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.

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