5 Questions for The May Jazz Mentor

Paul Haar plays and teaches the saxophone, but that ain’t the half of it, folks. He has performed with Dave Brubeck, Peter Erskine, and Phil Woods, and such classical ensembles as the Tanglewood Music Center Fellowship Orchestra, the Arapahoe Philharmonic and the Omaha Symphony. He actively performs in The Southwest Horns Jazz-Saxophone Ensemble and The Nebraska Jazz Orchestra as well as his own duo and quartet. He is also Assistant Professor of Saxophone and Jazz Studies and directs the Jazz Ensembles at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. In short, he is a very busy man.

Please join us in welcoming Paul as the MENC jazz mentor for May 2009.

What do you find most gratifying about teaching jazz?

I imagine the same thing that hooks most teachers. For me that is what I call “the spark”—that moment when you show them a concept and they discover that key that takes them to the next level.

You have your own website and blog. Does modern technology play a significant role in your teaching?

I try to use it as much as I can, but only if it will enhance the learning experience. For example, I live on YouTube. I can show them an artist or demonstrate a concept in 30 seconds. Students today are very visual. I can talk about Piazzolla or Coleman Hawkins all I want, but to show those figures playing does wonders for sparking the imagination. I also use Springnote so I can carry lesson notes with me on my iPhone. I live on my iPhone. Karajan is a great ear training tool for the iPhone.

You play in both the jazz and classical idioms. Does your approach differ much one to the other?

Yes and no. There is still some big mystery about the two styles. There are still people who believe you have to be born playing jazz. The fact is 65-75% of all music playing deals with the universal concepts of tone, technique, pitch, articulation, etc. Those concepts have to be developed no matter the style or idiom. Then you figure out how to use those tools in the given style or idiom. Discovery and application is universal. I try to talk in terms of music not style. Perhaps this wasn’t the case 40-50 years ago, but today music is universal.

Who are your primary influences as a performer? Do you encourage your students to listen to anyone in particular?

I was first influenced by Stan Getz. My junior high teacher gave me a tenor saxophone and tape of Stan Getz and said, “See you at jazz band tomorrow!” It changed my life. In college I was blessed to meet and do some study with Gary Foster. He is still one of my favorite people to listen to. In the classical area, my teacher at Kansas, Vince Gnojek, is still the sound I strive for. I also discovered Pavarotti in college as well. What else can you say about that man other than “genius”?

I encourage my students to find the “goosebumps”. To this day, I can think of a player or artist and get chills. That is what draws us into music. So I try to find out what gives them that rush, it can be anything, then we can present new music that draws upon what excites them.

What’s on your iPod these days?

I have about 1,500 songs on my iPod, so a lot of everything. I really like Joan Tower’s new symphony, the complete Brandenburg Concertos by a Swiss Baroque ensemble, the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, Warne Marsh and Lee Konitz , Gary Foster, and the Eagles….yes the Eagles!

Got a question about jazz or teaching jazz? Then march on over to the Jazz forum this month to post it, and take advantage of this exciting benefit made available exclusively to MENC members.

—Nick Webb, April 30, 2009, © National Association for Music Education