5 Questions for the May 2010 Jazz Mentor

Dave Gregoric is Director of Jazz at Valley Christian Schools in San Jose, California. His bands have won top honors at the Reno Jazz Festival, and San Jose Festival, and been selected as National finalists for both the Monterey Jazz Festival and University of Southern California Jazz Festivals. He has recorded with artists like Cab Calloway and Pete Escovedo, and shared the stage with the likes of The Temptations, Louis Bellson and Steve Turre. He has also taught at the Stanford Jazz Workshop and Monterey Jazz Festival Summer Camp, and adjudicated at various CMEA Jazz Festivals.

Please join us in welcoming Dave as the MENC jazz mentor for May 2010.

You’ve been teaching at Valley Christian Schools for 14 years now. Could you tell readers a little bit about your Jazz program and the ensembles you direct?

I have a middle school band and two high school bands, combo and a Latin jazz ensemble. I am lucky to be my own feeder. We have a mentor system that develops fundamentals in younger players. I also co-direct a jazz summer camp which has really boosted our program.

Your ensembles have performed and competed in numerous state and national festivals, often winning top honors. Do you have any advice for managing the challenges of travelling with young musicians and keeping the drama to a minimum?

We travel a reasonable amount for a school group. I am lucky to work with a wonderful and talented administrator named Cindy Adams and we work as a team to put together efficient and safe trips. Our department relies on building a team of parents who take on various tasks and responsibilities before and during each trip.

We have clear rules and procedures that we communicate before and during trips. Our department handbook (lf you don’t have one, start writing it now) is our contract with our students. I think drama is usually caused by lack of clarity, so we work hard to avoid it. When kids break the rules, they feel the consequences and we move on.

I think it is important to pick events that are meaningful and offer growth. Although it is fun to do amusement park festivals, you still have to do events that have meaningful feedback and interaction. Your students are not usually fooled by getting 1st place in the neo-advanced novice division.

You were part of the development team for the San Jose Jazz Society’s high school jazz education program and study guide, Hip to Jazz. Could you talk a little about its approach to teaching jazz?

The San Jose Jazz Society team that put this together (under the leadership of Mr. Rob Roman) designed a fun program to introduce participants to the fundamentals of jazz performance. The key concept explored in Hip to Jazz is improvisation, one of the fundamental elements of jazz.

The Hip to Jazz program introduces the art of improvisation in a straight-forward manner, starting with lessons that explore the harmonic structure of “Take the ‘A’ train,” a jazz standard written by Billy Strayhorn and made famous by Duke Ellington. Later lessons use this composition to explore the relationship between the harmonic structure and improvisation. For further study, the CD and the guide include additional lead sheets and performances of a few well known jazz standards.

What is your proudest moment as a jazz educator?

The “proudest” moment happens every time I hear a student I work with really understanding jazz. It is really amazing to hear kids playing soulfully.

What are you listening to these days? 

I have recently become a fan of Kneebody, a post-modern jazz quintet.


—Nick Webb, May 7, 2010, © National Association for Music Education