Take a Solo: MRU Conservatory’s New Jazz Improv Course
“Life is a lot like jazz… it’s best when you improvise.”
– George Gershwin
Like many jazz artists, Andre Wickenheiser is multifaceted. Whether he’s swinging with the Calgary Creative Arts Ensemble, soloing with the Prime Time Big Band or teaching emerging trumpet players what he’s mastered of the craft, this cat knows jazz.
The great news for up-and-comers is that he’s teaching Jazz Improvisation at MRU Conservatory.
“It’s a very basic jazz improvisation course,” he assures, “We’re starting from the very beginning. It’s a very warm and friendly environment so people can feel free to experiment and create music without judgement.”
He acknowledges that the course is geared towards people 16 and older. He explains the reason is that, “you have to have a certain level of proficiency to get the most out of it.”
Wickenheiser creates a collaborative environment in all ensembles he works with, “It has nothing to do with theory or chords or scales,” he notes, “it’s about sound and time and feel.”
Jazz improvisation is something that has to be learned and nurtured. It’s not just notes. The notes strung together become ideas. Wickenheiser compares, “Creating coherent musical phrases is the equivalent of building a sentence using words. Using the musical ideas you already know, you can form new ‘sentences’ out of that.”
But Wickenheiser imparts that you’re never just speaking to yourself. Under the right tutelage, these sentences can grow into musical conversations between soloists, “There is trading (solos), call-and-response… interacting is a huge part of it.”
His biggest focus in the course is the sound. “No matter what you play, the sound is the first thing people hear.” Not to be singularly focused, he adds, “Then, having a really good time feel so you’re always in the groove.”
The course will start on March 26th and run 7 Sundays (excluding Easter Sunday) from 1-2:30 p.m. at the Taylor Centre for the Performing Arts.
“As jazz has progressed, it’s become more technical.” He explains. But in this Jazz Improv course, he wants to keep it simple.
He cites some heroes, “Guys like Ben Webster (tenor sax), Harry “Sweets” Edison (trumpet) and Lester Young (tenor sax) all played in the Duke Ellington Band and Count Basie Orchestra before bebop. So, before things got really busy and ‘note-y’ they were just playing melodies all the time.”
The secret of their success is, “A lot of the time, they’re playing something simple, but what they’re playing has a very profound statement. It’s not about flash, it’s about being musical. Their sound and their stylistic inflections on things make it very interesting. It’s a good place to start.”
A note of caution from Wickenheiser, “A lot of people listen to Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie when they’re starting. They’re very technical.” He adds that some get turned away from the complexity, “they think – woah, I can’t do that.”
In this course, he empowers the budding jazz soloist, “What you end up creating is based on what you’ve heard before. It’ll get your brain thinking in a different way.”
Along with his instructional duties, you’ll hear Andre Wickenheiser featured in this month’s Salon Series with The Calgary Creative Arts Ensemble in the TransAlta Pavilion at the Taylor Centre for the Performing Arts on Saturday, February 25th at 8pm.
– by JLove