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:
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.