Thursday, October 1, 2015

There's Jazz In Them Thar Hills

I just completed a short guest artist residency at Marshall University in Huntington, West Virginia. My stay culminated in a concert of my big band music performed by their Jazz 1 ensemble last night. I shared the conducting duties with their director, Martin Saunders and also played piano on a few selections. In the three days leading up to the concert I gave lectures in jazz arranging and improvisation, in addition to rehearsing their two big bands and top combo.

Conducting the Marshall University Jazz 1 Ensemble (09/30/2015)

Marshall's jazz program is unique and well-poised in that they have three full-time jazz faculty members, and they benefit from a substantial endowment which included the gift of a designated jazz building, complete with a recording studio, plus rehearsal and performance space. There are about twenty undergraduate jazz majors, most of whom appear very open to instruction, and are "hungry" for new information. Many of these students come from remote locales throughout Appalachia, so jazz is a newly aquired passion for them, and they are keen to unlock it's mysteries.

Rehearsing with the MU Jazz 1 ensemble.
Besides the gratifying experience of having my music performed, brief residencies such as this are valuable to me for collecting new pedagogical approaches, as well as gathering administrative and recruiting ideas which I can apply back at home. I gain perspective as I assess the ensemble I am hired to conduct and rehearse, and consider how they compare to my students in Connecticut. Without question these experiences make me a stronger ensemble leader and educator.

Drummer Jesse Nolan
It is equally inspiring to hear about the research interests of professors at other institutions. Marshall's newest faculty hire, percussionist Jesse Nolan brings a lot to the table, with expertise in using new online platforms capable of transforming how information is collected and disseminated. As technologically impaired as I am, he managed to get me excited by the potential a customized version of "MashPlant" could offer organizations such as JEN (the Jazz Education Network). He serves on their Education Committee and has imaginative ideas which could transform the entire organization. Imagine an online destination connecting all the scholarly work of its members, neatly organized and in one place, which allows for collaboration and dialogue, in addition to documenting successful initiatives to demonstrate the effective use of donor's investments. Wow! Sign me up!

It's nice to have reached this point in my career where I can choose to occasionally bounce around the country and work with different ensembles, share the expertise I have to offer, while gaining new insights and ideas which keep me fresh and recharge my batteries.

Here's a glimpse into how I spent the last three days:

the Jomie Jazz Center, Marshall University
9:30am – Depart from hotel
10-11am – Jazz Arranging (JJ114)
12-1pm – Jazz I rehearsal (JJ210)
1-2pm - Lunch
2-3pm – Jazz II rehearsal (JJ210)

9:30am – Depart from hotel
10 - 11, 11 - 12: morning piano lessons
12 – 1pm - Lunch
3:30-4:30pm – Jazz Improv I (JJ210)
6-6:50pm – Jazz Jam Session (JJ210)
7-9:30pm – Extended Jazz I rehearsal (JJ210)

9:30am – Depart from hotel
10-11am – Jazz Arranging (JJ114)
12-1pm – Jazz I dress rehearsal (Smith Recital Hall)
1-2pm – Lunch
2-3pm – Jazz II rehearsal (JJ210)
5:30pm – Sound Check
7:30pm – Jazz I Concert

Reviews of last night's concert appeared in both the Parthenon (Marshall's campus newspaper) and the Huntington Herald-Dispatch, both of which are posted online.