Updated: Apr 29
with University of Nebraska, Omaha, Jazz Orchestra
Preparation à distance
Coordinator of Jazz Studies, Pete Madsen, has generously given me free rein as to how to virtually work with his full-sized, University-level Big Band. At first we'd hoped that the players might be in-person together in one room, and that therefore we could put some exercises into immediate practice à distance together, with me phoning in on zoom.
But, if school faculties have learned anything during COVID, it's the need to have a plan B (and C, and D 😳) ready to roll out, as regulations are constantly in flux.
So, within a week of the scheduled clinic, we quickly shifted gears, to prepare for a full-on Zoom clinic. C'est la vie.
Pete cleverly scheduled the workshop to follow closely on the heels of a "public" performance that had been streamed by the band on YouTube the week previous. This was an excellent opportunity for me to get a sense of "where the band is at" currently, and to anticipate what topics we might want to look at together towards boosting their collective and individual skill sets.
University of Nebraska, Omaha - Jazz 1 Orchestra Concert - 12 November 2020
I have to say - as I watch the concert, I'm getting absolutely giddy at the thought of actually playing a part in some live collective music making! 😳 The first time I've even come close in months! #COVIDblues
A multi-camera set-up allows for illustrating concepts in real-time!
"Swinging" the Straight 8ths
As I listen through their most excellent concert a plan starts budding in my brain about how to help these young cats to get their straight-8th latin and funk tunes "swinging" harder. Pete helps me test a multi-camera set-up that will allow me to draw on a sort of white board during the Clinic... and I learn how to share my screen and sound so that I can play the kids examples of "swing that's nearly straight" and "straight that 'swings'" from the jazz greats themselves.
Is it straight or does it swing? #tooclosetocall? The swing-master of fast tempos...
Motion in the line
From there we took a swing exercise I'd written decades ago and adapted it for use in more "straight" scenarios as well as to faster swing tempos. The goal being to keep that forward momentum going that we love so well in jazz, no matter what the groove or tempo.
Though it may have been a bit of a challenge to coordinate all of this rhythmically via Zoom (and how!)... I got the impression from both the students and their instructor, that the concept at least was clear, and that they would be able to implement it moving forward. Mission accomplished!
Vocalist Giebler graces the UNO stage
At the end of the hour, I gave some extra time to provide more direct feedback to the ensemble's one and only vocalist, Grace Giebler. I had great empathy for her, since I too was the only singer at my university officially trying to learn jazz, back in the day... and though we can learn a lot from our instrumentalist mentors, there's only so far that can take us on some of the nitty gritty. It was lovely to exchange with her and her primary instructor, my lovely friend Kim Lomax!
"Great job today! I really do appreciate the time and effort you put in to the presentation. That vocalization concept was a great way to describe the swing FEEL even when the subdivisions are technically straight. Great subdivision method. I am SO stealing that. " - Pete Madsen, Coordinator of Jazz Studies, University of Nebraska, Omaha