Hitting the high notes

By PHILIP EIL  |  July 31, 2013

'LET'S PLAY' Anderson.


NAME | Ray Anderson


SHOWTIME | Saturday at 11:50 am with his Pocket Brass Band

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW | He grew up in Chicago and started playing trombone in fourth grade. What more do you need to know?

WHAT HE SAYS | I live outside [New York City] on Long Island. And I teach music. I’m the director of Jazz Studies at Stony Brook University. I don’t do classroom stuff. Everything I do is performance. So I don’t actually teach like jazz history or academic courses, thank God. I’m more hands-on — “Get your instrument and let’s play.”

A great of deal of jazz can be taught. The question is how to make the environment conducive to that. Because everybody who plays jazz learned something somewhere, including Louis Armstrong and Ornette Coleman and anyone else. After all, you weren’t born playing that way.

But the educational model has completely shifted from the traditional thing of going to clubs, hearing people play, hanging out, going home and practicing, going back to the club, bugging people about trying to sit in or something, have somebody hear or have somebody insult you . . . the sort of traditional learning thing has completely changed because there are so few clubs and so little of that kind of performance going on. Now it’s in schools and that is a major challenge to create an environment in school that will in any way approximate the energy of a performance. That’s something I’ve been working hard at trying to make happen.

[A trip to the Newport Jazz Festival would] be a really good assignment. You wouldn’t really have to tell [students] much of anything other than “go and listen.” Because the primary way you learn about jazz and how to play jazz is by listening and imitation. As opposed to . . . reading something out of a book, it’s much more about using your ear and experiencing the performance

And, as I’m sure you know, jazz is not something that can be defined. You just get in trouble as soon as you try to define it. I’ve always said that the best definition of jazz is that “it’s an argument.” Or . . . the Wayne Shorter quote that the festival is using for publicity, he said, “Jazz means, ‘I dare you.’ ”

The danger that I see is that the Internet and connectivity age that we’re in has a way of isolating us into our screens. Because everything is available 24/7 and on your screen . . . whatever pad or phone or computer. There’s a real danger to sort of living onscreen, as if that was life.

You do need to actually go out and hear some people play music. If you’re not having that experience with some regularity, you’re just missing an enormously inspiring and important part of what it is to being a human being alive in a culture. And music only really exists in that moment in which it’s played. We have all these tools to record it and all that, but it’s not the same thing at all as being a witness to a performance. People constantly need to be reminded of that. It’s tempting to think that it’s all happening on the screen. It’s not happening on the screen. The revolution is not being televised.

Go to newportjazzfest.net for more info.

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