Jazz InsightsPosted on October 10, 2012
In my last blog post, I pointed you toward the YouTube playlist that I have created featuring a bunch of great recordings of some very important jazz standards. Today, I want to put a spotlight on another great resource that I am using in my study of jazz music, brought to us by a great Atlanta-based jazz musician and educator, Dr. Gordon Vernick.
Dr. Gordon Vernick is Associate Professor of Music at Georgia State and Coordinator of Jazz Studies at Georgia State University. He can also be seen playing regularly in and around the Atlanta area. (Most recently, I saw him gigging with Joe Gransden’s 16-piece Big Band on their regular ‘every-other-Monday-night’ house gig at Cafe290 in Sandy Springs.) Gordon is also a pretty nice guy… unless you’re late for class.
In addition to all those things, Dr. Vernick is the creator and host of a great radio program / podcast called “Jazz Insights”. “Jazz Insights” is a radio program that puts a spotlight on important individual musicians in the jazz idiom, discusses the history of jazz as well as the ‘nuts and bolts’ of this great art form, and seeks to provide a context for this musical institution that been around for almost 100 years.
Each episode averages about 10-12 minutes in length and is focused on a very specific topic within jazz music. Whether it’s a specific jazz musician, a sub-genre of the style, or a breakdown of “How Jazz Works”, this program helps students of jazz (as well as casual listeners) understand what makes this music ‘tick’. Gordon presents these topics with great passion and love for the art form. He also takes topics that run the risk of being dry or academic and uses them as a framework to tell pieces of the story of this truly American musical invention.
As drummers, we spend a lot of time looking at things very specific to our instrument: rhythm, coordination, tempo, groove, etc. Where many drummers fall short lies in making those points the beginning AND endpoint for their studies. It is astounding to me how very little the average, off-the-street drummer actually knows about music. Very few pay attention to melody, chordal / harmonic structure, song form, composition, or the other tenants of music that are responsible for… well, MUSIC. (And for Heaven’s sake, don’t EVER ask a drummer to sing you the lyrics of most any song, especially any jazz standard.)
In ignoring these things, we are not missing half of the picture that is music. We are missing MOST of it. While very important to the performance of music, what we as drummers contribute on the band stand or in the recording studio is only a small percentage of what makes a song an actual freestanding, living, breathing, individually recognizable work of aural art. Without all of those other tenants in mind, all we drummers serve up is tempo sync’ed rhythm with the occasional melodic inference. Music is so much more than that and more than what most drummers are actively aware of. I have found that infusing my own drumming with the knowledge and understanding of things like melody, harmonic structure, song form, and the like makes me a better accompanist to the people with whom I play and record music. Ultimately, it allows me to assist my fellow musicians in creating an intelligent, emotional, and specific sonic experience for the listener.
What I enjoy about “Jazz Insights” is that that I learn so much more about music, specifically jazz, and the ‘why behind the how’ of the other musicians responsible for what I hear. By getting that more complete picture of what’s going on in the recordings I listen to (and subsequently, the musicians I end up playing with), I feel that I can more intelligently join in on the conversation that is found between musicians within a song.
You can listen to and subscribe to the “Jazz Insights” podcast for FREE by finding it in iTunes [JUST CLICK HERE]. With the addition of the iTunes U app to Apple’s line of media products, you can simply search for “Jazz Insights” inside that app on your iPhone, iPad, or iPod, subscribe to the podcast for FREE, and easily make it a regular addition to your weekly musical study routine.
For students of jazz music or for listeners who are new to this musical style, I suggest starting with these five episodes. (Right click each title for the direct episode / mp3 link. Just choose “Save Link As…” to save the file to your computer.):
- What Is Jazz?
- How Jazz Works: Part 1 (This one doesn’t show up in the current feed)
- How Jazz Works: Part 2
- How Jazz Works: Part 3
- How Jazz Works: Part 4
**There is an older RSS feed for this program with even more programs / content. You can find it by clicking here.