Jazz, one of the first forms of music popularized in America, has become a well-established genre with decades of history. His improvisation techniques are second to none and have inspired a plethora of musicians. Now, as the tools of jazz are increasingly used in modern music writing and performance, it’s a highly sought-after skill. The UO Jazz Studies Program hosts a day-long adventure in the life of improvisation for high school musicians looking for the skills teachers are happy to teach.
“A lot of them are doing this for the first time, and we try to create a welcoming environment,” said Steve Owen, director of the jazz studies program and music teacher. “It’s not the easiest thing in the world to convince yourself to do.”
Owen, with the help of fellow teachers like instructor and co-event director Paul Krueger, merged musical minds to create a streamlined course for students. Music teachers and graduate students will guide students through three different one-hour sections, with larger masterclasses and then smaller sessions for individual work.
This program was created as an abbreviated version of the program’s week-long summer jazz camp that the program also hosts. Normally at this time of year they would have a jazz festival but that had to be postponed to next year due to COVID-19. But they won’t just be teaching students — high school teachers across the state who were initially only asked to nominate musicians will also be there to watch and learn how to help students understand these grueling techniques.
The program has approximately 50 students and 20 conductors who will attend the full day of events. Owen and the other program coordinators were happy to accommodate as many as they could. The music day is free for all students and teachers who participate. This is an opportunity to open up college-level education to students who are looking for this level in music.
“There are a lot of different ways to work on developing improvisation skills. What we’re trying to do is give students two or three concrete ways to get away from it and be able to practice and work on it when they go back to their schools,” Owen said.
The program wanted to have as many different instrumentalists as possible to help cover a wide range of students while sharing knowledge equitably. Owen and Krueger are also excited to work with musicians they’ve heard performing at competitions around the state. Instructors will teach songs and work on phrases, then allow them to grow from the basics of song.
“Of these practice methods that we’re going to show them, they’re going to apply these methods to other songs that they’re working on in their school bands or at home,” Krueger said.
The day will end with a performance on stage at 6 p.m. to show off the new skills and talents that have been learned in all the lessons. Students will be performing in the Beall Concert Hall for their teachers and family members only due to continued COVID-19 policies, but it will be an exciting time for young musicians to share their new techniques.