A Dispatch from Mannheim

Professor of Music Education Christopher Azzara reflects on his classes in Mannheim as part of a trip to Germany. 

On Saturday, I started a two-day class at the Musikhochschule in Mannheim. This group of undergraduates, graduate students, and in-service teachers had excellent musicianship skills, but didn’t have too much experience improvising. We sang and played many tunes–melody, bass line, and inner voices—by ear, including tunes from Developing Musicianship through Improvisation.

The students were very responsive as we improvised (singing and playing instruments) to a varied repertoire using the model from DMTI on songs such as “Simple Gifts,” “When the Saints Go Marching In,” and the “St. Louis Blues.” We performed several arrangements of these tunes by ear; the participants enjoyed improvising antecedent and consequent phrases and learning about the Seven Skills for improvising.

As a part of one session, I taught the class the four parts of an eight-measure excerpt from the image[1]trio of a Mozart string quartet (K. 171) by ear because it has a similar progression to “When the Saints Go Marching In” (but is in triple meter). Using this vocabulary, the students improvised in the style of Mozart. In another session, we improvised to “St. Louis Blues.” As a part of this session, we listened to “Cross Road Blues” by Robert Johnson, and I taught the class the head and Johnny Hodges’s saxophone solo to “Big Shoe” from the album Side by Side. In our short time together it was rewarding to hear the students (who were relatively new to improvising) playing meaningful solos.

After the class was over, 12 of us went out to dinner in downtown Mannheim. When we were walking to dinner, we passed a wine store that had many jazz LP record jackets in the window display, including Kind of Blue, Love Supreme, Doin’ Allright, and Side by Side–the Johnny Hodges-Duke Ellington album with “Big Shoe” on it!