Thursday, June 28, 2012

Musicians' quotes: Max Roach on historical perspective

Some of the records were done 'under the table', because you were fined and thrown out of the union if you did record. It was always a hustle and a rush. Much of the music written by Charlie Parker was written in taxi cabs on the way to the studio [...] It was get in, get out immediately, because the union was always lurking around the corner. And it's amazing to me, when I remember how it was done, how today it is considered so profound.

Max Roach on the sessions recorded during the 1948 Musician's Union ban, which include Charlie Parker's "Parker's Mood", quoted on Geoffrey Haydon's Quintet of the Year (Aurum Press, 2002).

Monday, June 25, 2012

How to hook kids on jazz: a successful case study

Gerhard Mornhinweg
On my previous post, I introduced the Conchalí Big Band, a project that has now been working successfully for 18 years with kids from an unprivileged district in Santiago, Chile, rolling social work, group therapy, and, above all, music education, all into one, in such a context that this project could have easily been dismissed as unattainable; however, in 2002 they even did a European mini-tour.

The fact that this has happened at all, and quite succesfully too, is down to two factors: the kids' enthusiasm when they're given the chance to play music, and the drive and intelligence of their leader and founder of the orchestra, Gerhard Mornhinweg (pictured).

In the video below (only in Spanish), Mornhinweg, originally a classical French horn player, explains how the orchestra came about (when he was only 22, and at a time when there was no other big band in the country), after being provided with some violins and other assorted instruments, including a sousaphone, and how the municipality supported him, even though they originally wanted a marching band and he conned them into having a jazz big band. More importantly, he also tells how he had very little experience as a teacher and how, being just slightly older than his first students, he sought his own method and soon realized that
it's not about my teaching; it's about their learning
and that
if they're not interested, we cannot teach anything.
In that very first job as a teacher he had to deal with kids living in a home for children from broken families, their imbalance between their huge enthusiasm and very little technique. Shortly afterwards, he grabbed the chance to form a band as part of a public cultural programme in Conchalí. He grins widely when he explains how the big band became a music school and at the same time he became a fully qualified teacher along the way. He notes, though, that this fundamentals remain the same:
The only way to learn is practice. That's what makes us different. My first objective was for the student not to get bored...

We have a system where, first of all, we nudge them gently towards the right instrument for them... - that is very important. The very first lesson is with the instrument, and I don't even teach them anything. I just lay out the instruments and let them see, and experiment, and in about 20 minutes, at the most, one of them will ask 'how do you play this?' That's when we have the interest. Without interest, we cannot teach, we cannot guide a learning process... I don't do much in this job, I don't teach much, I don't planify much... I give them the instrument and as they evolve I give them tips, let's listen to what you're doing, are you interested in that?

In a first stage, these students learn how to read with the instrument, and after that they have their personal tutors, which they use if and when they need them... it's a self-regulatory process, each student makes their own path, and I couldn't care less which way they go, as long as it's a good way.

Originally, this was a project to take kids off the streets. Now, this also carries a series of benefits. First, to make music they have to develop the ability to concentrate deeply... They have to work as a team... They have to develop a strong character, because it's not easy being on stage in front of a lot of people... In spite of all this, some teachers complain that the musicians are the pupils who challenge them the most in class

What I always try is to give them the chance to become professional musicians if they want to; if they don't, I give them the chance to be good amateur musicians; and if they don't want to play, that's up to them, obviously. What we achieve is that when they're done with the Big Band, they have the ability to play, even to earn some money to help them with whatever higher education they choose to follow.
At the end of the video, Mornhinweg lends a trumpet to a man in the audience who's never played, with the expected results. After he tries, Mornhinweg explains,
Can you imagine, going from that to playing a solo? They do. Do you see why I do this job?

Thursday, June 21, 2012

On music education: Conchalí Big Band (I)

The recurring debate on how to take jazz out of intensive care — a figure of speech, mind you — seems to be especially prominent at the end of spring. I have my own ideas about that, and I expect to write the dreaded definitive take on it in the future, but in the meantime let me say that I don't care that much about jazz, as I do about music in general, especially when it comes to kids playing. 

If you're a regular reader, you'll have noticed that I mention Chilean musicians quite often. Besides happy coincidence ("happynstance"?) the reason is that I like what they do, and that I'm very intrigued by the embrace, as unlikely as it is enthusiastic, of a music that should be completely foreign to them, both in terms of geography and age. One of the explanations for this is phenomenon is the Conchalí Big Band. 

This is a youth orchestra, based in the not so well-off comuna of Conchalí, in Santiago de Chile. Some alumni you may have seen in this blog are Andrés Pérez, Cristian Gallardo, Marcelo Maldonado, Agustín Moya or Cristian Orellana, all of them great musicians who wouldn't be the same if they hadn't played in this big band. 

The video below — with subtitles in English — is a documentary from 2005 about life on the road, and it focuses mainly on three musicians in the band, Emilio Melo (tp), Juan Saavedra (tb), and Domingo Alicera (g). It makes compelling viewing, especially because it shows how good playing music can be for a kid, and because of the surprising maturity and sensitivity they show. Like so,

Saavedra (on music):
You expel what's inside you. You release all pressures. You take out what's within you, and that makes you free.
Alicera (on music):
It's always me, I think. I may play licks, but I feel where I have to place them. I imagine where they have to be placed, it's me who feels it, so... there's always a connection with oneself [...]

Sometimes there's so much logic 
[in music] that one misses the feeling, and feeling is the most important thing there is to it, to feel what you're playing.
Melo (about schooling):
Sometimes you have to pay and there are not enough resources to go to a private school. The only option is to go to a bad school. There's no hope for poor people.
More about the band, and their leader and teacher, Gerhard Mornhinweg (the Eddie Bert look-alike), in a few days.

Hope you enjoy it.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Other quotes (III): Ray Bradbury

Federico Fellini [...] said "Don't tell me what I'm doing, I don't want to know" 
I didn't know what I was doing, but I'm glad that it was done.

Ray Bradbury, on his disregard for the "secret motives" within his writing, in the introduction to the 50th anniversary edition of Fahrenheit 451
(HarperVoyager, 2008)

Monday, June 11, 2012

More Chilean jazz on video

The good people of DeReojo Producciones are uploading episodes of their series jazz_cl, on the history of jazz in Chile, and Tempo, on the current scene in Chile. Below are the links to the updated posts in this blog, as well as other newly available footage.
From jazz_cl, three episodes covering jazz in Chile today.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Free historic materials, plenty of videos, and some Satchmo news...

The Internet is like a huge highway with few reliable signposts. You can drive everywhere, but how can we know which places are worth a visit?

Not that I know the answer, but Franz Hoffmann and Mark Cantor have demonstrated along the years that their work is detailed, reliable and done with the utmost care. The fact that it has been used time and time again with a lot of researchers, writers, and other people interested in jazz, is the best proof we can have.

So, why are Hoffmann and Cantor known for? 

Franz Hoffmann, from Germany, has compiled several collection of adverts from several American newspapers—New York Age, Baltimore Afro-American, New York Amsterdam News, Chicago Defender, The New York Times, Pittsburgh Courier, and The (New York) Village Voice, 1901-1967—and made them into books and sell them (they're available on CD-ROM from Norbert Ruecker's Jazz Book Shop). The idea is simple, but by executing it he has made available a staggering  amount of precise information about gigs and other news, and he has also revealed a well-defined picture of the extraordinary musical life in America. He's also the author of bio-discographies of Henry 'Red' Allen and J.C. Higginbotham, as well as other assorted research, such as Art Ford's jazz TV programmes.

The good news is that now all that is available free, on line. The ads are here, and the Allen/Higginbotham, as well as other bits, are here. He also has his own channel on YouTube, where he has uploaded over 400 rare recordings, mostly accompanied by relevant images from his ad collections. The channel is Kanal von Hoffmannjazz.

As for Mark Cantor, when it comes to old music films, mainly jazz, but also other genres, he's just the man everybody calls. In brief, any serious work with old footage in it is likely to have Cantor on board. One of the things that distinguishes him is his knack for identifying everyone on screen and unveiling every possible tidbit of information. Mark's introduction to his website is here, and a healthy selection of his work can be found here

This, for instance, is a great example of what Mark does:

Jack Teagarden playing "Lover" was one of the highlights of a classic Louis Armstrong recording at Boston's Symphony Hall in 1947. That was the year that the rest of Satchmo's life began, so to speak, and it also marked the launch of the All-Stars in earnest. We also have the Town Hall concert from that same year, but the gig in Boston is my favourite, and the sort of record everyone should have at home (here it is on Spotify, MySpace, and iTunes).

The good news from the jazz grapevine is that Universal and the Louis Armstrong Museum in Queens are working on a complete edition of that concert, with previously unissued material. It will come out as a Hip-O Select set and it promises to be something else. 

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Other quotes (II): Pío Baroja

Spanish writer Pío Baroja (1872-1956), asked by a journalist about literature, circa 1918, also talks about music: 
[Works that look old, too touched up] are the ones which provoke enthusiasm in audiences. It happens in literature as well as in music - generally, unless the listener recalls the melody they will not like the work. Summing up will always be successful, because its context is already there [...] This kind of summing-up works may have some new elements, but the fewer new elements in them, the better they're liked by the audience.
Soon after he places himself within the audience.
Waltzes have always been very suggestive to me. Even though they're so worn down, so overused, they still affect me.
Pío Baroja, Las Horas Solitarias
(Ediciones 98, Madrid 2011, pp. 330 y 333)