One Measure at a Time: Advice from the October Mentor

The October mentor on the MENC Jazz forum, Andrew Goodrich, shares his thoughts on inspiration, engaging students, and working with limited time and resources.

What first interested you in jazz music?

My father listened to jazz all of the time. He had thousands of 78 rpm records. I was always hearing musicians like Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, and Bix Beiderbecke. My father was an attorney by trade, but he was also an excellent musician. He could play any standard in any key on the piano or trumpet.

What are some of your favorite aspects of teaching jazz history?

Continuing to discover the cultural elements that played a part in the evolution of the music. My current interest in this area includes learning about the contributions of the Creole musicians to jazz. And, of course, getting to listen to the music from throughout the history of jazz music every time I teach the class!

Some teachers have shared concerns on the forums about working with after-school jazz ensembles–they feel they can’t develop improvisation skills as much as they’d like in the limited time period. Do you have any suggestions for those working with limited time and/or resources?

It’s important for music educators to remember that “Rome wasn’t built in a day.” In other words, practice improvisation a little bit at a time. For example, try transcribing 1 or 2 measures, or 1 phrase, of an accessible jazz solo. Then, over the course of the next few days practice playing and/or singing that phrase over and over again and in different keys. After a relatively short period of time a person can begin to build up a jazz vocabulary and hopefully improve their aural skills. Make sure to play or sing with your students!

A recent NEA study (summarized here) showed that the median age of live jazz audiences is getting older. How do we get more young people interested in jazz?

I think if one thinks in terms of jazz being considered a popular music then, yes, the audience is getting older. When I adjudicate at jazz festivals, though, the auditorium is full of young people. It’s important for directors to encourage their students to be consumers of jazz music both in live venues and with recordings. In addition, if directors can encourage and support all of their students to improvise this will hopefully make jazz music more “real” to the students and provide them with skills to continue playing or singing beyond high school in a potential variety of musical styles.

What’s one piece of advice you’d offer to a jazz educator in his/her first year of teaching?

Don’t be afraid to ask a lot of questions. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. And listen to the music as much as possible.

Andrew Goodrich is assistant professor of music education at Boston University, where he supervises student teachers in addition to coaching jazz combos and teaching a graduate and graduate course in jazz history and jazz pedagogy. Read his full bio on the Mentors page. 

–Anne Wagener, September 30, 2009 © National Association for Music Education