Jazz Adaptations of Debussy
Gabe Condon and Alistair Duncan, both graduates of the Eastman School of Music, have embarked on a unique and exciting project, Jazz Adaptations of Debussy. This uncommon jazz duo, featuring trombone and guitar, has performed together for over four years. Inspired by the Bob Brookmeyer/Jim Hall Duo, they have arranged many songs from the Jazz and American Song Book repertoires for a duo setting. They also play their own compositions and seamlessly integrate free and contemporary improvisation into their performances.
Their newest project, Jazz Adaptations of Debussy, is an exploration of how Debussy’s songs for piano and voice can be adapted into a jazz setting to include improvisation. Many of the harmonies found in Debussy and other Impressionist composers’ works were translated into jazz compositions during the early 20th century. This shared harmonic language makes Debussy’s compositions ideal vehicles for jazz improvisation. However, the formal structure of Debussy’s songs are often quite complex, and the orchestration and range of Debussy’s melodies do not always fit perfectly on the guitar and the trombone. These challenges present an opportunity for Alistair and Gabe to be creative in their treatment of these unique formal structures and orchestration of the melody and accompaniment when adapting Debussy’s songs for jazz duo.
1. Teach students the fundamental skills for how to play in a duo setting, and how these skills relate to large-scale musical concepts that can be applied across a student's musicality.
2. Guide students through the process of implementing these skills/concepts in a duo setting or larger group settings with musical exercises.
3. Demonstrate and teach students how to adapt music from a different genre into the jazz style through adaptations of Debussy to jazz duo.
This program is conducted in two parts, which can be done separately or together. Part I will focus on duo playing as pedagogical tool to teach several essential musical concepts including listening, rhythmic and melodic interaction, harmonic clarity, timbral contrast and clarity, balance of arrangement and improvisation, and dynamic arc. Part II focuses on adapting other genres to a jazz setting.
The workshop will include students performing on their instruments, and will include a dialogue between Gabe and Alistair, the artist-educators, and the students about their performance.
Part I: The artist-educators will perform a jazz piece for the students. The artist-educators will ask for a response from the students about what they heard. The artist-educators will ask questions such as: Why was the performance successful? What did you notice about the interaction between the guitarist and the trombonist? The artist-educators will choose several of the topics which the students mentioned in their responses to guide the student exercises, ensuring that the exercises match properly with the students' ability levels and interests.
The artist-educators will break the students up into groups; duos are preferred, but larger groups are also possible. The artist-educators will give the students exercises to work on specific musical skills. The artist-educators and the other students will give constructive feedback about their effectiveness in implementing the skills. The artist instructors will join different groups to demonstrate the skills they are working on.
Part II: The students will listen to a recording of a Debussy song. Then, the artist-educators will perform their jazz rendition of the same Debussy song. The artist-educators will ask the students to compare and contrast the two renditions of the song. Guiding questions would include: How did they accommodate the new instrumentation? How much remained the same, and how much changed? What makes a piece sound like jazz? How do you know how to improvise over a classical or folk piece?
Students will be broken up into groups (if they have not already been broken up in Part I), and each assigned a common folk or classical melody such as Long Long Ago, Twinkle Twinkle by Mozart, or Minuet in D by Bach. Each group will be asked to adapt their melody to a jazz style using specific criteria outlined by the artist-educators. Each group will perform there final arrangement with the artist-educators for the class.
Part I: 60 minutes
Part II: 60 minutes
Part I and II condensed: 90 minutes
Materials needed: One or two large classrooms (depending on number of students). Instruments for students, chalkboard or whiteboard, speakers and iPod hook-up.