1) Jazz: a Combination of Craft and Art


Although jazz is an abstract and personal form of artistic expression, it is comprised of specific elements used by all jazz musicians.

At this studio, the basic elements of jazz are examined, defined, prioritized, and taught to students using an integrated curriculum. Students learn the fundamentals - the materials, concepts, skills, and techniques - of the jazz profession. They become adept at the craft of jazz and gain the freedom to concentrate on artistic expression.


Students develop a personal form of artistic expression in various ways:


1) Students add their own interpretation and nuance to the music they play;

2) Students seek out new ideas in areas of personal interest. They generate ideas of their own and learn from other musicians by listening, researching, and analyzing;

3) Students find unique ways to combine the materials, concepts, skills, and techniques they have learned.


The renowned jazz pianist Bill Evans used a similar approach. He describes, in the following quotation, a process involving analysis, abstraction of basic principles, and development of a personal form of musical expression:


‘I didn’t have the kind of facile talent that a lot of people have, the ability just to listen and transfer something to my instrument. I had to go through a terribly hard analytical and building process. In the end I came out ahead in a sense because I knew what I was doing in a more thorough way.... Rather than just accept the nuances or syntax of a style completely, [I] abstract principles from it and then put it together myself. It may come out resembling the [original] style, but it will be structured differently, and that may be what gives it its identity’ (quoted in Len Lyons, “The Great Jazz Pianists: Speaking of Their Lives and Music,” New York: DaCapo Press, 1983, p. 221).


While exploring their creativity, students also develop a practice regimen, a daily workout routine, so that their craftsmanship can continue to evolve.


2) Development of the “Ear”


When jazz musicians hear a musical idea (from an external source or in their heads), it is important for them to be able to process the sound of the idea on an intuitive level, leading to one or both of the following results:


1) They can transfer the idea directly to their instruments;

  1. 2)They can immediately interpret the idea according to some type of musical system such as notes or numbers. (They can then transfer the idea to their instruments or to music notation.)


This intuitive processing of sound resulting in performance, interpretation, or transcription can be described as playing, interpreting, or transcribing “by ear.”


Processing the sound of a musical idea in this manner involves the subconscious linking of the sound with one or more additional aspects:


1) The configurations (such as shapes or color patterns) observed on the instrument when the idea is played (visual),

2) The tactile and muscular sense associated with the idea when it is played (physical),

  1. 3)The relationship of the idea to some type of musical system (intellectual).


As students learn the basic elements which comprise the materials of jazz (scales, chords, chord voicings, patterns, etc.), they can purposely link the sound of each element (aural memory) with the three other aspects, (visual, physical, and intellectual). They will be able to play, interpret, and transcribe each element by ear.


Since ideas encountered in the future will often consist of the basic elements which have been learned, students will also be able to play, interpret, and transcribe these new ideas by ear.

Students can test and improve their ability to play by ear by singing ideas before locating them on their instruments, by transposing ideas and pieces, and by transcribing music from recordings.

© Copyright 2013 by Gary Swerdlow: All Rights Reserved. No items on this page can be reproduced in any form or by any means without the prior permission of Gary Swerdlow.

Articles From Brochure Describing Swerdlow Music Studios and Teaching Methodology

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1) Jazz: a Combination of Craft and Art

2) Development of the “Ear”

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