Taming The Saxophone

Jazz standards in Education

jbtsax

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#61
I taught a jazz ensemble in high school for several years before going to the lower grades, and jazz-rock, latin, fusion, as well as straight ahead swing and ballads were all part of the repertoire taught to the students. It is simply untrue that jazz education in the U.S. is one sided.

Here is a typical jazz ensemble recommended music list that is common in the U.S. public schools.
Chart Recommendations for School Jazz Ensembles
 

Wade Cornell

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#62
Here is the official summary of the National Jazz Preservation, Education, and Promulgation Act of 2015



Please note that there is no mention of university music programs, nor funding of such in any of this legislation.

This entire discussion begs the question of why the U.S. should even promote"European Free Jazz" in the first place. It may have started in the U.S, like "traditional" jazz forms, but achieved very little public acceptance (or commercial success)---certainly nothing compared to how it was received in Europe and other places. Perhaps it would be more appropriate for the governments of those countries to fund the appreciation and education in that style of jazz. The intent and purpose of these Congressional Resolutions is in fact benign. Anything nefarious or sinister with regard to the government controlling how jazz is taught is only in the eye and mind of the beholder.

Since there are fewer and fewer opportunities to make a living playing jazz or any of its relate styles in the U.S., most universities are now offering courses in what is called "commercial music" where there are opportunities to make a living in music in addition to playing and teaching. In reality in my state, most of the top jazz players make a living in other fields. They studied and played jazz at the university because of a talent and a love for playing that style of music.

I hope this discussion can move beyond the previous negativity and show respect for everyone's musical choices and viewpoints.
I agree with everything that jbtsax says above. The legislation isn't a budget bill, those are passed separately. It's also true that Jazz was (and possibly still is) better appreciated in Europe and other parts of the world. I also agree that the intent of the legislation was benign. How and where money is distributed is usually "contestable" and the legislation is very clear with terms like "preserved, understood and promulgated". I'm also sure that those who studied jazz (mainstream) are mostly working in other fields...and that's the problem. So, do you look at the whole thing and examine it to see if there is a better way to educate people so that they can make a living? Or do you just continue to do the same things? As jbtsax brought to our attention Berklee has clearly gone for a wider approach than just focusing on Mainstream/standards.

There has never been any statement (by me) in this thread that inferred that anyone should stop playing or listening to the music they love. This is about what students are taught in order to give them the best possible chance of becoming proficient players and for those with talent being able to become professionals.

It's difficult (for me) to comprehend why there is so much negativity towards encouraging students to learn to play in an expanded syllabus? Is this in some way a personal threat?

Again, I agree with jbtsax, that it's time to move on and would hope that he included me in "showing respect for everyone's musical choices and viewpoints".
 
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jbtsax

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#63
I agree with everything that jbtsax says above. The legislation isn't a budget bill, those are passed separately. It's also true that Jazz was (and possibly still is) better appreciated in Europe and other parts of the world. I also agree that the intent of the legislation was benign. How and where money is distributed is usually "contestable" and the legislation is very clear with terms like "preserved, understood and promulgated". I'm also sure that those who studied jazz (mainstream) are mostly working in other fields...and that's the problem. So, do you look at the whole thing and examine it to see if there is a better way to educate people so that they can make a living? Or do you just continue to do the same things? As jbtsax brought to our attention Berklee has clearly gone for a wider approach than just focusing on Mainstream/standards.

There has never been any statement (by me) in this thread that inferred that anyone should stop playing or listening to the music they love. This is about what students are taught in order to give them the best chance possible of becoming proficient players and for those with talent being able to become professionals.

It's difficult (for me) to comprehend why there is so much negativity towards encouraging students to learn to play in an expanded syllabus? Is this in some way a personal threat?

Again, I agree with jbtsax, that it's time to move on and would hope that he include me in "showing respect for everyone's musical choices and viewpoints".
Teaching students in the U.S. how to play "European Free Jazz" is not the answer to helping them to make a living in this country.
 

Wade Cornell

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#64
Teaching students in the U.S. how to play "European Free Jazz" is not the answer to helping them to make a living in this country.
This is getting rather tiresome. Who ever stipulated "European Free Jazz". The proposal is to open up the syllabus to a wide range of styles, not replace one style with just one other. What's happening here?

The rather long list of (approved/recommended) tunes doesn't require specific comment. It typifies music that will not be very relevant to today's students, and certainly not attract audiences. Likewise, I doubt that European Free Jazz would attract many audiences.

Here's a clip by a Berklee Faculty member I know and have studied/played with, Stan Strickland.
View: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i5zAUevHZHY


May not be your cup of tea, yet certainly embodies the jazz tradition and takes it somewhere else by incorporating a range of influences. IMHO this sort of music may be a bit more accessible to new/younger audiences. Stan still plays in traditional styles as well as doing his own personal gospel jazz fusion style. Again, the point isn't to abandon the roots and progression of jazz, or to exclude any portion of its colorful history. It's simply about making it more inclusive and remaining relevant in the present. That IMHO means giving students a wider point of view than one style from 60 years ago and strictly playing standards.

Rather than inventing a bogie man (European Free Jazz) to flog, maybe it would be a good idea to stick to the only point that's been presented...open teaching to be more inclusive of a wider range of styles/music. Is there something specifically bad about that? Seems that the faculty of Berklee have that in mind. As the top American music educators they need to be extremely mindful of what is best for their students. That would mean keeping an open mind and being open to change. One thing is for sure, fashions in the arts and music continually change.
 

Nick Wyver

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#65
Seems that the faculty of Berklee have that in mind. As the top American music educators they need to be extremely mindful of what is best for their students. That would mean keeping an open mind and being open to change. One thing is for sure, fashions in the arts and music continually change.
I'm afraid I know little about the teaching in UK and US (or anywhere else) Universities, but an approach that includes all forms of music would seem to the best way to go. In my own teaching I've tried to teach whatever the student wanted to learn but introduce them also to all the other stuff you can do with a sax.
It would be fair to admit, though, that I've never really got on with mainstream US style jazz. I don't find it particularly interesting to listen to and playing (or trying to at least) it falls into a category of 'too much effort for too little reward'. If I'm going to try that hard I'd rather play some of the tricky 20th century classical stuff (or Bach).
 

jbtsax

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#66
This is getting tiresome.
Finally something upon which we can agree.

How would you characterize the music on your soundclick website which by the way you play quite well. Are you suggesting that the style of music you play whatever you call it is relevant to today's students and audiences? How commercially successful is this style in Australia or New Zealand? Is this the style of music you think is missing from the system of music education in the United States? I really would like to understand where you are coming from.
 
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Wade Cornell

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#67
Ha, the soundclick site! Haven't contributed to that for many years and it's kind of a cringe factor as the guitarist I was playing with at the time was fairly limited in his compositions and the recording quality is pretty shoddy. Didn't matter much to me (at that time) as I was primarily interested in any original music that would give the opportunity for improvisation. The site I work on now (examples in the "your soundclip" section) has thousands of excellent compositions/templates by some great musicians, but also has complete amateurs contributing...which is a good thing as they are potentially gaining that wide base of experience playing with top notch musicians. They can also interact with those musicians and get feedback.

Your question is a good one as I don't think anyone has all the answers and the state of professional music is certainly going through some massive changes. As you say there may be a misunderstanding in all this as I consider the saxophone an instrument capable of playing in a very large number of genre. It seems (unfortunately) that the student who wants to learn sax mostly has just two choices of styles: 1. Classical, 2. Jazz. If it's not classical then ...well you know what they are taught. The question is not about replacing one style of jazz with another, it's opening up a world of music and influences. I apologize if that was not clear.

Improvisation can be utilized and IS utilized in many other forms/styles. In my circumstance I played for some years in a "house band" that backed whoever showed up and whatever they wanted to play/sing. Most of them never had sheet music, and if they did it went to the keys or guitarist. It was all by ear/improvisation. I've also worked on a cruise ship (in the way back when) and other situations with professionals who have to be able to appease the punters with whatever requests they come up with. So you've got to be able to play by ear/ improvise for the situation. The styles I've worked include backing folk singers, R&B, Gypsy Jazz, pop crooners, a number of ethnic styles, Reggae, Rock and Roll, Ambient, and even DJ dance club. The mainstream style of playing is not necessarily welcomed in those other styles.

There is no particular one style that anyone can swear is the next best thing for a player, although playing live over dance music is kind of hot right now. So this goes right to the core of the topic: how should a young player be trained in today's multi-styled environment? Seems to me that a wide base of exposure that gives the player flexibility might be a good idea. There is no doubt that it takes years of practice and dedication to become one with your instrument and be an effective player who can play/improvise in a wide range of styles.

You are right, I never taught music in the public school system in the USA. I was taught in a USA system though so still recall our "big band" which was OK sounding. and playing for dances. Well for me, and others, it was a bit of an embarrassment as this was music of the previous generation and not relevant to us or our peers. No matter, the dances happened, and our classmates showed up and danced, clapped, etc. We played to the best of our ability. Would they have preferred us to be playing Rock and Roll...definitely.
 

Nick Wyver

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#68
From a self teaching point of view the situation is a million times better than when I started in the 70s. If you wanted some playalong material the choice was Aebersold or nothing. Which meant, of course, US mainstream jazz. This, unsurprisingly, did not really help with the music I wanted to play at the time.
Although there is greater choice nowadays in publishers of playalong books (of the improvising variety that is - if I want to play Disney tunes I'm well catered for), the range of music is still very limited - about 90% US jazz as opposed to 100%. One day I'm sure there'll be a European jazz playalong but I doubt I'll live that long. So thank goodness we have the internet now where you can download playalong stuff of any genre you like. Dots and chord sheets might be somewhat hit and miss but at least the tracks are there.
 

Pete Thomas

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#69
I sincerely hope that currently in the UK educators are not being influenced to the same degree and that students are encouraged to become aware of all of the possibilities the world o music has to offer. If they wish to become professionals a wide syllabus would certainly be the best way to prepare for the bumpy road any aspiring musician must ride.
I get the feeling the answer is probably yes and no. (Just as in most places in the world)

Let's leave aside the (political) issue Wade mentioned regarding the US congress bills (which I'm not going to comment on as it seems too speculative, although I think some of what he suggests could well be the case).

I studied at Leeds CM (like Jez) and although the core academic syllabus was quite conservative (Mostly mainstream jazz, danceband and "light" music) some of the performance opportunities were quite broad, e.g. the big bands weren't totally stuck in the Ellington/basie mold there was a fair bit of fusion and funk. Plus one of the tecahers was very much into Free From jazz and some quite conceptual out there stuff.

At one time, as an answer to "jazz and poetry." he invited some local ceramicists to display their stuff and the band played. The event was, of course, "Jazz and Pottery."

But my wake up call was after leaving Leeds and getting a few breaks doing recording sessions - I learnt quickly that to survive on that scene then I need to throw out most of the jazz concepts. Jazz was almost a dirty word with many pop producers as they seemed fed up with session musicians who wanted to just show off jazz licks etc. so my lack of technique in that dept actually served me quite well.

I'll post this now, but there's more to come...
 

Pete Thomas

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#70
Part 2

A few years back I did a stint as a (part time) lecturer at Southampton University where my wife (The Electric Professor) had devised the Jazz and Pop performance course. Note Jazz and Pop.

We very much tried to get away from the prevailing bias towards just teaching mainstream jazz, and she devised a new marking system in which the students to a large extent could weight the criteria as they wished depending on the genre.

This is because the normal criteria from the classical course would not work, it was something like:

  • musical technique 70%
  • stage deportment 20%
  • programme notes 10%

We changed those criteria to be

  • musical performance
  • image
  • production

and the percentage for each could range from 30% to 70%

This meant that say there was a ska band that dressed up in an imaginative way and had worked on stage moves etc. could have those weighted higher if they wanted to. A straight ahead jazz combo could still use the conventional marking of course.

I remember some funny moments when examining along with some of the more conservative lecturers.

The ska band was playing and the other guy leaned over to me and said "the horn section sound a bit sloppy don't they?' so I replied "yes, great isn't it?"

Another one was a bluegrass fiddle player. The classical violinist examiner winced and said "terrible intonation!" to which I replied "it's Appalachian intonation - extremely authentic."

I do understand that some establishments will stick to the old conventions of mainstream jazz, as it's possibly easier to examine and quantify, but with some imagination I do believe what my wife pioneered with that course could make for a much more useful preparation for the real world of making money as a musician.
 
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MikeMorrell

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#71
Some lively and wide-ranging discussion in this thread!

I'm (thankfully!) completely unqualifed to comment on jazz education in the US or on related legislation and funding. In fact I'm unqualified to comment on jazz education anywhere :). But I'm interestested both in performing/visual arts and in education so I thought I'd just add a couple of personal thoughts on this topic.

In my home country (NL) there are 4 or 5 universities that offer 'performing arts' degree programmes specifically for aspiring professional jazz musicians. Not bad for such a small country! The Rotterdam Codarts vocational University's 'Jazz performance' degree programme is just one of many hundreds in Europe and the US but it's a useful example. At Codarts, there's no question of 'mainstream jazz' (however you might define it) or any other jazz/fusion style having any special emphasis. In fact, the opposite is the opposite is true. Musical diversity and a wide exposure to other musical genres/styles is encouraged and built-in (through cross-over projects with non-jazz students) during the first 2 years. My daughter has a performing arts degree in dance/drama and I have a number of friends with degrees as 'visual artists'. What I've picked up from all these people over the years is that, at least in NL:
  • Perfoming arts students (especially during the first 1-2 years) benefit from a solid grounding in the art form in which they aspire to become professional artists (performing or otherwise). This grounding includes an understanding of the relevant theory and the developmental history up to the present day. This groundig gives aspiring professional artists a 'map of the territory' (both artistically and on the business side) on which they hope to become professional artists/performers.
  • Arts students (performing or otherwise).who are unable - or have insufficient motivation - to do more than regurgitate past compositional/choreographic, technical or performance styles are pretty much guaranteed to fail assignments and/or end-of-year assessments. In addition to their 'technical progress' (as instrumentalistists/composers/arrangers, painters, photographers, dancers. acters. etc) they also need to show sufficient progress in self-directing - and achieving - their personal creative development as artists. That they learn from past and contemporary artists is fine. But they need to keep 'adding their own egg'. in their compositions/arrangements/performances. I guess the basic question here is whether students are artists or artisans.
  • In their 3rd and 4th years, 'performing arts' students in NL need to have become independent, self-directed students and musicians (or visual artists/dancers/actors/etc.). Faculty members are there primarily as 'coaches' to help students (individually and in groups) detrermine, achieve/adjust their individual learning goals (whatever these may be).

So is NL really the Walhalla of performing arts education for Jazz musicians? I don't think so. It's true that the Dutch education system encourages self-directed learning (individually and in groups) at all educational levels wherever possible. The higher the educational level, the more 'independent self-directed learning' becomes an 'educational requirement'. Other countries/universities take a similar approach to a greater or lesser extent. I've looked at just a couple of 'performing jazz musician' degree courses in the UK, Germany and the US that have similar focus on musical diversity and self-directed learning. But I have no idea how representative or exceptional these are in the 'performing arts education marketplace'. At least in Europe, there's strong competition between universities to attract international students. My guess is that most European universities and faculties have up-to-date 'benchmarks' showing their relative competitiveness in the national and international markets. They also have a pretty good idea of their relative strengths and weaknesses and have programmes in place to improve their competitiveness. At least in Europe, the days when a faculty could decide its curriculum/teaching style in 'splendid isolation' are long gone. Curricula and learning styles have IMHO become as much 'marketing tools' to attract future students as 'educational tools' to support current students.
 

Wade Cornell

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#72
Some lively and wide-ranging discussion in this thread!

I'm (thankfully!) completely unqualifed to comment on jazz education in the US or on related legislation and funding. In fact I'm unqualified to comment on jazz education anywhere :). But I'm interestested both in performing/visual arts and in education so I thought I'd just add a couple of personal thoughts on this topic.

In my home country (NL) there are 4 or 5 universities that offer 'performing arts' degree programmes specifically for aspiring professional jazz musicians. Not bad for such a small country! The Rotterdam Codarts vocational University's 'Jazz performance' degree programme is just one of many hundreds in Europe and the US but it's a useful example. At Codarts, there's no question of 'mainstream jazz' (however you might define it) or any other jazz/fusion style having any special emphasis. In fact, the opposite is the opposite is true. Musical diversity and a wide exposure to other musical genres/styles is encouraged and built-in (through cross-over projects with non-jazz students) during the first 2 years. My daughter has a performing arts degree in dance/drama and I have a number of friends with degrees as 'visual artists'. What I've picked up from all these people over the years is that, at least in NL:
  • Perfoming arts students (especially during the first 1-2 years) benefit from a solid grounding in the art form in which they aspire to become professional artists (performing or otherwise). This grounding includes an understanding of the relevant theory and the developmental history up to the present day. This groundig gives aspiring professional artists a 'map of the territory' (both artistically and on the business side) on which they hope to become professional artists/performers.
  • Arts students (performing or otherwise).who are unable - or have insufficient motivation - to do more than regurgitate past compositional/choreographic, technical or performance styles are pretty much guaranteed to fail assignments and/or end-of-year assessments. In addition to their 'technical progress' (as instrumentalistists/composers/arrangers, painters, photographers, dancers. acters. etc) they also need to show sufficient progress in self-directing - and achieving - their personal creative development as artists. That they learn from past and contemporary artists is fine. But they need to keep 'adding their own egg'. in their compositions/arrangements/performances. I guess the basic question here is whether students are artists or artisans.
  • In their 3rd and 4th years, 'performing arts' students in NL need to have become independent, self-directed students and musicians (or visual artists/dancers/actors/etc.). Faculty members are there primarily as 'coaches' to help students (individually and in groups) detrermine, achieve/adjust their individual learning goals (whatever these may be).

So is NL really the Walhalla of performing arts education for Jazz musicians? I don't think so. It's true that the Dutch education system encourages self-directed learning (individually and in groups) at all educational levels wherever possible. The higher the educational level, the more 'independent self-directed learning' becomes an 'educational requirement'. Other countries/universities take a similar approach to a greater or lesser extent. I've looked at just a couple of 'performing jazz musician' degree courses in the UK, Germany and the US that have similar focus on musical diversity and self-directed learning. But I have no idea how representative or exceptional these are in the 'performing arts education marketplace'. At least in Europe, there's strong competition between universities to attract international students. My guess is that most European universities and faculties have up-to-date 'benchmarks' showing their relative competitiveness in the national and international markets. They also have a pretty good idea of their relative strengths and weaknesses and have programmes in place to improve their competitiveness. At least in Europe, the days when a faculty could decide its curriculum/teaching style in 'splendid isolation' are long gone. Curricula and learning styles have IMHO become as much 'marketing tools' to attract future students as 'educational tools' to support current students.
Thanks for that Mike. I like the bit about being "unqualified" yet you seem to have checked out quiet a lot! I can only hope that what seems to be happening in the Netherlands and some other places will spread quickly. It's still not quite clear whether influences like Suzuki method are being incorporated or other "ear training". Hopefully we will see a balance of teaching methods and exposure to various styles/genres which (IMHO) can only improve the current situation. Competition between Universities is an interesting concept, and I'd guess in the arts it's going to be (to some degree) based on graduates that become successful. I have no doubt that the wider curriculum is the most likely to bear good results.

When we come back to our own little universe here, where does this leave us? The initial proposition was about teaching mainstream style and telling students to play "standards". The question remains is this the best that we can do when teaching institutions seem to be embracing a wider approach? Should this site be a "holdout" in a world that has embraced a different paradigm?
 

kevgermany

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#73
I've mostly stayed out of this, as all I have to go on is what's been posted here. However, my thoughts....

To stay relevant music needs to move forwards.
Many of the forward movements will be seen as backwards at some time in the future and we're not able to judge now what future generations will think.
The popular vote will decide success of musical forms, not musicians.
In every field of human creativity, be it arts or science or engineering or architecture, there are and will be those who won't move forwards and those who reject what's gone before. However the majority will decide how/when and where to move on. For an example, take the concrete constructions of the 20th century.
Official luddite approaches always fail in the long run. Sometimes it requires a revolution. Generally it makes the change agents try harder.
During times of change a percentage of people push hard to the point of extremism.

I see a few getting really uptight about perceptions which may or may not be true. Having lived in countries which have varying amounts of musical education, I'm appalled at the state of it in some of them. But teaching older forms gives students technical skills as well as a good background to develop new areas if they wish.

It's also interesting to me that as sax players we're pushing an instrument that never really made it in it's intended genres, made it in jazz, but has now largely been superseded by electric guitars. Perhaps we should have a separate discussion on the future of the sax in music.

Frankly I don't care if most of the music which surrounds us survives. Most of what was made in the past hasn't survived. Most advanced music only appeals to a limited audience. Music is for now, to be enjoyed by it's listeners. What went before will survive if it continues to appeal to future generations.
 

Alice

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#74
The whole reason that I picked up the sax was because I wanted to play like Ben Webster and Stan Getz, not Candy Dulfer.... who I’d never even heard of.. :eek: I know! Shock horror! I assumed that any saxophone ‘sound’ on a dance record was played by a computer. It didn’t mean anything to me. But the older musicians touched my heart.
I think it was the way they played and how they played just as much as what they played.
 

Keep Blowing

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#75
The whole reason that I picked up the sax was because I wanted to play like Ben Webster and Stan Getz, not Candy Dulfer.... who I’d never even heard of.. :eek: I know! Shock horror! I assumed that any saxophone ‘sound’ on a dance record was played by a computer. It didn’t mean anything to me. But the older musicians touched my heart.
I think it was the way they played and how they played just as much as what they played.
It was Ben Webster that got me! I listen to as many different styles of music as possible but I always go back to whom I consider the to be the greats (Ben Webster, Charlie Parker, Sonny Rollins, Roland Kirk, John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk and quite a few more), I am all for music moving forward and always have my ear out for something new, but for me it has to have soul, a lot of the newer music I hear just seems a bit emotionless..
 

Targa

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#76
I bought a sax to keep myself amused and taught myself. I bought a few books with jazz and blues standards because I knew what those tunes sounded like and so knew how my playing was progressing. making random wailing noises was what I was trying to avoid.
 

Keep Blowing

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#77
I bought a sax to keep myself amused and taught myself. I bought a few books with jazz and blues standards because I knew what those tunes sounded like and so knew how my playing was progressing. making random wailing noises was what I was trying to avoid.
All the old greats learnt standards and then took things to another level and created new standards for people to learn and take to another new level. there is a great quote on a live Roland Kirk LP (volunteered slavery), he plays a medley of Coltane songs and says something like"these were left to us by John Coltrane to learn"
 

Alice

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#79
It was Ben Webster that got me! I listen to as many different styles of music as possible but I always go back to whom I consider the to be the greats (Ben Webster, Charlie Parker, Sonny Rollins, Roland Kirk, John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk and quite a few more), I am all for music moving forward and always have my ear out for something new, but for me it has to have soul, a lot of the newer music I hear just seems a bit emotionless..
I agree... if I can’t tell the difference between a computer simulated sound and a real saxophone, then it’s lost “something”... or is it me... :headscratch:
I could be in danger of overthinking things as usual. But.... to think about Standards.... I want to play them because I consider them to be good teaching aids in the beginning. You might start off pecking and honking over every note but at the same time you’re getting accustomed to what sound comes from where while you’re doing it and then when you know those tunes you can start playing them as though you own them. It takes months to learn how to even get a pleasing sound from a sax. Months. Years even. A lot of that practice time is spent doing the long times and scales/arpeggios and the old standards come into their own because when you first play them, you (I) was thrilled to hear a tune at last that sounded half decent.
 
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