Summer Freedom – BCTV

by Cormick Costello

During the week of June 20, the music education organization, Get JazzEd, hosted a jazz camp for Berks County students in grades 7-10 who wanted to develop improvisation skills and the musical game that is the basis of jazz.

The task of learning a new genre, especially jazz, is no small feat. In fact, it is a task that will almost always be arduous. The struggles stem from the alien qualities of the genre, which alienate these young musicians, because the nature of jazz is an improvisational game – and the game forces most young musicians to lose the habit of reading sheet music and get into in the business of listening to each other.

Despite the intimidation that comes with such a change, the students at the camp did not hesitate. They dove headfirst into the pool of swaying eighths and blues scales that are jazz improvisation, eager to swim deeper.

Camp leader Mike Eben understood this bullying, seeing it in the students, but he also praised their spunk.

“Improvisation is an expression of themselves, something completely new, and because of that it can be scary,” he said. “But that’s the goal of camp, to get them to try something new, and that’s what they did. This group was really fun, they were really fearless.

Eben has worked with students for most of his adult life, working as a middle school music teacher in the Muhlenberg School District. A musician from Berks County, Eben saw the need to teach jazz to students across camp because it was rarely taught in schools. Having done so for twenty-three years – and recently joined by his daughter Lindsay Evans, a fellow Reading music teacher – Eben spends five three-hour days with camp students, teaching them the basics of jazz rhythm, scales and rhythm. improvisation. .

Of all the years Eben has run the camp, he has found it to be by far the most outgoing and eager to learn. He mentioned the band’s almost immediate interconnectedness, as they quickly befriended each other, encouraged each other to play, and created their own jokes.

Towards the end of the week, there was even talk of forming a group among some students.

At the end of the week, the students put on a concert for friends and family, demonstrating what they learned – a set of twelve songs – over the intense five days. Members of the rhythm and horn sections alternated between songs and played their first gig without reading sheet music.

Naturally, there were a few hiccups. But the students handle them in the spirit of jazz, evolving to the rhythm of the spontaneity of the music they are taught.

Eben recalled one song in particular that went off the rails, and quickly came back due to a student takeover.

“There was a time when the rhythm section was in completely different parts,” he said. “And this saxophonist took it upon himself to get everyone back on track. Everyone intervened at some point during the day.

They also dug solos, blowing, pinching and slapping, which Eben was delighted with.

“Each student played solo. It’s almost unheard of,” he exclaimed.

While student attitudes were certainly an important factor in their achievements, it would have been nothing without Eben and Evans. Eben spent most of his time with the horn section, playing scales and licks for students to repeat to him, so they had the phrasing of what a solo should sound like in their heads. Evans, on the other hand, spent most of his time with the rhythm section, especially the piano players, showing them how to smoothly voice chords for the best possible accompaniment. The students had an incredible amount of information to take in, equally dense information, and they did so with ease thanks to the helping hands in front of them. Eben and Evans were always ready to give advice to a confused student, or encouragement to a shy one, and thanks to this instruction, their students succeeded.

For Evans, part of its pedagogical strength may lie in its own recent struggles with style.

“It’s really tough, from my personal experience,” Evans said. “I only started playing jazz piano two years ago, and it took me that long to learn how to play by ear. It’s good to have teachers who [teach by ear].”

With this instruction, the students excelled during the week and, more importantly, took steps to secure the future of jazz.

“[The students] are the future of this genre, and we need people to carry on this language and this music,” Evans said.

They were persistent in their desire to learn, but more importantly, they seemed to like it too. They no longer depended on the music to be able to play, but they began to trust the most important aspect of jazz and music in general: their ear. By embracing the improvisational nature of the music, the band not only started to learn something new, but also started to love it.

Register for the second week of the camp from July 18 to 22 by clicking on the link below: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/get-jazzed-summer-camps-hosted-by-mike-eben-registration-308677431507.

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