Monday, April 9, 2018

Coals to Newcastle

This is the season of dreams blossoming alongside the daffodils. The first the recording of my first CD and now in my first of nine days in the city of New Orleans. A place I miraculously have never really been (except for three hours three weeks after Katrina in 2005), yet a place that holds the roots of that magnificent tree of jazz where I’ve spent the good part of my lifetime learning how to climb, enjoying the view, sitting under its shade, admiring the blossoms, partaking of the fruit. And hear I am, well-timed with the French Quarter Fest about to begin and some second-line activity and drumming in Congo Square scheduled for tomorrow if the rains don’t come.

The tipping point for the trip was my daughter coming for a bachelorette party (not hers) and kind of inviting me to join her (after the party). It was Spring Break, I’ve been meaning to get here for at least 14 years and so the time was ripe. I know a few folks here from the Orff world and shamelessly asked them if they could put together a workshop and they graciously agreed.
A white boy from California coming from California to teach jazz in New Orleans? Talk about Coals to Newcastle!

But when it comes to considering how to open jazz to young children, well, I’ve paid my dues and felt confident that I had something to offer. Some important ideas of the what that most jazz musicians don’t consider—ie, starting from African-American children’s games that contain the seeds of so many jazz styles that flowered from them. But mostly, a lot of thought about the how that your typical musician probably never thinks about. Things like:

1)   How to present an activity in a way that is engaging and hooks kids in.
2)   How to extend the activity with chances to create something new, be it a new verse, a dance move or a musical solo.
3)   How to widen the activity to include the typical Orff media—body percussion, clap play, speech, song, gesture, movement, folk dance, small percussion, Orff instruments,
recorder, drama, visual art.
4)   How to extract the core concepts of the activity, as in the jazz rhythmic qualities
inherent in the game Head and Shoulders.
5)   How to develop the activity so that instrumental parts grow organically out of the text
so that theory (see no. 5) and practice (see no. 2) inform the arrangement and the solos.

None of the above particularly new for me, but I hadn’t talked about in precisely those terms before. The self-imposed thought that I should bring a few diamonds with the coals to Newcastle
helped me think about what I do a bit differently. And of course, once we began, the energy, excitement and good sounds that began to fill the room were palpable. Four hours later, people
walked out the door with their spirits refreshed and lots of new ideas and activities tucked in
their back pocket to take back to their kids.

Starting tomorrow, I will happily shift from teacher to student and hope to immerse myself in what appears to be a still-vibrant unique musical culture struggling to say alive amidst the pressures of the good old U.S.A. to commodify it, Disneyfy it, control and limit it, co-opt it, make money from it. I’ll be reporting on what I see, hear and discuss with the local musicians and who knows, maybe I’ll get to sit in on a session or two! Wouldn’t that be sweet.

So it's your man in New Orleans, signing off for now. 

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