Sunday, October 12, 2014

Master class

I have been studying at Berklee College of Music for about a month now, and I am amazed at how much I have learned. Each subject influences the next. Ear training helps harmony, which helps my arranging, which helps me improvise. The connections go on. 

Lately I have been able to attend many amazing master classes, presented by complete masters in the field of music, as well as jazz. On September 29th I attended a masterclass by Patrice Rushen for my Artistry, Creativity, Inquiry class at Berklee. On September 30th I attended a Jason Moran, Vijay Iyer masterclass at New England Conservatory. On October 2nd I attended a Fred Taylor masterclass at Berklee. On October 8th I attended a Fred Hersch masterclass at New England Conservatory. Finally, on October 8th I attended a Keith Lockhart masterclass at Berklee. 


Just like Jazz Week at Berklee, I wanted to share some clips and quotes that I found not only helpful, but insightful.  




Master class
Thoughts from the masters

Rushen playing "Night in Tunisia" 

  • If you're in it for the long run you need all important skill sets. This industry doesn't support specialists. You need a game plan to take advantage of the many skills within your skills.
  • You want to be a contributor to the continuum. The salvation of the music is to be able to do many things.
  • Everything you do ends up being collaborative effort because sharing information enhances the big picture. It’s about a sum of the parts, a network.
  • People support you if you can play a part well. Superficial obstacles are part of reality, and you need to figure ways to get around them. You have to be really good, and own it. Operate from the standpoint of where you want to go.
  • There is no better way to understand something than experience it doing yourself.
  • You need to answer the first question before anything else: why the real why. Why is a belief that at your core this is your life’s purpose and everything you do must resonate with your soul, this truth. There are easier things to do in life, but the payoff is that it resonates with your truth. Integrity should not be eroded.
  • Don't wait to give back. Absorb everything you can right now to teach you how to be a better artist, person, individual. Every performance you're giving back. Treat every moment with respect and give people their money's worth. Every time you perform you're teaching.


  • Keeping time is a shared responsibility. Keep hacking until you have made space to contemplate what's happening around you. You need to hear the space you occupy. It's really okay, the world will not end. 
  • Learn how music fits into culture, into all the other art forms, into society. Music is everywhere, and it is not the end of it. You need to find the applications of ideas that don't seemingly relate. 
  • Dance is power. 
  • You need to view a song from all angles. Let your idea trail off to another land. Follow your intuition even further. Get the same level of propulsion without all the activity. Get us hooked for the story. It has to be a story, it has to evolve. 
  • You don't need to hold onto the baggage of the older generation of musicians - they aren't paying you to lug their baggage around! Use it all as an exploration.
  • Less, less, less glaze. Put it in the oven, pull it out, sand it.
  • A song is a freedom source. It's not about A to B. It's about sound. 
  • Trust. You have to be like water. 
  • You can transcribe and transcribe, but realize there is gold inside of you. 
Iyer and Moran (L to R)
  • Undo assumptions about how you are supposed to function in a musical context. Every sound you make should be a choice in relation to everyone else. 
  • It's about how ideas work in reality, how to respond in the moment. The basic fact is that music is about communication. 
  • An album doesn't need to express the totality of who you are and what your music is about. It's about a facet or idea. 
  • Jazz is like method acting - you have to be vulnerable to the point where you may lose it. Dig into the electricity in the air to find the vulnerable space where you can transform. 
  • Look at anyone's iPod and they have a variety of music - Taylor Swift, Lil Wayne, Beethoven, Radiohead, etc. Find the identity of your song from the perspective of reaching outside of yourself. 
  • Just sit on a groove and find it for hours. Magnify it to become its own universe. A pulse comes from eternity. Reflect on that. 
  • Get yourself outside of it enough to be detached and to observe. 
  • Remember where music came from. It's from us, people. Something about that is a necessity. 
  • Do something that might not be music, something that you've never imagined yourself doing, or something that you don't think you can do. What are the limits of music? Then take a step over that. That's your own body, your own hands. Do something nobody else's hands can do. It might not be music until you harness it.


  • "Salt Peanuts" by Dizzy Gillespie was the first jazz record I bought. It still kills me. There is such humor in it. Jazz is innovative, leave a little humor in that. 
  • It's about the continuum, from the greats to the arising talents - they all need to be showcased, and they all learn from each other. Diversify. 
  • Jazz is an umbrella and there are so many categories underneath it. 

  • The art of a duo is to share the sonic space. Balance it, shape it. 
  • I'm on the road a lot and one of the things that is so vital is to do a sound check. Make an acoustic sound a little more present. Pan the sounds, and start with less always. This is important because if your sound is correct than the music is easy. If not, then it can feel forced or not so in sync. 
  • Think like a drum set and less like a piano player.
  • Always steal the last phrase of what someone played before you. This creates continuity in the musical conversation. 
  • As an accompanist, you want to give someone a 'warm bath' so to speak, something comfortable to lay on top of. 
  • The job of a singer is to tell a story, and you need to know who you are telling that story to. Is it to one person? The entire audience? Have a pointed view, have more bite. 
  • Give direction of where you are going to others. It all has to be in context. There needs to be a certain uniqueness with each person you play with. 
  • Instrumentalists should always know the words of a song to know the color, flow, shape, contour, and ebb and flow of it all.  
  • You have to act. Let it out of the box and be silly. Jazz singers should learn from musical theater singers. Don't be so internal. Don't shrug that off because, "I'm a hip jazz singer". Give it to the audience. 
Meeting Keith Lockhart

  • Learn the difference between responsibility and power.
  • Always be quick to apologize when you make a mistake. Of course, never make a mistake. 
  • Delegate, delegate, delegate.
  • Lead by example. 
  • Pick your battles, and when and where to fight them. 
  • Accept that since everyone has different visions, you have to be all things. 
  • Be acutely aware of your own actions. 
  • Make sure whatever motivational tools you employ will have the desired effect. Know your audience. 
  • It's lonely at the top. Know the people you work with. 
  • You need to communicate a love and a passion for what you do. 

Final Thoughts:
I put each note in a bullet point format versus a paragraph format to identify individual thoughts, and to realize how hefty each thought is. Each idea is really from a lifetime of experience, and I am so grateful to be able to hear and learn from these masters. 

I can't help but linger on Jason Moran's thought that you can transcribe, learn from the masters, all you want, but realize there is gold inside of you too. 

Check out my jazz poetry blog, Without a Poem, where I improvise a new poem everyday! These thoughts inspired my poem, "A Summary". 

No comments:

Post a Comment