IAJE judging forms

Recently I had the honor of working as an adjudicator and clinician for a couple university jazz festivals. A large number of high school bands participated and, as always, blew me away! It’s always a pleasure to enjoy the hard work of the students and see their enthusiasm.

I take the role of “judge” very seriously and try to offer useful advice (instead of criticism). I was very happy to see the festival organizers leave room at the end of each performance for the judges to do a quick workshop with the band. Obviously, an interactive workshop is far better than static comments on a sheet of paper.

But the real reason I’m writing this is a dilemma I see within the IAJE-approved judging sheet. For competitive judging, there are a number of criteria you’re to assign numbers to. The very first one, for 25 points, is Improvisation. Being a devout improviser, I think this sets the proper tone for the judge work sheet.

The dilemma arises when bands play the repertory pieces from Wynton’s Jazz at Lincoln Center. There was one band in particular who did a stellar job playing three Ellington charts. I mean, this band was swingin’, playing all the right phrasing, etc. But every soloist played the transcribed solo included in the chart. Not one ounce of improvisation.

The kids did an admirable job playing the various solos by Johnny Hodges, Harry Carney, Bubber Miley, etc. But, as I said, they didn’t do anything beyond just playing them. Is it improvisation? Of course not. But I did give them credit for at least studying the recording.

But I really wanted to give them a zero for improvisation because it just wasn’t there.

My suggestion to band directors is to take these charts from JALC and use them. No one can argue with the quality and the price. In fact, I’m very happy kids are being exposed to this music. But, please, open up some solo sections. Ellington did not play this music in such a static fashion.

recorded music is a commodity

As I sit here thinking about the new year ahead, I feel compelled to group some growing thoughts on the value of recorded music.

Recorded music obviously adds tremendous value to our everyday lives. The market for recorded music has, until recently, proven just how valuable it is. However, as we all know, recent trends (e.g., digital music, file compression, peer-to-peer file sharing networks like Napster) have fundamentally changed the industry.

Previously it was quite simple to “protect” recorded music since copies were obvious degradations in quality. Digital recording and CD ripping software have changed that forever.

People are very willing to shell a few hundred bucks for an iPod but seem to think the recorded music content should be free. This has been debated elsewhere so I won’t belabor this.

But the most interesting aspect of this for me is to consider the implications of these actions.

Consider artistshare.com – which is a next-generation label that is trying to get seed funding for recording projects as they are being created. I find this interesting in that it is helping an artist record something but it also establishes a community (since participants subscribe to ongoing details behind the project).

There is an interesting interview with Brian Camelio (president of artistshare) where he does some financial projections behind what an artist makes per download on some of the pay-per-download sites. Very sobering.

But this all condenses down into the core value of music: providing a live experience for people to share. Composer William Neil (http://www.thecomposerstudio.com/) recently started using the term “experience” to describe what we offer audiences. I agree completely with this idea. We have to share much more than just music if we’re to really reach out to people.

I see all this as a boost for live music. It’s the beginning of a new year. I can feel optimistic, can’t I?

listening for music

This blog is all about trying to find the true essence of music. In my studies of Tai Chi I came across the term “ting jing.” This is loosely translated as a mystical listening power where one could “hear” the intention of an opponent.

I prefer to think in more peaceful terms. 😉 But I strongly believe music is successful when we tune into this deeper power.