Cape Henlopen’s budding musicians learned from the masters when renowned jazz artists visited schools as a prelude to the area’s jazz festivals.
True Blue Jazz Festival headliner Wycliffe Gordon and Rehoboth Beach Jazz Festival Artist of the Year Matt Marshak taught techniques, answered questions and jammed with student musicians.
Gordon held a master-class workshop for Cape High’s jazz band Oct. 12, with Beacon and Mariner Middle band students in the audience.
“Ask me any questions you want, even if it’s about school lunch,” Gordon joked.
Gordon, a university-level music educator and Jazz Journalists Association’s 10-time Trombonist of the Year, is the youngest member of the U.S. Statesmen of Jazz, a touring ensemble representing the U.S. State Department.
For nearly two hours, he worked with band members, teaching techniques to move their play from good to great.
“You can articulate using different rhythms, and play with rhythmic intensity,” he said. “It doesn’t have to be loud. Any band can play loud.”
Gordon told students everything that happens in jazz is some sort of conversation.
“For solos, you compromise with bandmates. You have to play over the band or talk with them to tell them to come down,” he said. “Your role is to shine, even if you have just a short solo. Make your most profound statement. Always play with confidence, and bring your vibe to life.”
Gordon said jazz music is about dancing.
“Dancing is part of being a kid,” he said. “When I was in high school, everyone danced. You have to play with the kind of rhythm that makes you want to dance. The space in between the notes gives the groove – that’s what makes it swing.”
Gordon told students not to be afraid to belt it out.
“Don’t fish for notes, just play them,” he said. “Never play jazz music tentatively. Put more air into the horn and send the air to the back of the room. Just call mistakes ‘unintended notes.’”
One student asked Gordon about his mouthpiece.
“I use a trumpet mouthpiece. I know it looks kind of stupid, but that’s how it is,” he laughed. “This was custom-made and I just got it about a month ago, so I’m still getting used to it.”
Gordon asked the student if he could borrow his trumpet, which was quickly given to the musician. Gordon inserted his own mouthpiece and belted out a rhythm while the student’s friends clapped him on the back.
At Rehoboth Elementary, Marshak held a clinic Oct. 11 for guitarists in the Rehoboth Empowers Dreams program and Jacquie Kisiel’s fifth-grade class. He told students it was his ninth straight year playing in the festival.
“I love it here. They really foster new artists,” Marshak said. “This festival gives me the opportunity to work on something different each year. They want to develop me, and not turn me into something else. It’s the essence of jazz to speak with your own voice, and this place allows you to do it.”
After Marshak told students he began playing in 1988, music teacher Walter Hetfield said he first picked up the guitar in 1977.
“Can you believe he’s better than me?” Hetfield smiled, and he and Marshak played an impromptu song. Hetfield said musicians speak the same language.
“That’s how we can all play together, even though we just met 45 minutes ago,” he said. “We’re trying to teach you the language of music, the universal language.”
When a student asked Marshak if he is a big artist, Marshak replied, “I’m not a big artist yet, I’m only 5-foot 7.”
Marshak told students he got his shot when he was asked to fill in for a sick musician.
“It’s opened up many opportunities for me,” he said. “I try to limit my sick days now.”
Marshak worked with students on chords and melodies, telling them to focus on their strengths.
“Highlight what makes you shine,” he said. “Put out the best of you while you’re working on other elements to come up with your own style.”
Marshak worked with the class to create a new song, “A Night in Rehoboth.” He told students he would send his newest release to Hetfield to play for the class.
“Now you can say you played with Matt Marshak,” Hetfield said.