Class acts: Jazz 101 and beyond

When I wanted to learn how to make sushi, I took a class at Cooks. Curious about Venice, I signed up for a Compleat Scholar course at the University of Minnesota. If I ever decide to try Bharatanatyam dancing, I’ll go to Ragamala.

We live where classes are available on almost anything, including jazz.

Beginning in September, two esteemed jazz educators, performers and composers will offer their takes on that topic. No tests, no grades, just the joy of learning.

‘Conversations about Music and Jazz’
At the University of St. Thomas’s Center for Senior Citizens’ Education, Joan Griffith will interview Twin Cities’ jazz stars about their lives, careers and music in her series “Conversations about Music and Jazz.”

She’ll begin with a brief history of jazz and American popular music, give an overview of the local music scene, then bring in the artists, one each week: pianist Laura Caviani, vocalist Connie Evingson, saxophonist Dave Karr, guitarist and “A Prairie Home Companion” regular Pat Donahue, troubador Ann Reed, and actor and singer T. Mychael Rambo.

Joan Griffith
Courtesy of the University of St. Thomas
Joan Griffith

“This will be an opportunity for the audience to see these people up close,” Griffith says. “We’ll open it up for questions, too.”

The final session will be a concert featuring Griffith and friends.

Griffith is modeling her course on Marian McPartland’s “Piano Jazz,” the Peabody Award-winning public radio program. Like McPartland, Griffith will perform with her guests. She plays guitar, bass, and mandolin.

What can people expect to take away from the class?

“I want them to have a richer understanding of the people they have seen play over the years, and a greater appreciation of what it takes to get out there and keep a career going,” Griffith says. “It’s one thing to go to the clubs, but the stories — who their influences are, how they got started, best and worst gigs — those are interesting.”

Anyone can sign up — anyone 55 or older, that is. Some boomers in their mid-50s aren’t ready to be labeled senior citizens and St. Thomas could be savvier about the language they use. I suggested as much in an email last year to program director Sister Marie Herbert Seiter and got my knuckles rapped in response. But it’s a worthy program, and Griffith’s class is a fine way to spend a morning. Expect to be informed and entertained.

Class facts: Eight two-hour sessions, Wednesday mornings, 9:30-11:30 a.m., Sept. 10-Oct. 29. University of St. Thomas, St. Paul campus, O’Shaughnessy Educational Center auditorium. Registration fee: $60. Center for Senior Citizens’ Education, 651-962-5188.

Jazz 101 and 201
Across the river, at the shiny new MacPhail Center for Music in Minneapolis, trumpeter and MacPhail jazz coordinator Kelly Rossum will offer back-to-back classes on Tuesday evenings.

Jazz 101 (“What is jazz?”) is a general introduction to the music. Jazz 201 looks at current trends in jazz.

“These classes are the ones every jazz instructor wants to offer but nobody ever takes,” Rossum says. “But the Minneapolis environment is one where people want to know about jazz and want to like it. … It’s kind of a perfect storm right now for jazz. The Minnesota Orchestra is getting more involved with jazz, MacPhail is now one of the top arts institutions in the city, and our jazz program is snowballing.”

Rossum taught Jazz 101 for the first time last year, followed by a Jazz Book Club class. I took both and enjoyed them immensely. Each included lively discussion, lots of music, listening tips, analysis and ample opportunities to go deeper with an articulate, gifted teacher who is also a working musician. For a jazz fan, that’s golden.

Jazzman and teacher Kelly Rossum.
MinnPost photo by Pamela Espeland
Jazzman and teacher Kelly Rossum.

Jazz informs Rossum’s style in the classroom. “I suppose you could say that I’m an improvising teacher. I don’t show up to class with a lecture. … I take the materials we have and the people in the class and combine it all together on the spot.”

What will people bring away from Jazz 101? “Enjoyment. I want them to feel that they can enjoy jazz music more than they did before they walked in the door.”

Jazz 201? “That’s going to be fun. I have a feeling there will be differences of opinion and personal tastes involved. … Every point of jazz history is happening right now, from the traditional sounds of the Jim Cullum Jazz Band to the Bad Plus.”

If you take one of Rossum’s classes, you will be expected to prepare. For Jazz 101, you’ll read a college textbook and listen to music selections. The Jazz 201 reading list is still in development.

Class facts: Each class includes 12 one-hour sessions beginning Tuesday, Sept. 23. Jazz 101 starts at 7 p.m.; 201 at 8 p.m. A schedule will be handed out at the first session. Tuition is $220. No previous music experience needed for 101; familiarity with jazz strongly recommended for 201. MacPhail Center for Music, 612-321-0100.

More jazz learning opportunities

• The OLLI Cats (a spinoff of the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at the University of Minnesota) is a jazz appreciation interest group that meets monthly, often with local artists presenting and performing. Visit the OLLI website and click on “Activities” at the left.

• Watch for Orchestra Hall to continue its pre-concert discussions with jazz artists, especially now that its jazz program is expanding and Irvin Mayfield has been named artistic director of jazz.

• Northrop’s  new director of concerts and lectures, Benjamin M. Johnson, started his job just two weeks ago but is already “eager to take jazz to the next level,” according to marketing and publicity director Cari Hatcher. Northrop is considering pre-concert discussions with jazz season artists and possibly workshops or master classes.

• The U’s Compleat Scholar program? There’s nothing jazz-related on the current schedule, but program director Lara Roy says they’re open to suggestions. Here’s one: Ben Johnson, meet Lara Roy. Lara, meet Ben.

Upcoming picks

Jeanne Arland Peterson Birthday Celebration: Last weekend was the AQ’s annual birthday fete for saxophonist Irv Williams, who turned 89. This weekend is blow-out-the-candles time for the matriarch of the musical Peterson clan. If memory serves, the AQ once celebrated both birthdays on the same weekend, but that proved too taxing for those of us under 80. The Artists’ Quarter, Friday and Saturday, Aug. 22-23, 9 p.m. ($10).

Still Black Still Proud: The African Music Tribute to James Brown: A once-in-a-lifetime show featuring former James Brown band members and African music stars. With saxophonist Pee Wee Ellis, trombonist Fred Wesley Jr., singer Martha High and Vieux Farka Touré, among others. Author Nick Hornby (“High Fidelity”) saw it in Brighton, England, and it made him “very happy.” The Dakota, Monday, Aug. 25, 7 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. ($60/$45).

Jazz at the Minnesota State Fair:
Jazz at the grandstand? Not since Kenny G in 1994. (Fair historians, please correct me if I’m wrong.) Unless rides on the Mighty Midway start blaring “All Blue” or “Monk’s Dream,” the best place to hear jazz at the Fair is the International Bazaar. On the home page, click on “Entertainment” for a drop-down menu, click on “Free Stage,” then click on the link under “International Bazaar” for a schedule. Look for the Café Accordion Orchestra, George Maurer Group, Salsabrosa, the swing band Steve Clarke and the Working Stiffs, and Ticket to Brasil. Free with Fair admission.

Find jazz calendars online at Jazz Police. Click on Twin Cities, MN in the black menu bar at the top.

Comments (2)

  1. Submitted by Pamela Espeland on 08/23/2008 - 12:14 am.

    Thank you, Dick Parker, for a more complete and inclusive (catholic, in fact) picture of jazz at the Fair.

  2. Submitted by Richard Parker on 08/22/2008 - 08:35 pm.

    Addenda: Sister Marie would approve of the lineup at the Ramberg Senior Center, which featured versatile pianist Jim Shannon (no relation to the late ex-bishop and St. Thomas president emeritus, I assume) and Lynn Deichert’s Stompin’ Dixie ensemble on the first two days of the fair. Saturday and Sunday the Mouldy Figs will be on the Ramberg bandstand, but once again without brilliant clarinetist Dick Ramberg, an occasional Fig. The senior center was named after Dick’s father, but he has never played there. Not old enough? To hear Ramberg, catch the Barbary Coast Dixieland Showband at Heritage Square on Aug. 31 and Sept. 1. And try not to miss the Pig’s Eye Jass (that’s the archaic original spelling) Band in the Labor Day parade around the fairgrounds.

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