Tag Archives: jazz

What Every Classical Clarinetist Needs to Know About Jazz with Elizabeth

In her presentation, Elizabeth Gorman sought to cover many of the fundamental elements that are needed for a basic understanding of jazz theory and performance. She began with the basic rhythmic concept of swing, with its emphasized, irregular offbeat accents, but she noted that as tempi increase, swing becomes less and less pronounced, so that somewhere around 250 beats per minute, the swing feel tends to disappear. She also noted that Latin styles, such as salsa and samba, along with some fusion styles, tend to emphasize straight eighths as well. Gorman continued by discussing styles of jazz articulations, including styles that are particular to jazz, such as ghosted notes and falls. She then showed how jazz articulations can be used to “bop the top” of a melodic line, bringing out the important notes of a melody, which she even linked to the concept of Schenkerian analysis and structural notes. She spoke briefly about sound concept and vibrato in jazz, emphasizing that playing jazz does not mean playing with a “bad” sound. She suggested that jazz can be approached either from a saxophone-type tonal concept or from modifying a classical clarinet tonal concept.

Gorman suggested some methods for beginning to improvise, beginning with listening and transcribing favorite solos and continuing with a basic understanding of common jazz progressions, such as the ii-V-I progression. She suggested using classical excerpts that relate to jazz scales, such as the pentatonic scale featured in the excerpt from Mendelssohn’s “Scottish” Symphony, to begin practicing useful patterns in all keys. She also pointed out similarities in the classical concerti of Weber and Mozart, which, by using the lowered seventh and the raised seventh, actually offer opportunities to practice the scale known to jazz players as the dominant bebop scale (the familiar diatonic major scale with an added flat seventh). She then suggested some practice patterns to assist classical players in learning octatonic patterns, known to jazz players as diminished scales, beginning by emphasizing the diminished seventh chord that structures the scale and then adding in the adjacent half-steps. She went on to suggest different practice strategies to become more flexible with different keys, patterns and rhythms.

Gorman delivered her in lecture good spirits, not even becoming distracted when some video difficulties delayed the start of her presentation. This was a valuable introduction to jazz concepts, with some innovative links to classical literature that were especially insightful.

–Notes by Michael Rowlett
Michael Rowlett is the assistant Professor of Clarinet at The University of Mississippi. You can find his CD Close to Home: Music of American Composers on Amazon and Albany Records.

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Filed under Day 5, lecture

The Clarinet in Early New Orleans Jazz: Function, Style, Sound and Spirit a lecture by Michael White

drwhite1This afternoon’s lecture-recital in Shaver Theater took no shame in holding ClarinetFest 2014 to its surroundings, Louisiana! The very best of early New Orleans jazz was both discussed and demonstrated by Dr. Michael White and his peers in his presentation “The Clarinet in Early New Orleans Jazz: Function, Style, Sound and Spirit.” White’s versatile style of presentation, where he would speak and then, clarinet in hand, immediately play musical examples, made for a wholly entertaining and informative hour.

White began his hour with a performance by the ‘Dr. Michael White Quartet’, consisting of himself on clarinet, along with collaborative players on trumpet, banjo, and bass. He proceeded forward by addressing some common misconceptions of New Orleans jazz, including its common misattribution to Dixieland. Dr. White was masterful in describing the historical and political foundations of New Orleans jazz and improvisation, mentioning it at one point as one form of important individual expression for African-Americans in the South prior to the civil rights movement that would come later in the mid-century.

The bulk of his discussions then centered on specific individuals who were influential in developing a recognizable style of New Orleans jazz clarinet playing, as well as some of the common improvisational tools that may have been made more definitive by their playing. Dr. White skillfully executed many of these techniques, sometimes with the assistance of his band, and at other times by himself. At one point, a full work with vocals was performed, with the trumpet player showcasing his outstanding voice at the microphone. As a whole, Dr. White’s lecture brought the clarinet home to roost in Louisiana, and provided an outstanding primer on the New Orleans style for those (including this author) with little or no background in the subject.

–Notes by Joel Auringer
Joel Auringer is a recent graduate of Southern Illinois University Carbondale. He currently maintains a private studio in the Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas metroplex, and will begin doctoral study at the University of North Texas in the fall.

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Filed under Day 4, lecture

Evan Christophe​r Workshop

evan christopherOn Thursday morning in Shaver Theater, clarinetist Evan Christopher presented a workshop on New Orleans clarinet style. An informal poll at the start of the class confirmed that most at the workshop had heard him play the night before, so they were already familiar with his music and clarinet playing.

Evan stated that he does not really see himself as a clarinetist… rather, he sees himself as a musician who just happens to play the clarinet. During the course of the workshop, he used audience participation (both in terms of verbal answers to questions and with their clarinet playing) to explain how he makes various sounds on the clarinet. He also spoke about the heritage of New Orleans music-making and clarinet playing, and how that influences what he does everyday.

One concept he covered was the idea that jazz music evolved from how New Orleans musicians were making music. When he moved to New Orleans over 20 years ago, many of the clarinetists directly involved in this heritage had already passed on, so he researched their lives and music in archives at libraries in the city. He said it was almost like taking lessons from “ghosts.” Of course, this study combined with his practical application of these ideas and his own personal take on the music and concepts he encountered lead him to what he is today.

He frequently referred to great New Orleans clarinetists of the past, such as Sidney Bechet, Omer Simeon, Barney Bigard, and Johnny Dodds, when discussing various sounds New Orleans clarinetists make. Evan discussed the fact that he plays an Albert system clarinet for aesthetic reasons, yet many New Orleans clarinetists of the past probably played one because it was what was available from musical instrument dealers in the area, many of whom were from German families. He also noted that he plays a mouthpiece that is more open and has a longer facing that what most classical musicians use.

Although Christopher is a great verbal communicator, perhaps the most fun for the audience during this workshop was when they were encouraged to experiment with various clarinet sounds associated with New Orleans clarinet playing. He asked them to experiment with bending pitches on their mouthpiece/reed alone. Then he asked them to try this on the fully assembled clarinet. They later experimented with growls, pitch shading, and the glissando.

The workshop ended with questions from the audience and at the conclusion of the class, many participants stayed to talk with Evan about his approach to music-making. This was an excellent class covering a style of clarinet playing that many classical clarinetists appreciate, but do not completely understand. Thanks Evan!

–Notes by Timothy Phillips
Timothy Phillips serves as Associate Professor of Clarinet at the John M. Long School of Music at Troy University in Troy, Alabama, and manages Clarinet Corner, weekly program on Troy University Public Radio.

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Filed under Day 3, lecture

Jazz Salute to Pete Fountain with Gregory Harrison

In this touching tribute to Pete Fountain, Gregory Harrison examines the personal career and life of famed jazz clarinetist Pete Fountain. Chronicling the different periods of Pete’s life, Harrison presents how he became a national icon. Fountain has been featured in every New Orleans Super Bowl, performed for the Catholic pope, had multiple appearances on television, and served as a musical ambassador for the United States.  Harrison also took time to examine Fountain’s physical approach to the instrument by examining his posture and stage presence in various appearances on the Lawrence Welk Show. Indeed, Fountain’s contribution to the clarinet world was evident in his popularity.

At the end of the lecture, Harrison performed Jimmie Davis’ and Charles Mitchell’s popular tune “You Are My Sunshine.”  In a moving tribute, the entire audience honored Maestro Fountain in a standing ovation. Bravo, Maestro Fountain!

–Notes By Dr. Victor Chavez, Jr.
Dr. Victor Chavez, Jr. teaches at The University of Tennessee in Knoxville as Lecturer in Clarinet and currently performs with the Tri-Cities Opera Company in Binghamton, New York.

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Filed under Day 3, lecture

A Night of Jazz

Gregory Agid and Evan Christopher

Gregory Agid and Evan Christopher

Tonight was a night of true charm. The entrepreneurial clarinet experienced the drama and fancies of classical music by day, and the ‘down in da Parish’ nitty-gritty bayou jams by night. The evening started with several tunes by local kings of New Orleans jazz, Evan Christopher and Gregory Agid assisted by local musicians Tom Mitchell (guitar), John Previti (bass), Troy Davis (drums), and Willis Delony (piano). Christopher and Agid shared several standards and originals for the audience this evening each displaying their mastery, furthering their reputations as our generation’s local legends. Christopher opened the evening by introducing charts (“Blues in the Air” and “Banjo Noir”) by pioneers of New Orleans clarinet Sidney Bechet and Alvin Batiste. Their excitement was infectious. As solos were passed between the featured guests and supporting musicians, there were whoops and hollers from musicians and the audience members alike. As Christopher led tunes “La Ciudad Criolla,” “Tande’ Sak Fe Loraj Gwonde,” and “Waltz for All Souls,” all penned by himself, his natural leadership took center stage. An entertainer through and through, his control, originality, and playful personality shone as bright as a full moon on the Mississippi at night. When Agid’s tune “Summer’s Song” (dedicated to his deceased, young student) and “Swag” were performed, his bag of tricks revealed greater depth than the crowd could have hoped. His funky rhythms, riffs, and colors infected and affected us. In the final number of the first half, Harry Skoler and Felix Peikli joined Agid and Christopher for a jazz clarinet quartet arrangement of “The Mooche” by Duke Ellington. The room’s applause hardly ceased. Transitioning from New Orleans rock to classic swing, their power and prowess was palatable.

Felix Peikli (left) and Harry Skoler (left) playing Swedish Pastry by Barney Kessell

Felix Peikli (left) and Harry Skoler (left) playing Swedish Pastry by Barney Kessell

Nearly an hour and a half into the night’s performance, Peikli and Skoler took the stage despite a fatigued and fading crowd. Skoler, a consummate gentleman, played with class and old school swagger reminiscent of old New Orleans traditions. As Peikli followed, we heard his compositional chops with “Nocturnal,” a sensitive and moving ballad revealing that this young musician of 24 has more than incredible technique and seemingly natural instincts. He is also a creator of fine music and charm. In his last numbers alone on stage, his technical mastery was unleashed in full force with an unaccompanied improvisation on Gershwin’s “Summertime” which speedily zipped by and immediately transitioned into Grolnick’s “Nothing Personal.” The two pieces seemed to come together as one with the tune of “Summertime” weaving in and out hypnotically by Peikli and pianist Willis Delony.

It would be criminal not to mention the incredible presence and talents of the assisting musicians. The fineness of Delony and the raw power of drummer Troy Davis drove massive force of the ensemble allowing guitar John Previti and bass Tom Mitchell to outline subtle harmonies and nuance.

In the final moments of the evening, Peikli, Skoler, and Agid were joined on stage by none other than Dr. John Cipolla, I.C.A. President, for a final jam session on the blues chart “Ain’t Misbehavin’.” A true master of all styles, Cipolla led the jam, making every lick seem organic and fluid. The quartet of clarinet stars listened with intensity while Dixieland-style improvisations took place with typical busyness of polyphony and flirtatious character. Both exhausted and refreshed, the remaining audience approached the stage for congratulations, autographs, and the satisfaction of meeting these wonderful musicians and personalities. Laissez les bon temps rouler, indeed!

–Notes by Melissa Morales
Melissa Morales is a master’s student at DePaul University studying with Julie DeRoche and Larry Combs.  She currently teaches at The People’s Music School and performs with The Candid Concert Opera’s Orchestra Nova and the Chicago Symphonic Winds.

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Filed under Day 2, Evening Concert, Performances

Ramon Ricker and the Allan Vaché Quartet

What’s with all this Entrepreneurship Stuff: I Just Want to Play the Clarinet!

Ramon Ricker

Ramon Ricker

To open the Allan Vaché recital, Ramon Ricker gave a compelling discussion about entrepreneurship as it is taughtat the Eastman School of Music.  He argues that of the 330,000 music majors in the United States, very few schools teach how best to bridge the gap between the ivory tower and the “real world.” At Eastman, he teaches how to build your career around your interest, not just winning an orchestral audition or teaching band.  His discussion of his Lego exercise provided a compelling analogy that when you are a budding musician, everyone’s Legos are pretty much the same. We all learn the Mozart Concerto and Klosé scales.  As we grow, he says, we develop new skills that are unique to us.  The best part about Legos, he adds, is that at any time, we are free to wipe them all out and start fresh.  The best jobs, he concludes are those we create for ourselves.  A more in-depth discussion can be found in his book Lessons from a Street-Wise Professor.

Allan Vaché

Allan Vaché

Following Ramon Ricker’s brief discussion of entrepreneurship, Allan Vaché and his ensemble performed a thoroughly enjoyable series of tunes from the big-band era.  The rhythm section included Troy Davis, drums, John Previti, bass, Tom Mitchell, guitar, and Willis DeLony, piano.  One element of his performance, for which this listener is grateful, is that he used no amplification for his, the pianist’s, or drummer’s sounds. It was wonderful to hear Mr. Vaché’s tone in an unprocessed, natural, manner as it was very clear and smooth, unlike many jazz players.  His improvisations were easy to follow and illustrated his very easy-sounding, and flexible altissimo register.  Tunes played on this recital included Cole Porter’s Just One of those Things, and You’d Be So Nice to Come Home To; Nat King Cole’s It Could Happen to You, and There Will Never Be Another You; and Duke Ellington’s Do Nothing ‘til You Hear from Me, which included a very nice reference to If I Only Had a Brain from The Wizard of Oz as played by Mr. Mitchell. Of the most remarkable aspects of this recital was the incredible sensitivity of the rhythm section, especially the pianist, Mr. DeLony.  On many occasions, Vaché would play an idea, only to have it very skillfully echoed several bars later.  From this listener’s perspective it was a pleasure to watch these gentlemen play this recital.

–Notes by Dr. Joshua Meitz
Dr. Joshua R. Mietz teaches clarinet at both Fort Lewis and San Juan Colleges and serves as Co-Director of Choirs at the First United Methodist Church in Durango, Colorado. 

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Filed under Day 1, Opening Address, Recital