One of the benchmarks of my time here at Oakland has been the development of a recently-created “graduate” or upper-level jazz combo. It’s the first time since I’ve arrived here that each singular member of the group has a decent amount of “jazz experience” and is deeply motivated to progress with their own exploration of this music. Tonight I got to play bass with this group.
This is not to say that the combos in the past have not done well. Just the opposite actually. Under Sean Dobbins’s leadership, many Oakland students have come a long way in their fundamental approach on how to play jazz. There is one main difference between the upper-level combo and the others, however, and that difference is partly out of the control of the participants. The difference is that the upper-level combo generally consists of musicians who have been through the rigors of an undergrad degree, and now have the RAM to study almost solely what they wish as opposed to what is dictated to them. This is a common occurrence at ANY University and is expressly the purpose of a specialization degree.
Inevitably, these musicians are also older than the average undergrad, and this gives the the advantage of experience, specifically playing experience outside of the University. This type of requisite playing is more effective than any Professor in learning how to play jazz, and it has been this way since its inception. Although the last thing I want is to make my appointment superfluous, really, all the academic study in the world won’t give someone the “grit” they need to be successful as a “jazz” musician.
In my opinion, there’s no more positive message than inspiration through example. My hope is that those involved in the jazz program at OU will aspire to the level of musicianship these guys are demonstrating. I’m proud of all the jazz students at OU, particularly those who have put a lot of hard work into the Big Band. I need their help more than anyone to develop the program. I hope we can, as musicians with a common goal, continue the awesome forward progress.