5 Questions for the September Jazz Mentor

Carol Jacobe is a music educator specializing in vocal studies. She has taught at the middle school, high school and collegiate levels for more than 35 years. She has also served as an adjudicator and clinician, and chaired numerous vocal jazz festivals. In 2005, she received the Outstanding Choral Director award from Civic Morning Musicals, the Outstanding Vocal Music Educator Award from the Syracuse Symphony Orchestra, and the Outstanding Jazz Educator Award from the Syracuse Jazz Fest, which honored her by dedicating one of the festival days in her name.

Please join us in welcoming Carol as the MENC jazz mentor for September 2009.

You’ve directed both conventional choirs and vocal jazz ensembles. Does your approach differ much, one to the other?

In terms of vocal production my approach is the same. The main difference is in the tone, vowel production, and style.

What do you find most gratifying about teaching vocal jazz?

This is the one art form that allows students to be individually creative. When I teach a piece of classical literature to a choir or individuals, there is not much room to stray away from the composers’ notes on the page. With jazz, the notes are just the beginning. Students can explore the melodic content while maintaining the harmonic structure. Watching young students develop this creative process is very rewarding.

Are there any educators, vocalists or vocal ensembles that have significantly influenced your approach to teaching or the direction of your ensembles?

Without hesitation, Diana Spradling (Western Michigan University) has had and still has a major influence on who I am as a jazz musician today. She inspired me to explore vocal jazz and has generously mentored me over the years.

As for groups, I don’t think any groups have influenced my teaching style, but ones like The Manhattan Transfer, The Ritz, New York Voices, and m-pact have all played a role in developing my “ear” for the vocal jazz sound and style.

Soloists such as Ella Fitzgerald and Mel Torme play an important part of learning how to stylize jazz. Listening is crucial if you are going to teach jazz. If you are intelligent and a good musician, you should be able to approach vocal jazz singing successfully. Of course, working with good clinicians is the best way to educate yourself in this style. Besides Spradling, Susan Moninger (Elmhurst College), Dave Riely (Ithaca College) and Kirt Marcy (Edmonds College) have all had a major influence on my vocal jazz approach.

You direct the Jazzuits, Le Moyne College’s vocal jazz ensemble. Could you tell us a little bit about them, and what it’s like to work with them?

This group evolved about 6 years ago when two of my former high school students enrolled at Le Moyne, realized the absence of any vocal jazz, and convinced the administration to allow them to start a vocal jazz ensemble. You never know how you influence students that leave you. Fortunately, I was able to direct the group. Le Moyne is a Jesuit College, thus the name of our group–Jazzuits.

The ensemble ranges from 10-16 SATB singers with drums, piano, and bass players. Le Moyne is not a music college, so most of my students are there because of their high school music programs and their love of singing. The ensemble rehearses 4 hours a week, hosts high school vocal jazz festivals, attends workshops, performs college and community concerts, and it has the opportunity to work with several prominent vocal jazz artists each year.

I enjoy working with college students as much as I did my high school students. The main difference is that their voices are more mature and most of them now have a direction in life. It’s great to be able to still teach vocal jazz after retiring from 34 years in the public school system.

What are you listening to these days?

I enjoy all types of music. What I listen to just has to do with what my ears want to hear. I enjoy vocal and instrumental classical music, rock and roll, music from the 50’s-70’s, and musical theater. Having taught high school for 24 years, I have had the opportunity to explore all styles of music and I encourage my students to do the same.

—Nick Webb, September 2, 2009, © National Association for Music Education