• On the Edge of the Jazz Experience

    During these days of down-sizing, some schools and school districts are considering eliminating all music teachers and music programs. Does the word “all” include jazz?

    by Jon Guthrie

    I greeted guitarist Bruce Forman a while back at the Plaza Linda Cantina, Carmel Valley Village, during the nascent hours of a Saturday evening.
    Bruce and I sat together in shimmers of candlelight and talked about jazz, the subject that Bruce preferred over all others. His hands, the hands so talented at caressing melodies from strings, rested upon a tablecloth of white linen. His eyes-as gray and glittery as polished granite-gazed at the earth-tone decor as though seeking wisdom among the pictures of a toreador, an ancient Mexican mission, a child of Mexico clutching a flower.
    Jazz, according to Bruce, offers an opportunity to be serious about one of life’s art forms while being light-hearted about life. Jazz is to be enjoyed as a personal experience, a soft pull of emotion, the sound of gentle winds, the warmth of a sunrise, the chill of midnight.
    Jazz is like a great truth impervious to human treachery. Jazz is a place for dreaming. Jazz is whatever the performer or listener wants jazz to be. For Bruce Forman, jazz is like telling your story in music. “How can you top that?” Bruce wants to know. “Jazz is living on the edge of experience.”
    The experience called Jazz, refers to a type of music first developed by African Americans around the opening decade of the 20th century. Jazz grew up alongside the blues, blue grass, swing, bebop … and all these genres overlap. Critics generally disagree about whether artists fall squarely in one camp or another.

    Ragtime music, a form of jazz, got its start in the American Midwest, developed principally by composer/pianist Scott Joplin, who was dubbed the “King” of ragtime. This style of music flourished from about 1895 to 1920, and became the first African-American sounds to influence popular music around the world

    In striving to develop tone color (a personal sound) and a unique sense of rhythm, performers create beats characterized by syncopation (the placing of accents in unexpected places). Written scores, if any, are often used merely as guides, providing a little structure within which improvisations occur. The typical instrumentation offers a rhythm section consisting of piano, string bass, drums, and guitar … to which may be added wind instruments. In bigger bands the wind instruments are grouped into three sections: saxophones, trombones, and trumpets.

    Jazz makes young lives more interesting. individual musicians have varying backgrounds. Young people should be directly exposed to all of these influences.

    Bruce extended his jazz influence on youth by having worked as a clinician, a musician who conducts workshops. Bruce also taught classes. He was one of several professional musicians who spent time traveling to middle schools and high schools in Monterey County to perform, and to interact with the kids.
    What did the kids think? “It’s encouraging to sit next to an adult who earns his living playing. So many kids are fatalistic today. jazz helps students realize they can take charge of their lives, and make their lives more interesting.”

    Keep your eye on the Cedar Street Times to learn about jazz performances (of all kinds) that are planned for the future.

    posted to Cedar Street Times on March 13, 2009

    Topics: Features


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