning July 6 with Colorado’s gospel queen, Hazel Miller. Brazilian rhythm kings Ginga land on July 13, the swinging big band sounds of Joe Smith & The Spicy Pickles July 20 and the pop-inspired vocals of soulful songstress Ayo Awosika July 27. The sizzling, highly varied mix of artists continues in August with brass swingers Red Young & His Hot Horns Aug. 3, Afro funk by Paa Kow Aug. 10, the return of saucy 12-piece Quemando Aug. 17 and the swing-funk sounds of trio Claxton, Kovalcheck and Amend Aug. 24.

EC3, Niki Haris, Ken Walker, and Dick Oatts (photo: Jack Affleck)

 

2018 Vail Jazz Labor Day Weekend Party

The 24th Annual Vail Jazz Party serves as the grand finale of the season from Aug. 30 to Sept 3 (Labor Day Weekend). The nearly nonstop indoor and outdoor performances (at Vail Marriott and Vail Square) include more than 35 headliners including, of course, the Vail Jazz Party House Band, return favorites Niki Haris, Jeff Hamilton and Adrian Cunningham as well as Byron Stripling, Benny Green and René Marie, to name just a few, performing in one-off multi-artist jam sessions and multimedia tributes to musical legends. It’s a life-changing long weekend.

Go here for tickets.