Plug in to Jazz New Technology Makes Listening and Learning a Hot Combo

Article excerpt

Byline: Tom Valeo Daily Herald staff writer

The first jazz musicians had to learn their craft by seeking out master players and listening to them perform, whether in New York, Chicago or some Godforsaken place.

Recordings allowed aspiring jazz players to bring the music home with them, and the LP - the long-playing vinyl disc that could hold a dozen tunes or more - became an essential teaching tool.

Today, novice jazz musicians can learn via video tape, audio tape or compact disc. And certain computer programs actually allow users to play along with an accomplished jazz combo.

Jazz fans have gone through a similar evolution. At first the only way to hear the music was live, and the only way to learn about it was through books and magazines.

Now, however, technology - from CD-ROMS and the Internet to tele-learning and books on tape - is making jazz appreciation as easy as pushing a button.

A new perspective

Consider, for example, Bill Messenger's eight-lecture course,

A new perspective

Consider, for example, Bill Messenger's eight-lecture course,

A new perspective

Consider, for example, Bill Messenger's eight-lecture course, "Elements of Jazz: From Cakewalks to Fusion."

His ideas once were accessible only to those who attended his lectures at the Peabody Conservatory of Music in Baltimore.

Then the Teaching Company heard about him. The Teaching Company, based in Springfield, Va, scouts out the most popular professors at colleges and universities across the country and brings them to Washington, D.C., to deliver a series of lectures that are recorded on audio and video tape.

Customers can order lectures on everything from the "Great Minds of the Western Intellectual Tradition" to "Is Anyone Really Normal?" - a study of abnormal psychology.

They also can now order Messenger's course, a lucid and revealing introduction to jazz, full of examples of various musical styles.

"I designed the course so the total layman could understand it," Messenger said, "but musicians who have taken the course have said that it has given them a whole new perspective on jazz."

Since the differences between such styles as fusion, bebop and free jazz are confusing even to some jazz buffs, Messenger decided to take a single song called "Jada" and play it in every style he talks about.

"So it gets played in the Dixieland style, ragtime and swing," Messenger said. "Then we do it the way Charlie Parker would do it. Then we do it in the Dorian mode. I really believe the course is unique - no previous recorded course has tried to encompass the enormous scope of jazz from its African roots to present-day performance techniques."

Surf's up!

Plenty of jazz resources can be found on the Internet. A good place to start is Jazz Central Station (

Besides serving as the clearing house for the International Association of Jazz Educators, Jazz Central offers a list of jazz radio stations throughout the country, listings of jazz spots in various cities and reviews.

A current review of a CD-ROM titled "Jazz Tutor - Volume 1," by Phil Woods, is almost ecstatic in its praise: "Short of an apprenticeship with the bebop alto saxophonist master, Jazz Tutor is the most comprehensive jazz educational tool ever conceived," the review says.

In addition to five songs that come with musical scores for each instrument, "Jazz Tutor" includes versions of each song minus one instrument so students of that instrument can play along. …