Category: Music Education

Examples of and things related to my work in music education.

Cambridge Jazz Co-op Session this Saturday

Following last year’s successful session at the Cambridge Jazz Co-op, I’ll be running another this Saturday, 17th May.  We’ll look at various strategies, melodic and harmonic, for improvising over vamps and other harmonically static settings.  There’ll be two tunes we use for this:

Dolores in a Shoestand (Esbjorn Svensson Trio):
Wights Waits for Weights (Steve Coleman):

The session starts at 11:00 and runs to 13:30, at the Blue Moon Pub, Cambridge, and costs £10 for members (non-members must purchase annual membership for an additional £10).  Full details can be found at the Co-op website.

I’ll endeavor to post some info about what we covered after the session.

University of the 3rd Age: live jazz demonstration

L-R Simon, Derek, Joel and James
L-R Simon, Derek, Joel and James (that’d be me)

Today I had the pleasure of giving a live demonstration of small band jazz to the jazz appreciation class of the Cambridge branch of the University of the 3rd Age.  For those of you who aren’t aware of it, U3A is a nationwide organisation in which groups of retired and semi-retired people get together for the purpose of learning for learning’s sake – what a wonderful thing!  I was invited by Alan from the Cambridge branch after he came to Vesperados’ Hot Numbers gig back in April 2013 and although the V chaps were not all able to make it, Derek Scurll (drums) was, and I also invited Joel Humann (bass) and Simon Warder (sax) to join me.  We were welcomed by a group of about 40 people eager and waiting to hear some live jazz.


I decided that the best thing we could do for the group was to present a whistle-stop tour through the standards repertoire, trying to cover as much jazz history as we could squeeze into an hour and a quarter.  Picking this list was tricky, as I had to leave out many periods, composers and styles I would otherwise liked to have included.  However I eventually settled on the following tunes:

  • Four (Miles Davis) – as an introduction.
  • All The Things You Are (Jerome Kern/Oscar Hammerstein II) – as an example of a Tin Pan Alley song which forms the backbone of the standards repertoire.
  • Anthropology (Charlie Parker/Dizzy Gillespie) – as an example of a ‘rhythm changes’ tune (one written on the chord sequence of Gershwin’s I Got Rhythm) and as an example of bebop.
  • Now’s The Time (Charlie Parker) – as an example of the blues in jazz.
  • Chelsea Bridge (Billy Strayhorn) – as an example of Ellingtonia (the music associated with Duke Ellington) and an example of a jazz ballad.
  • I Mean You (Thelonius Monk) – as an example of the characteristic music of Monk.
  • I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free (Billy Taylor) – as an example of Soul Jazz and the gospel influence in jazz in the 1960s.
  • Meditation (Antonio Carlos Jobim and Newton Mendonça) – as an example of Latin jazz/the bossa nova craze.
  • Adam’s Apple (Wayne Shorter) – as an example of the compositions of Wayne Shorter and of stripped-down, modal-influenced jazz.
  • 500 Miles High (Chick Corea) – as a (very small!) example of jazz-fusion.
  • Strasbourg/St. Denis (Roy Hargrove) – as an example of a modern-day standard.
Real Books Galore
Real Books Galore

Of course this list is wholly inadequate as a real overview of jazz history – for one thing it’s almost completely America-centric, and only contains two tunes written after 1970.  Talking with Simon after the demonstration, I reflected that what this list really is is a survey of the (Hal Leonard) Real Book, which leans very heavily towards both America and pre-1970s tunes.  I wondered how much this has and continues to shape our view of jazz history and ‘standard’ repertoire.  Surely as perhaps the majority of budding jazz musicians these days use books like these to get into and play the repertoire they are very influential in the kind of tunes, composers and styles that these musicians check out?  It was necessary due to time/instrumentation/rehearsal restraints (i.e. no rehearsal!) for this gig to stick to the basic shared repertoire but I’d be interested to try and produce an ‘overview’ list some time which was not constrained to Real Book tunes.  I wonder what else would make it in?

Simon Cookin'
Simon Cookin’

Anyway, I certainly enjoyed the session and I hope the U3A group did as well.  Alan was kind enough to take the photos which I’ve shared through this post.  For anyone reading this interested in finding out more about the U3A and its work, I suggest you try their website.

Guildhall Advanced Jazz Summer School

GSMD Jazz Summer School
Proud ownership!

I’ve just attended the Guildhall School of Music and Drama’s intensive two-day Advanced Jazz course .  Along with about 25 others, I benefited from tutoring with GSMD jazz professors Carlos Lopez-Real, Malcolm Edmonstone and Malcolm Miles, learning a great deal along the way.  At £195 it had the potential to be a rather expensive jam but I really felt like I got a lot of value from the experience and the feeling of the other musicians (who ranged from relatively green teenagers to fairly experienced adult amateurs and semi-pros) seemed to be the same and we all had a great time playing together.  Each day began at 10am and didn’t end until 10pm, so I really felt like I was getting my money’s worth!

After an initial blow over some blues as a whole group, we were split into 3 combos based on ability, and we then worked in these combos for the rest of the course.  My combo was tutored by Carlos Lopez-Real, an alto saxophonist and head of the Contemporary Jazz course at the Guildhall. Carlos introduced us to some great tunes which were mostly unknown to the group but likely to find their way into some set lists soon!  These were:

El Gaucho – Wayne Shorter

Falling Grace – Steve Swallow

Wights Waits for Weights – Steve Coleman

Song for Bilbao – Pat Metheney

Joy – Bheki Mseleku

Friday Night at the Cadillac Club – Bob Berg

Other groups looked at other tunes and after an informal jam on the first night (including a killing rendition of What is this thing called love? from Malcolm Edmonstone, Carlos and GSMD students Gili and David) we all performed our sets for one another and an audience of friends and guests on the final night in the music room of Sundial Court, which appears to be the main student bar of the GSMD.

Interspersed with the combo sessions were ‘skills sessions’, one with each tutor.  Carlos really stretched us with rhythmic challenges (something I had a lot of trouble with!), Malcolm Miles took us through about nine different ways to play over a one-chord vamp and Malcolm Edmonstone gave us an amazing insight into using pairs of triads as a basis for improvisation, laying it all out in by far the clearest way I’ve ever encountered.  I feel like in two days I’ve learned about enough things to practice for months or even years to come!  There were a couple of current or former GSMD students filling out gaps in rhythm sections (one per combo) and from talking to them it appeared that the content of our course was not that dissimilar from actual classes at the conservatoire.  I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this course to anyone who’s gained a basic grasp of jazz improvisation and harmony (especially that you’re confident in your major and minor modes, can read most changes and follow forms).  For those still relatively new to jazz the GSMD also do a week-long introductory course earlier in the summer.

Cambridge Jazz Co-op Workshop

I’m delighted to be leading a workshop with the Cambridge Jazz Co-op this coming Saturday.  As they put it themselves at

The Cambridge Jazz Co-op is an informal group of amateur jazz musicians that meet on Saturday mornings at the Man on the Moon pub in Cambridge, U.K. to play under the guidance and tuition of professional/prestigious jazz tutors/performers.

It’s a great privilege for me to be invited to share my skills and experience with the group, and I’ve planned what I hope will be a fun and interesting (and a little bit of a different) session:

As players we are immensely lucky to be able to choose from so many great standards, so it’s not surprising that some get called again and again, and sometimes we might get a bit tired of some of them.  To keep things sounding fresh, there are plenty of ways to make our solos interesting and new, but there are also lots of things we can do with the material we’ve been given, by interpreting melodies in new ways and by making our own arrangements.  These don’t have to be complex written affairs – sometimes a change of feel, adding or taking away a bar here or there or putting the melody somewhere unusual can be all it takes to bring an old warhorse back to life, and this can even sometimes be done on the bandstand or in a jam session!

This workshop won’t be about sitting down with pen and paper and writing things out (unless someone finds that useful).  We’ll look at everything through our instruments, and there’ll be plenty of chances to blow as well.  We’ll look at fresh approaches to a well-known standard or two, plus an adaptation of an original tune of mine, Night Owl – see an earlier post for a rehearsal video of this tune in quintet form.

See the Cambridge Jazz Co-op website for more information, especially if you’d like to join in!

P.S. if you would like to come be aware that East Road is completely closed so the Man in the Moon can only be accessed by vehicle from Newmarket Road, via Coldham’s Lane and New Street.  Pedestrian/cycle access should be ok but might take slightly longer than usual.