5 Questions for the December 2011 Jazz Mentor

David Edmund is visiting assistant professor of music education at the University of Florida. He holds a Masters of Music Education degree, with Jazz Studies emphasis, from the University of North Texas, and Ph.D. in music education from UF, where he was a Presidential Fellow. David worked for 10 years as an elementary music educator, where he was named Ruskin Elementary Teacher of the Year in 2001. He has also performed and recorded professionally with (the first-ever) Florida Inter-Collegiate Wind Ensemble and various chamber orchestras, large and small jazz ensembles, soul, reggae, and pop/rock bands.

Please join us in welcoming David as the NAfME jazz mentor for December 2011.

What do you find most gratifying about teaching jazz to young musicians?

When students learn to listen to and perform jazz, they experience a new level of freedom. In the jazz big band, they have the opportunity and responsibility to maintain their own part. In small groups, they are afforded many opportunities to compose, improvise, and communicate. My private music students learn to improvise very early on. The challenge of teaching students how to make informed musical choices is a beautiful thing. It has much to do with structure and sequence within musical independence and freedom.

Are there any educators or performers who have significantly influenced your approach to teaching?

For musicians and educators, it’s so important to develop roots. For me, those roots came from my teachers, peers, and the musicians I’ve grown up listening to. My primary mentor was my high school band director, who played a mean trumpet and was a very good pianist. My first trumpet teacher was a cat named Johnny Dee, who was a fine jazz musician. Later, I learned from Gary Langford at the University of Florida and some wonderful instructors at the University of North Texas, including Jim Riggs, Mike Steinel, Neil Slater, Dan Haerle, and Paris Rutherford. Another teacher who really taught me how to play and teach trumpet was Leon Merrian. He was a fantastic diagnostician.

Probably my biggest influences, though, were my peers and the professionals I’ve grown up listening to. I’ve learned so much from my guitar/saxophone/trumpet buddies, and those lessons have shaped my teaching style. I couldn’t be an effective music educator without the lessons I’ve learned listening to Louis Armstrong, Charlie Parker, Clark Terry, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Clifford Brown, Horace Silver, Art Blakey, Freddie Hubbard, Benny Golson, Lee Morgan, Thad Jones, Wynton Marsalis, Tim Hagans, etc.

If you could design an ideal jazz education curriculum, what kinds of coursework would you emphasize?

Instead of giving you the “status quo,” I’m going to try and be a little creative here. This list is by no means comprehensive, but given the freedom of developing my ideal curriculum, these are some of the course titles I would include (listed in the order in which they would be taught):

1) Jazz Listening Lab
 2) Grass Roots of Improvisation
 3) Jazz Style and Articulation
 4) Playing Your Part in the Jazz Ensemble
 5) Improvisation II: Bebop Language
 6) Media Development for Today’s Musician
 7) Improvisation III: Modern Tonality and Extended Techniques

There are so many cracks to fill in here, but these courses would provide a foundation.

What are the toughest challenges facing jazz educators today, in your opinion?

Keeping up with technology is a challenge all educators face. There’s such a necessity to make musical products readily available online. We need to be able to speak the language of our students, who are the true digital natives.

The necessity to cultivate an audience has been and always will be a challenge. As jazz (or any music) becomes increasingly innovative, our audience narrows. That challenge, then, becomes a balancing act between originality and attainability.

Another challenge is maintaining our presence within the continually increasing curricular requirements at the college level. Our music education students need opportunities to participate in jazz ensembles, improvisation classes, and jazz pedagogy. It’s difficult to afford those opportunities for future music educators when the curricular demands continue to expand.

What are you listening to these days?

Well, I mentioned roots earlier in the interview. Last week I was checking out Miles Davis — Porgy and Bess. Right now I’m playing a jazz holiday playlist with everything from Diana Krall, to Nat King ColeLouis Armstrong, andWynton Marsalis.

I believe students of jazz should listen to and participate in other genres. If Stravinsky was important to Charlie Parker, he’s important to me. I love rock music (Led ZeppelinThe PolicePink FloydSteely Dan), R&B (Stevie WonderMarvin GayeAretha Franklin), and the new eclectic Latin Bands. Suenalo and Spam All-Stars are really talented and fun groups from Miami. I often go right back to the roots though, from Bach cantatas to the Count Basie Orchestra.


—Nick Webb, December 1, 2011, © National Association for Music Education (www.nafme.org)