Jam sessions a big part of jazz education: U.S. Jazz Quartet

Visiting American jazz group The Dennis Luxion/Michael Raynor Quartet says despite the introduction of music education in colleges, jam sessions remain a vital part of jazz education.

“To a large extent, the greatest musicians in this music learned how to play simply by playing with other great musicians, getting on the band stage and learning right on the spot, and being in there, the atmosphere, hearing players that maybe already know how to play and then stepping up and trying to play what you have learned so far, right in that setting,” said drummer and band leader Michael Raynor briefing journalists on Sunday.

The Chicago based musical jazz group,¬ consisting of Raynor, Dennis Luxion on piano, Greg Ward on saxophone, and Jeff Pedraz on bass, arrived in Zimbabwe Friday courtesy of the U.S. Embassy, the U.S. Department of State, and Jazz at Lincoln Center (NYC). They held their first show at Prince Edward School, thrilling the audience with its interactive performance on Sunday evening. After holding workshops with music students at the Zimbabwe College of Music and professionals at Jazz 105 during the day, the group lead a jam session at the latter venue this evening.

During a ‘jam session,’ musicians play by improvising without extensive preparation or predefined arrangements, usually based upon existing songs or chord progressions but at times wholly improvisational.

“In fact, a lot of us met at the famous jam session in Chicago with the great saxophonist Von Freeman (who) has done jam sessions on the south of Chicago for close to 50 years. It’s a great opportunity for young players to come in, listen to the band and some great musicians play and try it themselves,” said Raynor.

Ward (29), who said he started attending jam sessions at fifteen years of age, added, “People creating this culture where audience members can go and be part of it, as well as trade ideas and learn from the masters — it’s very important. It was the only education when the music was born or developed. There was not necessarily a school like there are now. It is still a very important part; there is so much to learn in the moment.”

The Dennis Luxion/Michael Raynor Quartet (Chicago, Illinois) plays original, hard-swinging jazz. The group came together to create music that encompasses a wide range of styles based on the jazz tradition. The legacy of the legendary Chicago-based tenor saxophonist, Von Freeman, is especially influential on the ensemble’s expressive style of improvisation.

The group’s tour to Zimbabwe is organized by the United States Embassy through the U.S. Department of State’s “The Rhythm Road: American Music Abroad” program coordinated by Jazz at Lincoln Center. The Rhythm Road emphasizes community engagement in addition to performance.

“It wasn’t like we are coming to teach Zimbabweans necessarily…musicians all over are very curious. They want to keep learning. They will hear different kinds of music, get different ideas, meet different people, exchange things. That’s one of the important things — we are here to interact, meet people and hear different kinds of music,” says pianist Luxion.

The Rhythm Road: American Music Abroad evolved from the Jazz Ambassadors initiative, a program conceived by U.S. Congressman Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. in 1955. Other Rhythm Road tours that have come to Zimbabwe featured the Ryan Cohen Quartet in February 2008 and the hip hop group, AFAR, in 2006. – ZimPAS© January 2012.

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