Impnotes.jpg (5397 bytes)  




Hot Links

About Us

What's New?

Improv 04

Points of Jazz

Excerpt & Highlight of the 16th Annual Meeting

International Association of Schools of Jazz

Louisville,  Ky.

June 29, 2006


This past June in Louisville, Kentucky I was lucky enough to observe one day of the 16th Annual Meeting of International Association of Schools of Jazz.  In this very special international gathering, students and teachers from Russia, Japan, Sweden, and the U.S.A. represent just a few examples of the 19 countries gathered for musical interaction, classes and performances. As explained by Artistic Director, Dave Liebman, jazzman with a passion for education, the IAJE  is a different kind of organization, often committed to actually supplying the funding for selected students from countries around the world, who would otherwise not have the opportunity to leave their country, making the opportunity for these students and individuals who are working in the medium of jazz, to collaborate with others, making personal the connections through of the universality of the “language of the jazz.”

      Liebman explained in his convocation the beginnings of the organization, the meeting in “the Hague” and how the conference began in 1987 in Rottenburg, Germany and has been hosted since in more many countries including France, Germany, Italy, Denmark, Ireland, Poland, and the USA, where two other conferences were previously held in New York’s New School and Boston’s Berklee School of Music. I the IASJ’s mission statement  says, “Through its core values of freedom of expression, group interaction, shared respect and individual responsibility, jazz embodies the highes ideals of art and human creativity.  It has emerged as a powerful tool for promoting harmonious relations across highly diverse cultural boundaries. The IAJE devotes much of its attention to developing jazz programs in schools, and ensuring that jazz is part of music curriculums that are already in place. Student to student contact is the centerpiece of the meetings.  As Liebman puts it, “Coming from a country which may have a small jazz scene compared to the United States, it is important that a young, aspiring musician realize that he is not alone, and that people of his or her generation are involved with the exact same material, and shared repertoire that has come to be known as standard and creative jazz.” He said, “It doesn’t matter what language you learn jazz in, since the Duke is Duke Ellington, no matter where.” This year the conference was hosted by Mike Tracy, Director of University of Louisville’s jazz studies program. Students are divided into working ensembles after auditions for an intense week of study, improvisation, collaboration, and performance. 


After Liebman’s opening remarks, he then performed a breathtaking & subtle virtuoso piece on soprano saxophone, with Louisville educator and pianist, Harry Pickens.  The language was clear and the musical opening of the session, flowering in the moment, left the room hushed with appreciation.


Harry Pickens, then jumped up off the piano bench, and began talking of “being
in a living room, listening to CD’s, talking to 4:00 a.m. moving spontaneously through his stirring and totally inspiring lecture to the audience.  “I believe in your affirming the fact that jazz is now a global music, bringing the entire world of jazz together, that, the music of jazz is in fact the world’s first true international music”.  We can connect (as jazz musicians) in a rigorous discipline of melodies, harmonies, and form that are shared, and we are trained in the “melting pot of the moment, in that moment of being fully present to the mystery of life itself”.

Ask Harry for his Book on Jazz. Send him an email

He suggests these points of discipleship  to everyone in the room.

·        Have a Spiritual and a physical discipline, because what we are dealing with here is the molding of energy.

·        He mentions books by Tony Robbins. “Accept and let go.”

·        Fill your mental file cabinets with records of positive experiences.

·        Write them down.

·        Consciously remember.

·        Practice remembering. The more you practice, the more you can recall. Keep a journal.


Continuing on the lecture theme, “Did you create your pulse?”  
It’s there, your heartbeat and breath!   How many of you are conscious of the breaths that you take? 
We are all breathing the same air.  It’s not the mind or conscious self that knows we live on the edge
of a mystery, connected to life itself,  with the willingness and capacity to risk it all in the moment.


“You are part of the second century of the art form of jazz.  Much of the foundation was planted
in the 20th century--Armstrong, Blake, Brubeck, Kenton, Miles Davis, Weather Report, bee bop,
Bud Powell.  Now we’re blending in new directions ~ world music, folk, reggae, and Balanese! 

My message to you is to root yourself deeply in the tradition.  Listen retroactively to fats Waller, Duke Ellington, Milton, Teddy Wilson. Experience the intensity and power, taste the power of the individual voices.  Charlie Parker revolutionized the music by his unique approach to melody and line.  Go back to notice so you can recognize and appreciate the generations.  The corollary value is to go forward and allow yourself to open yourself to every possible influence, so that you can do for jazz in the 21st century what the greats did in the 20th century.


Pickins goes on to say to the young students of jazz. “Get rid of the inner critic.   
     Change your images and change the quality of your own performance." 

·        Dis-inhibit yourself. Sing before you play. Move. Scat. 

·        Posture. Sit as though you’re bored and tired, then sit as though you were more alert than ever in your life. Feel alertness and show it in your eyes.  Now scat sing and what do you notice?

·        Fake it til you make it”.  Put whatever “feeling” in your body that you need.  Act as though you want to feel, and your feelings will follow…

·        Mentions the book, “Guided Imagery for the Jazz Master” by  Jamie Abersold.   Say, “I trust the music within me, and easily allow it to flow through me,” moving from stage fright to deep confidence in performing.  The more you imagine, the creative imagination becomes more powerful.


Pickens tells the students, “You are part of a great tradition.  Liberate the Voice inside.  Use mental rehearsal.  See yourself fully.  Look well to this day, this note, this moment, this experience.  Yesterday is a dream.  Tomorro is a vision".


 “Rule number One.  The Music first. No ego or nothing else, then there is really no “me”. 
Nobody really cares and it’s nobody’s business. There’s no good or bad. 


It  is.”   


     After a thoughtful silence, Liebman proceeds to play one of the most sensitive soprano solos I’ve ever heard, with Pickins entering moments later, supporting the essence of every chord.

Later on, Dave Liebman came back to talk to the group, with specific technique applications in his own lecture, “Working with a Rhythm Section”.  He begins talking about the basics—elements like melody, rhythm, harmony, color, and form.  Then of course he adds, there’s shape.  He tells styles of movement, of Coltrane, and speaks of “plateau playing”, going up and leveling off, go up, level off. And of Miles, who would go up and leave it there. Then the next player takes the melody from there, at that left intensity, and that’s where he starts. 

And there’s the ‘Stop before you finish. Leave it, to go on!  He monishes us to listen. and ask the question, what is the shape of the solos?  

The Color?   blue?  Mixing colors and sounds…it’s part of the sound seduction 

Jazz?   Sorry, it’s a rhythmic  music.  What separates jazz from all the other improvised music is the rhythm!  (plus the harmony)  It can be lyrical, sweet, humorous, generous, lovely, rough, or harsh. Harmony is the same: emotion, shape, and physical.  Rhythm is the first element. Harmony is secondary, and Melody is Universal.  But it’s the rhythm that is the heart of the idiom.  The triplet, and the eighth note. 

Liebman explains to us that the eighth note is the currency, the penny.  Rashid Ali took Elvin Jones place in the Coltrane band and went out of rhythm. He went free. That was his thing. And for Liebman, it is also a quest, to get out of eight notes. How to get out of eighth notes? He poses the question.

First, he says, practice eighth notes accurately. It is fundamental to the beat. 

He has us do an exercise. We count bars in our heads and clap after four bars on the beat.
Sounds easy, doesn’t it, but our claps came together all ragged, not exact.  His point exactly.  Time is relative.  But you gotta be on the beat. Gotta keep it in your body as well as your head.  If you have it, then you can play on it, before, after it, around it, but you’re still keeping it going. Suggests practice with a metronome, and “Early Jazz”  Gunther Schuller’s book for understanding the upbeat of jazz. Before, after, center of the beat. Exercise, top, middle, behind the beat, because if we know where the beat is, we don’t have to paint it out.  

Another exercise:   “Boo!”  Say “boo!” back.

"Hoo!"  Say “hoo” back.   “fuck you!” 

Pick it up from the other guy or compliment, or acknowledge the presence of an idea , or even reject it without mimicking the idea, but spring from it. 

Liebman called on a rhythm section, behind him, to demonstrate different ways of playing the beat. 

"Top, middle, or behind the beat, as a rhythm section, because we know where the beat is, we don’t have to point it out” literally”.

This gives the music an aheadness  or layed backness about tension and release. “Move through the groove”, he says. “Everybody gets it. Part of playing together is that the beat is flexible or loose. He advocates to play behind the beat for four days, then play ahead of the beat for four days, then mix it up.  He cites Dexter Gordon, famous for playing being the beat. Johnny Griffin plays on top of the beat.  Who you are has an area of the beat that’s most natural to you.  Elvin Jones plays as custodian of behind the beat. Mid tempo, he’d go down. When he plays fast he plays on top of the time. 

Other examples.  Miles would feel the drag. Count Basie, eighteen guys lay behind the beat. Eighth notes:  Place front, center, and behind. Quarter note triplets: against the beat. Nine vs. Seven: Southern India on violin.  

Liebman follows this intense & captivating discussion about ‘time with a blues jam.  The rhythm section cranks up.  I notice it sits well in a white University Recital Hall.  In fact, I enjoy it immensely more than in a dark room with whiskey, cigarettes and beer.  For me, it’s an entirely suitable environment for the music.  Attentive listernership. Guys exposing the music’s authenticity.

As Liebman remarks, “What’s a couple of beats among friends? But yet, who can count? Nobody.  Create shapes in time!  As Picasso has pointed out, Art is deception.  The appearance of something you don’t see what you think you see.  The listener, the receiver, take on a voyage.  Entertainment is about expectations.  Jazz, creates a voyage, a trip.  In the trip, you see, you feel, you breathe from one land to the next, it takes you to a better place, about feeling, and thinking".   Imaginaton.



                                                                                  ~LaDonna Smith


For more information on International Association of Schools of Jazz,