Sunday, November 13, 2016

Teaching Moments

I joined about 20 students at the UMKC Conservatory of Music and Dance for Helen Sung’s inspiring master class on Friday afternoon.

The session consisted of three components: a sublime demonstration by Sung and her touring band of saxophonist John Ellis, bassist Boris Kozlov and drummer Darrell Green, a discussion of how each musician came to jazz followed by a question-and-answer session, and a student performance that was critiqued by the professionals.

Ellis’ emphatic playing on a lively interpretation of Percy Mayfield’s “Please Send Me Someone to Love” made me regret not bringing earplugs.  He later recalled his initial college experience: “I started to get really excited about jazz and really unexcited about oboe (his primary instrument at the time).”

Kozlov described the limited access he had to Western music growing up under the oppressive Soviet regime, and noted that “Bobby (Watson) gave me one of my first breaks” after he arrived in New York City.  Green remembered that “I was the little kid who got five, six whuppings a Sunday” before his energy was harnessed by the church band.

Sung humbly insisted that “I try to get better every day.”  Each musician spoke of his or her introduction to jazz in the awed tone of a child describing a memory of unwrapping a favorite present.

Their kind but frank analysis of the students’ playing greatly enhanced my appreciation of the music.  As a bonus, Watson commandeered the piano to ably demonstrate Ellis’ points about the flexibility of time and responding to the prompts of peers. 

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

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