UC Jazz Ensembles exchange music

UC Jazz Ensembles facilitated an intensive three-day exchange with Japanese musicians

UC Jazz/Courtesy

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In a small studio in the basement of Cesar Chavez Center, three dozen people sit and watch as a jazz combo plays John Coltrane’s “Moment’s Notice.” The guitarist, bassist and drummer take solos and add a flourishing end to the climactic tune. There is applause and then someone speaks. “That was great! Tell me first — when you’re playing, what is your goal when you’re soloing?” says Ted Moore, director of the UC Jazz Ensembles. The student performers are silent for a moment. Then a young student speaks to the players, translating Moore’s words into Japanese for the students. They nod, smile and then reply. The translator says, “They say they try to start with a very basic idea, then try to grow on that.” A few moments later, students from the UC Jazz Ensembles join in, making music with people they had never performed with, let alone met, before.

Feb. 27 through March 1 marked the fifth annual series of UC Jazz Ensembles’ exchange clinics. The program, part of the Student Musical Activities department, hosts Japanese student musicians each year for three days of intensive jazz studies programs. The clinics allow these young aspiring musicians to visit the United States while having the opportunity to work with UC Jazz student members, as well as professional performers.

The program began when an American musician, UC Berkeley alumnus and former UC Jazz student Scott Latham, contacted the jazz faculty about doing a small, one-day drum workshop for his visiting Japanese students who were in Berkeley that year studying at the the Jazzschool. Latham has a successful career in Tokyo, Japan as an instructor at the Muse Academy of Music. Moore led the first year’s clinic and then was contacted the following year to ask if UC Jazz could host an entire three-day visit to offer workshops in the study of jazz. It has since become an annual event. Many of Latham’s students from Muse Academy have been back several times to attend these workshops and have participated for the past three or four years.

I had the chance to sit down and speak with Moore. He discussed his experiences in getting to work with these Japanese student musicians. “It is a wonderful opportunity to host the visiting students along with offering these workshops for our own UC Jazz students as well,” Moore said when asked for his thoughts on the program and how it has evolved over the past five years. “This year was particularly successful in terms of the interaction with both groups, as we planned jam sessions and had a campus tour for the Japanese students.”

“I’d like to use this year as a model,” Moore said. “These students came a long way, so we want to provide the best experience for them as possible given the short amount of time.”

Moore also talked about the interesting exchanges between the faculty and the students due to the language barrier. “It’s funny,” Moore said, “having to have all your words translated from one language to another. But then you can get up there and count to four and play a tune, and suddenly everyone is on the same page!” It gave a meaning to the idea that music and art truly are universal languages.

UC Jazz is excited to continue this growing tradition in the years to come.

Contact Nick Cotter at [email protected].