Jazz ensemble is distinct from other instrumental music classes offered in the band program in that improvisation is an integral part of the music making. Students will therefore be taught and asked to demonstrate a set of skills in addition to the preparation of high quality big band repertoire. These skills include:
Acquiring knowledge of applied music theory: the spelling of chords and scales and recognition of chord symbols as well as the recognition and understanding of standard forms and harmonic formulae.
Learning improvisational patterns and transcriptions of professional players’ solos to be applied to the students’ own improvised solos.
Developing fluency in Improvising over standard harmonic formulae such as the ii-V-I progression and standard forms such as the blues, “I Got Rhythm” changes and jazz standards.
Sight-reading appropriate big band repertoire at a high level of technical accuracy and musical expression. Ben Davis jazz ensembles will sight-read approximately 100 compositions per year.
Grading will be based on the combination of a musicianship grade and a participation grade. The musicianship grade will be worth 40% of the final grade and is derived from the quizzes, projects and examinations detailed below. The participation grade is based on attendance, punctuality, preparedness and the listening log and will be worth 60% of the final grade. Additional credit can amount to no more than 15% of a student’s grade.
Aspiring jazz musicians of the 21st century have easy access to a tremendous wealth of recorded music. It is necessary for the aspiring player to have listened to a wide breadth of improvised jazz arcing over its relatively short history. For this reason students will be required to keep a listening log that documents a minimum of one hour of analytical listening to recorded jazz per week. Analytical listening is crucial in that the student is striving to integrate knowledge from the recordings into her own improvising. Students will be provided with access to a library of historically significant recordings for this purpose, but are highly encouraged to create and continue to add to their own library of recordings.
Attending live performances may be the best and most inspirational way to learn the music. Students will be offered additional credit for attending live performances at such venues as The Jazz Kitchen, venues of the Indianapolis Jazz Festival or performances of university jazz groups. The Indianapolis area is a cosmopolitan region that supports a great deal of live jazz playing. The jazz ensembles often participate in university jazz festivals and clinics. Accomplished area jazz musicians regularly serve the bands as clinicians.