This morning I was thinking about my journey into spontaneous composition. I remember running into many elders in the community who played jazz. Mr. Arri was my first band director and he played a variety of music on listening day. He would join Mr. Taylor in what seemed to be a spontaneous creation of sound. I wondered, “How did they play that with no music?” Mr. Martin Lamkin was the first jazz trombonist I met. He was the director of the UVI Jazz Ensemble. Then, Amin Gumbs gave me my first jazz recording.
The year was 1991 and I was returning home from Interlochen Arts Camp. When my 11th grade school year began, I wanted to explore jazz so I approached Mr. Johnstone and asked about starting a jazz combo at IEKHS. He agreed and we began recruiting players for the ensemble. Gilford was on bass. Bernard was on the guitar. Mervin played piano and Amos was on drums. Surprisingly, we all wanted the same thing. What was that? Exploring spontaneous composition!
At the time, I knew very little about jazz. I started studying chord changes at Interlochen but I was far from learning solos off of recordings. I enjoyed listening to Miles Davis and JJ Johnson. We had our first jazz combo rehearsal and everything went well. It was an interesting combination. We all came from different backgrounds. We didn’t have time during the school day so we met after school and sometimes during lunch.
One afternoon, Julian Nelson (my science teacher) heard us practicing. He came by our rehearsal and began singing All Blues with the band. Now, the jazz combo had a vocalist. Mr. Nelson was a brilliant teacher and a great mentor. He had a lot of information about life and music. I was also in his Life Arts class. This class focused on beatitudes. We discussed concepts like self-respect and self-love.
Armed with a zeal for learning, we embarked on exploring spontaneous compositions. The thing I appreciated most from this experience was the opportunity to explore music freely. I was aware of chord structures. I was placed in a position to create without patterns or licks. This experience nurtured my musical voice before I knew about being hip…