“You can’t think about thinking without thinking about thinking about something” – Seymour Papert

I find potentially interesting education provocations everywhere. The remarkable generosity of the world’s finest musical artists performing online during this pandemic have kept me safe and sane. I aspire as an educator to possess their level of talent, wisdom, expertise, focus, humor, commitment, generosity, and love. It is these very virtues that has made jazz musicians such a source of knowledge, wonder, and comfort in my life. One other very special aspect of “the hang” with jazz musicians is the lack of generational barriers within their community of practice. Most people aspiring to be great at what they do welcome opportunities to mentor newbies who express passion for similar pursuits. What makes the performing arts so special is that, as in the Brazilian samba schools, everyone – young and old alike – “dances” together.

So, in between concerts regularly scheduled concerts by Peter Martin, Chick Corea, and the Emmet Cohen Trio, I’ve watched great musicians discuss music they love at listening party fundraisers for Jazz House Kids (Friday nights) and Wynton Marsalis’  “Skain’s Domain,” (Monday night) where world-class artists spin yarns and take questions from the audience.

When I think about education, these are three ideals I cling to.

  1. The best thing we can do is to create as many opportunities as possible for young people to be in the company of interesting adults.
  2. Greatness is achieved through a laser-like focus on overcoming bugs that bother you. Once you approach overcoming that obstacle, a new challenge reveals itself. Such focus tends to make experts great teachers since such self-awareness is easy to articulate.
  3. If you wish for others to learn from you, your practice needs to be as transparent as possible.

Each of these principles are embodied in the Skain’s Domain Web livestreams (and archives). I highly recommend you watch the one below, even if you do not understand the subject matter, like jazz, or know who the participants are. There is still plenty to learn about learning and teaching.

This class is not a cocktail party!

Back in the 90s, my colleagues and I created online graduate school programs at Pepperdine University. One of my colleagues told students, “This is not a cocktail party! Your online interactions need to be pithy and deliberate.” To make matters worse, she revealed to students that she used a handheld clicker to count their personal interactions.

Upon hearing this, my first reaction was sadness followed by thought that apparently my colleague has never been invited to a good cocktail party. In fact, I set out to use a cocktail party as the metaphor for all of my teaching. I assume that we have gathered for a common purpose. If someone becomes insufferable you can grab another coconut shrimp and participants are surrounded by a plethora of potentially interesting conversations. Social interaction was key to knowledge construction, collaboration and creativity. Worst of all, “measuring/assessing/counting” human interaction had a predictable prophylactic impact on the social cohesion and productivity of the class.

So, here’s an activity for you to try…

  • Teachers from a school or department, perhaps even multiple schools, should meet online via a platform like Zoom. A diversity of experience, age, gender, friendships, perspectives, race, etc. are all welcome.
  • That Zoom session should be open to the public (or as broad a cross-section of your community as possible) and recorded in order to share the archive. Advertise the session in advance at a time your community may be available to “participate.”
  • The participating teachers should discuss any topics they wish, reminisce about their teaching experiences, plan their next units, chill, catch-up on each other’s lives, or a combination of all-of-the-above. If children are watching the online “faculty room,” be sure that the language and topics discussed are age appropriate.
  • After 30-45 minutes of the “audience” observing your social fishbowl, open the session up to questions from the peanut gallery. Break the fourth wall.

Voila! That’s it! Go ahead and change the world!

Let me know what you learn.


Veteran educator Dr. Gary Stager is co-author of Invent To Learn — Making, Tinkering, and Engineering in the Classroom and the founder of the Constructing Modern Knowledge summer institute. He led professional development in the world’s first 1:1 laptop schools and designed one of the oldest online graduate school programs. Learn more about Gary.

I hope that anyone reading this is healthy and sane during this period of uncertainty. Teachers and kids alike are grieving over the loss of freedom, social interactions, and normalcy. Many families, even those never before considered at-risk, are terrified of the potential for financial ruin or catastrophic health risks. Since I’m all about the love and spreading optimism, I humbly share a silver-lining for teachers and the kids that they serve.

The fact that you are being told to “teach online” in some vague version of “look busy” may mean that teachers are finally being trusted. Districts large and small are abandoning grading as they recognize that education (at home) is inequitable. I guess it’s better late than never to discover the obvious.

Parents and superintendents are vanquishing the needless infliction of nonsense known as homework. Standardized testing is being canceled, an actual miracle. Colleges have recognized that enrolling students next Fall is more important than SAT or ACT scores. Each of these emergency measures has been advocated by sentient educators forever.

So, there is reason to celebrate (briefly), but then you must act! Use this time to remake schooling in a way that’s more humane, creative, meaningful, and learner-centered. This is your moment!

In the absence of compelling models of what’s possible, the forces of darkness will fill the void. Each of us needs to create models of possibility.

The fact that kids’ days are now unencumbered by school could mean that they finally have adequate time to work on projects that matter rather than being interrupted every 23 minutes. I recently wrote, What’s Your Hurry?, about teaching computer programming, but it’s applicable to other disciplines.

Project-based learning offers a context for learner-centered pedagogy. I was reminded that the new edition of our book, “Invent To Learn – Making, Tinkering, and Engineering in the Classroom,” includes several chapters on effective prompt setting that may be useful in designing projects for kids at home. Invent To Learn also lays out the case for learning-by-doing. Use that information to guide your communication with administrators, parents, and the community.

The following are but a few suggestions for seizing the moment and reinventing education after this crisis is resolved so we may all return to a new, better, normal.

Practice “Less us, more them”

Anytime a teacher feels the impulse to intervene in an educational transaction, it is worth pausing, taking a breath, and asking, “Is there less that I can do and more that the student(s) can do?” The more agency shifted to the student, the more they will learn.

One exercise you can practice teaching online, as well as face-to-face, is talk less. If you typically lecture for 40 minutes, try 20. If you talk for 20 minutes, try 10. If you talk for 10, try 5. In my experience, there is rarely an instance in which a minute or two of instruction is insufficient before asking students to do something. While teaching online, try not to present content, but rather stimulate discussion or organize activities to maximize student participation. Piaget reminds us that “knowledge is a consequence of experience.”

Remember, less is more

My colleague Brian Harvey once said, “The key to school reform is throw out half the curriculum – any half.” This is wise advice during sudden shift to online teaching and the chaos caused by the interruption of the school year.

Focus on the big ideas. Make connections between topics and employ multiple skills simultaneously. Abandon the compulsion to “deliver” a morbidly obese curriculum. Simplify. Edit. Curate.

Launch students into open-ended learning adventures

Learning adventures are a technique I became known for when I began teaching online in the 1990s. This process is described in the 2008 paper, Learning Adventures: A new approach for transforming real and virtual classroom environments.

Inspire kids to read entire books

Since the bowdlerized and abridged basals are locked in school, encourage kids to luxuriate with real books! Imagine if kids had the freedom to select texts that interest them and to read them from cover-to-cover without a comprehension quiz or vocabulary lesson interrupting every paragraph! Suggest that kids post reviews on Amazon.com for an authentic audience rather than making a mobile or writing a five-paragraph essay. Use Amazon.com or Goodreads to find other books you might enjoy.

Tackle a new piece of software

Been meaning to learn Final Cut X, Lightroom, a new programming language, or any other piece of sophisticated software? Employ groups of kids to tackle the software alone or together and employ their knowledge once school returns. Let them share what they know and lead.

Contribute to something larger than yourself

This is the time for teachers to support kids in creating big creative projects. Write a newspaper, novel, poetry anthology, play, cookbook, or joke book. Make a movie and then make it better. Create a virtual museum. Share your work, engage in peer editing, and share to a potentially infinite audience.

Check out what Berklee College of Music students have already done!

Teach like you know better

Use this time to rev-up or revive sound pedagogical practices like genre study, author study, process writing, interdisciplinary projects and the other educative good stuff too often sacrificed due to a lack of sufficient time. You now have the time to teach well.

Take note of current events

Daily life offers a world of inspiration and learning invitations. Why not engage kids in developmentally appropriate current events or take advantage of opportunities like JSTOR being open to the public during the COVID-19 crisis? Here’s a possible student prompt.

“Go to JSTOR, figure out how it works, find an interesting article, and share what you learned with the class.”

Let Grow

Change the world by challenging students to learn something on their own by embracing the simple, yet profound, Let Grow school project. A simple assignment asks kids to do something on their own with their parent’s permission and share their experiences with their peers.

Stand on the shoulders of giants

Every problem in education has been solved and every imaginable idea has been implemented somewhere. Teachers should use this time to read books about education written by experts and learn the lessons of the masters.

Take time to enjoy some culture

There is no excuse to miss out on all of the cultural activities being shared online from free Shakespeare from the Globe Theatre, Broadway shows, operas, living room concerts, piano practice with Chick Corea, and exciting multimedia collaborations. Many of these streams are archived on social media, YouTube, or the Web. Bring some peace, beauty, and serenity into your home.

The following are some links, albeit incomplete and subjective, to free streaming cultural events.

Apprentice with the world’s greatest living mathematician

In A Personal Road to Reinventing Mathematics Education, I wrote about how I have been fortunate enough to know and spend time with some of the world’s most prominent mathematicians and that while not a single one of them ever made me feel stupid, plenty of math teachers did. Stephen Wolfram is arguably the world’s leading mathematician/scientist/computer scientist. Over the past few years, he has become interested in teachers, kids, and math education. Dr. Wolfram spoke at Constructing Modern Knowledge, runs an annual summer camp for high school mathematicians, and has made many of his company’s remarkable computational tools available for learners.

Acknowledging that many students are home do to the pandemic this week, Wolfram led a free online Ask Me Anything session about an array of math and science topics, ostensibly for kids, as well as a “follow-along” computation workshop. You, your children, or your students have unprecedented access to all sorts of expertise, just a click away! This is like Albert Einstein making house calls!

A bit of exploration will undoubtedly uncover experts in other disciplines sharing their knowledge and talents online as well.

Abandon hysterical internet policies

The immediate need for laptops, Internet access, student email, plus the expedient use of available technologies like YouTube, FaceTime, Skype, Twitter, Instagram, and Zoom has instantly dispelled the hysterical and paranoid centralized approach to the Internet schools have labored under for the past twenty-five years. The Internet has never been dependent on the policies of your school or your paraprofessional IT staff to succeed. Perhaps we will learn what digital citizenship actually looks like after teachers and children are treated like modern citizens.

Heed Seymour Papert’s advice

When I worked with Seymour Papert, he created a document titled, “Eight Big Ideas Behind the Constructionist Learning Lab.” This one sheet of paper challenges educators to create productive contexts for learning in the 21st Century. Can you aspire to make these recommendations a reality in your classroom(s)?

Do twenty things to do with a computer

In 1971, Seymour Papert and Cynthia Solomon published, Twenty Things to Do with a Computer. How does your school measure up a half-century later?

Program your own Gameboy

Yes, you read that correctly. Here is everything you need to know to write your own computer games, build an arcade, or program a handheld gaming device!

Teach reading and programming simultaneously

Upper elementary and middle school students could learn to program in Scratch and develop their reading fluency at the same time. Learn how in A Modest Proposal.

Share my sense of optimism

Shortly before the COVID-19 crisis, I published, Time for Optimism, in which I shared reasons why progressive education is on the march and how we might teach accordingly. We can do this!

Wash your hands! Stay inside! Stand with children!


Veteran educator Dr. Gary Stager is co-author of Invent To Learn — Making, Tinkering, and Engineering in the Classroom and the founder of the Constructing Modern Knowledge summer institute. He led professional development in the world’s first 1:1 laptop schools and designed one of the oldest online graduate school programs. Learn more about Gary.

I have often wondered why educators are so darn excited about Google. They get “Google Certified,” attend Google conference sessions, mourn when features change or Google loses interest in a platform they LOVE(d). Google loving teachers attend summits that are a cross between an Amway convention and cult meeting. Districts trust their communications and document storage to a company they know harvests their data (and that of their students) just to save a few bucks on an email server. School leaders have never met Mr. Google or any of his designees, but trust them anyway.

Millions upon millions upon millions of dollars are spent annually on teaching seemingly competent adult educators to in the words of President George W. Bush, “use the Google.”

Now, don’t get me wrong. The Google is a swell thing. You type something into a box and related web pages are displayed – just like the search engines that came before it. Google PhotoScan is a little piece of magic for rescuing and preserving family photos. We trust Google a lot and have become reliant on a faceless corporation who can change the terms of service or kill a platform we rely on at the drop of a hat.

One of my favorite tweets of all time was when I asked, “Which should I care less about, Google Wave or Google Buzz?” It turns out that I hit the exacta when Google quickly took both Wave and Buzz behind the barn and shot them Gangnam Style. I get the sense that Google operates like libertarian toddlers who just finished a jumbo box of Lucky Charms cereal right before their community theatre performance of Lord of the Flies.

Mad at me yet? No? OK. Good. Let’s move on.

The one Google thingy that schools really love is Google Docs. Boy, do they love Google Docs.

I have long wondered why? We have had word processors for thirty-five years. Most computers come with a free one adequate for most school applications and there are certainly better “Office” suites available. Many schools already own them.

So, why oh why the love affair with Google Docs? I offer a few hypotheses.

Here are the Top Three Reasons Why Schools Love Google Docs. [Drum roll please…]

  1. Google is cool. The Googleplex has vegan cafeterias, free dry cleaning, massage chairs, AND Ping-Pong tables. I wish our teacher’s lounge had a Pachinko machine and an assortment of herbal teas. That would make me cool too!
  1. Nuthin’ cheaper than free

and the number one answer why schools love Google Docs is….

  1. Collaboration!!!!!!

Collaboration is nice. Schools like nice. Being collaborative is what nice people do when they want to create nice things.

We have been here before

In the late 1980s, collaboration was all of the rage, but back then it was called cooperative learning. Cooperative learning. A school district sent me to a Robert Slavin Cooperative Learning Boot Camp run by Johns Hopkins University. Like any good boot camp, its intent was to beat us down and build us back up again as champions of cooperative learning. Colleagues were immediately separated so they could not question the dogma or rebel in any way. We learned to “jigsaw” boring and irrelevant curricula.

We were taught to create student teams of four kids; always four kids. The teams should be comprised of a smart kid, a dumb kid, a girl, a boy, a Black kid, a White kid, a skinny kid, a fat kid… Each team should stay together with their desks side-by-side for six weeks, always six weeks. If we did this, spelling test scores would improve.

Of course, during that prehistoric era, Google engineers were not even old enough to disrupt their own Waldorf schools. So, sadly there were no Google Docs to create multiplication flash cards or use all of our vocabulary words in a sentence. The word-processed five-paragraph essay in the cloud would have to wait.

TRIGGER WARNING!

Since 90% of what schools do is Language Arts and 98% of what they do with computers is language arts[1], Google Docs is mostly used for writing, but its secret power is collaborative writing.

I am a professional writer. (Not that you can tell from this essay) I am the author of hundreds of magazine articles, about as many blog posts (yeah, big whoop), a 450,000 word doctoral dissertation, countless academic papers, and co-authored one of the best-selling books about educational technology.

All of this qualifies me to say something heretical. (IMHO)

Writing is not collaborative!

(Please take a deep breath before declaring me a big meanie poo-poo head.)

You may write different parts of something and smush them together. You may peer-edit. You may create an anthology or periodical containing writing by several people, but writing is a solo sport. Writing is the result of one person’s internal processes.

Collaboration is more than simply the division of labor. It should not be taught as an isolated skill or coerced. Sadly, like many seemingly good ideas, schools seek to mechanize collaboration by turning natural process into a set of measurable skills and multi-year course of study, easily assessed. Some children win, while others fail.

Teams are created by teachers drawing Popsicle sticks with kids’ names written on them (until the teacher doesn’t like a random pairing and “fixes” it.) Students sense the capricious nature of this process and waste precious class time working the refs to get assigned teammates they like. Working with people with whom you are compatible is a logical idea frequently squelched by school “collaboration.”

Back in the halcyon days of Cooperative Learning™, a reporter for the long-defunct Electronic Learning Magazine asked Seymour Papert an intentionally softball question, “What do you think of Cooperative Learning?” Papert replied, “I think it is a profoundly bad idea to force children to work together.”

Oooh! Snap!

Collaboration should be natural

Cooperation and collaboration are natural processes. Such skills are useful when the creative process benefits from interdependence. The best collaboration mirrors democracy when individual talents, knowledge, or experiences are contributed to produce something larger than the sum of its parts.
Work with your friends. Work with people you trust. Work with people who have different skills or expertise. If that doesn’t produce the result you desire, you will find others to collaborate with. That is how you learn to collaborate. You may teach it, but the students will not stay taught.

Honestly, I could not care less about whom my students (kids or adults) choose to work with. The only reason to assign group size is scarcity of materials (we have to share). Even in those largely avoidable scenarios, it hardly matters if group size varies a bit. The main consideration is inactivity by some members when a group is too large.

Collaboration is both selfish and selfless. You give of yourself by sharing your talent and expertise, but the collaboration should benefit you as well.

Collaboration should be fluid

One of the great joys of Constructing Modern Knowledge derives from the range of collaboration on display at my annual institute. At the start, participating educators suggest a vast array of project ideas ranging from the sublime to the ridiculous. Participants identify which project they wish to work on and commence collaboration. If a person loses interest, becomes inspired by another project, or is incompatible with a teammate, they are free to join a different project or start a new one. Some people move effortlessly between multiple project teams; learning even more.

When projects are shared at the end of four days, three to five person teams have created the majority of projects, some may have a dozen or more collaborators, and we often discover delightful projects created by someone who quietly sat in the corner and worked alone.

I have been fortunate to learn a great deal about what I know about learning from some of the world’s best jazz musicians. Those who are expert at what they do, like musicians, artists, and scientists, pursue greatness by working tirelessly on what bugs them. That continuous and indefinite attention to detail makes them incredibly good at articulating how it is that they do what they do. In other words, they are great teachers.

The very fine jazz pianist and educator Peter Martin recently interviewed saxophonist Branford Marsalis and vocalist Kurt Elling about their remarkable collaboration, “Upward Spiral” (recording and tour). Marsalis and Elling are both highly accomplished A-list artists with their own working bands and artistic concepts. Yet, they have decided to spend a couple of years putting “their thing” on hold to create something new, wondrous and collaborative in the best, most natural, sense of the word. The music they create together on stage is transcendent and not to be missed.

During Peter Martin’s podcast, my old friend Branford Marsalis shares his profound concept of collaboration and juxtaposes it against the version so often practiced in schools. There is much to be learned here.

“The whole idea of a collaboration (to me) is that nobody gets to do what is that they do. The modern interpretation of collaboration is I know what you do. You do know what I do. Let’s get a head start and run real fast and collide into one another and whatever spills out over the side is the collaboration.” – Branford Marsalis

True collaboration is great. It’s even better than a free word processor.


Notes:
[1] I pulled those figures out of my bum, but I have been doing so for decades and no one has been able to disprove this completely fabricated assertion.



Gary Stager is the founder of the Constructing Modern Knowledge summer institute for educators July 11-14, 2017, coauthor of Invent To Learn – Making, Tinkering, and Engineering in the Classroom, and curator of the Seymour Papert archive site, DailyPapert.com.

Register today for Constructing Modern Knowledge 2017!

Tod Machover, me, Marvin Minsky

Tod Machover, me, Marvin Minsky at the MIT Media Lab 2013

I’m truly excited to be flying to Boston next week to participate in an amazing MIT event, “Deconstructing Beethoven’s Improvisations,” based on Marvin Minsky’s legendary paper, Music, Mind, and Meaning , and his love of Beethoven’s improvisations. A whole bunch of the world renowned pianists, musicologists, and scientists are on the 12+ hour program.

Some of you may not know that I studied music intensely through my mid-20s. I had four years of music theory in high school, studied music at Berklee College of Music, Rutgers, and William Paterson College, plus arranging with the great Frank Foster, Chico Mendoza, Andy Jaffe, and John Stubblefield. I “get” improvisation as an avid jazz fan who once aspired to be a professional jazz musician (before my considerable lack of talent caught up with me)

That said, my knowledge of Beethoven is infinitesimal and my music analysis skills are quite rusty. I’m really looking forward to burning up some brain cells at this event.

I’m busy downloading the pre-homework for the event and will be doing some serious cramming of the following materials suggested by the event organizers.

SUGGESTIONS FROM OUR PRESENTERS

Jonathan Biss

  • Listen: Beethoven Fantasy, op. 77, Serkin Recording – YouTube
  • Listen: Beethoven Fantasy, op. 77, Schnabel Recording – YouTube

“The Serkin and Schnabel recordings are both excellent. Probably as close to Beethoven’s actual improvisations as anything we have on paper.”

Robert Levin

Marvin Minsky

  • Read: “Music, Mind, and Meaning” – website version
  • Watch: Marvin with Hockenberry for the Media Lab h2.0 conference, 5 min – view or download video
  • Listen: Marvin Minsky BBC Radio interview about Beethoven’s 9th, 20 min – listen to MP3
  • Listen: Marvin Minsky,Nursery Rhyme Suite, 1960’s, recently digitized from reel-to-reel collection – download MP3

Stephen Prutsman

Listen: Shadows, by Stephen Prutsman, 9 min – listen to MP3

Frederic Rzewski

Listen: Hammerklavier Sonata – YouTube

Jan Swafford

Read: Ludwig Rules: A Guide for Studying Beethoven, by Jan Swafford – PDF

SUGGESTIONS FROM OUR HOSTS

Tod Machover

Jonathan Berger

  • Read: Composing Your Thoughts web article
  • Read: Listener Correlation PDF
  • “All deeply influenced and inspired by Marvin”
  • Listen:Visitations website

As many of you know, I once studied to be a jazz musician. Although I came to grips with my profound lack of talent in my twenties, I am fortunate enough to have great friends who are among the world’s finest jazz musicians. Jazz remains one of the great joys of my life.

My friend Brian Lynch is not your average trumpet player. His trumpet playing facility and compositional skills are unrivaled. He is also curious, disciplined and a very find professor at the University of Miami. Brian has enjoyed long tenures in the bands of Art Blakey, Horace Silver, Phil Woods, Eddie Palmieri and countless other musical greats.

One of the most exciting experiences of my life was being in the recording studio (owned by Tony Bennett) while Brian rehearsed and recorded the groundbreaking CD, Simpático with 9-time Grammy Award winning Latin music giant, Eddie Palmieri, legendary jazz saxophonist Phil Woods and many of today’s finest jazz/latin jazz artists. Brian was gracious to give me an album credit for Videography, Web Photos and New Media Consultant. (you can see two of the videos I created in 2005 at the bottom of this post)

However, the greatest day of my life was when I put on my fancy clothes to attend the 2006 Grammy Awards where Brian won the Grammy Award for Best Latin Jazz Album of the Year and thanked me from the stage! I never screamed so hard or felt as much joy for another person than when I heard his name read as the winner. Seconds later Sylvia and I  were whisked away with the rest of Brian’s entourage to run the media gauntlet  before the televised Grammy spectacular and after-party. While waiting with Brian to do press interviews, we were positioned between Al Jarreau and Ruby Dee!

At the Grammys (real cameras were prohibited)

Brian initially released his self-produced and Internet-distributed recording via the pioneering Artistshare Web platform, where fans not only help finance the production, but participate in the creative process. The recording brings together musical elder statesmen, Eddie Palmieri and Phil Woods in a genre defying gumbo of jazz and latin rhythms. If you don’t know anything about music, Phil Woods improvised the iconic saxophone solo on Billy Joel’s Just the Way You Are, in one take. Brian, Eddie and Phil Woods were joined by the phenomenal Mexican American vocalist, Lila Downs, on two tracks and were supported by many of the best musicians of today.

The recording, engineering and mastering was done with great care and precision. This is a fantastic sounding album you will want to listen to for years to come and it is finally available for digital download in an extended version with extra tracks and PDF liner notes from Amazon.com, iTunes and Bandcamp.

Please check out this CD, you won’t regret it!

Buy the music via digital download!

The Brian Lynch/Eddie Palmieri Project Simpático
2006 Grammy© Award Winner, Best Latin Jazz Album
credits
COLLECTIVE PERSONNEL
Brian Lynch – trumpet
Eddie Palmieri – piano
Lila Downs – voice
Phil Woods – alto saxophone
Donald Harrison – alto saxophone
Yosvany Terry – alto saxophone
Gregory Tardy – tenor saxophone, clarinet
Conrad Herwig – trombone
Mario Rivera – baritone sax
Edsel Gomez – piano, organ
Boris Kozlov – acoustic bass
Ruben Rodriguez – baby bass
Luques Curtis – acoustic bass
Giovanni Hidalgo – congas
Pedro Martinez – congas, bongo, campaña, coro
Little Johnny Rivero – bongo, campaña
Dafnis Prieto – drums
Robby Ameen – drums
Marvin Diz – timbales
Pete Rodriguez – maracas, guiro
Adam Rogers – acoustic guitar
Joe Fielder – additional trombone

Musical direction and all arrangements by Brian Lynch

Recorded at Bennett Studios, Englewood, NJ on Nov. 23, 25, 26, Dec. 5, 2005
Engineer: David Darlington
Additional Recording at Bass Hit Studios, New York, NY
Mixed by David Darlington and Brian Lynch at Bass Hit Studios, New York, NY with assistance from Tom Dambly and Roger Townsend
Mastering: Tom Carr at The Annex, Menlo Park, CA
Produced by Brian Lynch
Production Assistance, Web Photos and Pro Tools: Tom Dambly
Principal Photography: Nick Ruechel
Videography, Web Photos and New Media Consultant: Gary Stager
Design: Christian Ericson

Executive Producer Participant: Roger Townsend
Gold Participants: Peter Straub, Jo Daley
Bronze Participants: Rafael Hernandez, Bryan Davis, Fred & Meg Lynch, Philip Tauber

Brian Lynch’s Horns: Yamaha 8310Z trumpet, Monette 993 trumpet (Que Sería La Vida, Tema Para Marissa)
Brian Lynch, Eddie Palmieri, and Phil Woods are Yamaha performing artists
Trumpet mouthpieces by Monette
Brian’s hats by Kelly Christy
Lila Downs courtesy of Narada Productions
Giovanni Hidalgo, Pedro Martinez, and Johnny Rivero are LP artists

I’m heading to Washington D.C. to cheer on my young pal, the gifted 21 year-old pianist Emmett Cohen, compete as a semi-finalist in the prestigious Thelonious Monk International Jazz Pianist Competition. The Monk Competition is a very big deal. It’s like the Olympics for jazz musicians.

Emmet is a very fine musician. You should check out his Emmet’s first CD, In the Element – available from Amazon.com and iTunes. Keep your eyes on this young man. He’s going to be something special!

Emmet and each of his competitors will be accompanied by one of my oldest friends, Carl Allen on drums and Rodney Whittaker on bass. Carl is not only one of the world’s most accomplished musicians, he is also an amazing educator currently serving as the Artistic Director of Jazz Studies at the Julliard School. Carl has participated in the Monk Competition for many years.

Emmet Cohen, the Great Roy Haynes, Gary Stager

Not only will Emmet be accompanied by world-class musicians and competing against the best jazz pianists of his generation, but the judges are some of the world’s greatest pianists – Herbie Hancock, Ellis Marsalis, Jason Moran, Danilo Perez and Renee Rosnes!

That all occurs on Sunday. Monday evening, the winners are announced at a gala concert featuring dozens of the world’s greatest jazz musicians, past Monk competition winners and Aretha Franklin! Check out the musicians scheduled to perform!

Piano
John Beasley
Gerald Clayton
Bill Cunliffe
Herbie Hancock
Eric Lewis
Ellis Marsalis
Jason Moran
Danilo Perez
Renee Rosnes
Ted Rosenthal
Helen Sung
Jacky Terrasson

Organ
Joey DeFrancesco

Bass
Ron Carter
Daryl Hall
Christian McBride
John Patitucci
Joe Sanders
Rodney Whitaker
Ben Williams

Drums
Carl Allen
Ronald Bruner
Terri Lyne Carrington
Sebastiaan DeKrom
TS Monk
Harold Summey

Saxophone
Seamus Blake
John Ellis
Jon Gordon
Jimmy Heath
Jon Irabagon
Godwin Louis
Joe Lovano
Wayne Shorter
Walter Smith

Trumpet
Ambrose Akinmusire
Terence Blanchard
Diego Urcola

Guitar
Kevin Eubanks
Lionel Loueke
Lage Lund
Jesse Van Ruller

Trombone
Andre Hayward

Vocal
Dee Dee Bridgewater
Kurt Elling
Aretha Franklin
Roberta Gambarini
Sara Lazarus
Cecile McLorin Salvant
Jane Monheit
Gretchen Parlato
Dianne Reeves

Percussion
Sean Thomas

Vibes
James Westfall

Snooky Young at UCLA © 2006 Gary Stager

Eugene “Snooky” Young was one of the baddest jazz and studio trumpet players who ever lived. He passed away last week at the age of 93.

I had the privilege of seeing him perform live several times with the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra and Gerald Wilson’s Big Band. He was still performing on the trumpet at 92 years-old!

Back in May 2006, when Snooky was a spry 88, I caught him at UCLA playing with his 89 year-old friend, Gerald Wilson‘s big band and snapped the first two photos on this page.

I was so pleased with the photo of I snapped of Mr. Young looking so dapper backstage that I emailed it to my friend, the brilliant professional photographer, Nick Ruechel. (check out some of his remarkable jazz portraits here, here and here) A few months later, Nick was hired by Jazz Times Magazine to photograph Snooky Young for this article. He surprised Mr. Young by asking him to wear the shoes, hat and clothes Nick had seen in my amateur photo. I am quite humbled by the result below.

Snooky Young by Nick Ruechel © Jazz Times

From Wikipedia

Young was lead trumpeter of the Jimmie Lunceford band from 1939 to 1942. He played with Count Basie (three stints totalling eight years) and Lionel Hampton, among others, and was an original member of the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Big Band.[1]

His longest engagement was with NBC, where, as a studio trumpeter, he joined the Tonight Show Band in 1967 and stayed with them until 1992, when the band was replaced by a new, smaller group.
He was also part of the touring ensemble that traveled with Doc Severinsen, performing live concert dates, corporate events, and headling shows in the main rooms of Las Vegas. The one nighters usually occurred on Fridays, Saturdays, or Sundays, as Doc was committed to the Tonight Show weeknights.
For the Las Vegas gigs, the nucleus of Doc’s touring band (Snooky, Conductor Steve Thoma, and drummer Paul Line) would commute to Vegas nightly, leaving Van Nuys airport around 6:00pm via Lear Jet, arriving in Las Vegas by 7:00. A limousine would transport the musicians directly backstage, where they would dress & prepare for an 8:00 pm & midnight show. Then back to the airport for the ride back to Los Angeles, where Doc & Snooky had their NBC gig, and Steve & Paul where doing studio sessions daily.

Snooky Young & Gerald Wilson at UCLA ©2006 Gary Stager


(Snooky solos about 2 1/2 minutes in)


(Snooky on left at 3:44)

Snooky Young tearing it up with Doc Severinsen on the Tonight Show


Snooky with a killer edition of Count Basie’s Big Band (fabulous solo by Thad Jones)

See and hear Snooky Young play at last year’s Playboy Jazz Festival (bootleg) at the age of 92!

A friend of mine just asked Facebook friends what they’re reading. Here is my current list if you don’t included the other thousand or so books awaiting my attention…

  1. Loris Malaguzzi and the Reggio Emilia Experience (a biography of one of the great educators of the 20th Century)
  2. The Quincy Jones Legacy Series: Q on Producing (a gorgeous book and DVD about the remarkable life and musical wisdom of Quincy Jones)
  3. Raising a School: Foundations for School Architecture (a spectacular book about all aspects of creating productive contexts for learning by a colleague of Seymour Papert, Dr. Rena Upitis)
  4. David Susskind: A Televised Life (a fine autobiography of one of my boyhood heroes)
  5. Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original (perhaps the most comprehensive jazz autobiography ever about one of the most complex musicians who ever lived)
  6. I Walked With Giants: The Autobiography of Jimmy Heath (I have been fortunate to spend some time with this amazing musician over the years.)
  7. Satiristas: Comedians, Contrarians, Raconteurs & Vulgarians (there is much to learn about learning and performance from comedians)
  8. The Improvising Mind: Cognition and Creativity in the Musical Moment (as soon as I can afford it – highly recommended by my friend, the great Brian Lynch)

I’m also revisiting more than a dozen books by the amazing Seymour Sarason and Seymour Papert‘s three books on learning and computing.

I’ve been asked occasionally to name my ten favorite jazz CDs. This is not necessarily the most important recordings, but my favorites.

  1. John Coltrane – A Love Supreme
  2. Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers – Buhaina’s Delight
  3. Bobby Hutcherson – In the Vanguard
  4. Herbie Hancock – Maiden Voyage
  5. Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra – New Life (I know I should say, “Consummation.” – cheaper too)
  6. Cannonball Adderley – Somethin’ Else
  7. Sarah Vaughan – Crazy and Mixed Up
  8. Dexter Gordon – Gettin’ Around (or Homecoming)
  9. Thelonious Monk – Live at the It Club
  10. Wayne Shorter – Speak No Evil

Classical entry – Takacs Quartet – Borodin – Smetna

Pop entry = Luther Vandross – The Best of Love OR Stevie Wonder – Natural Wonder

I know it outrageous that I didn’t include anything by Miles Davis (he’s on the Cannonball album above) or my current favorite musician, Dianne Reeves.

2007 Grammy Award Winner!
iraqi election
Gary was the new media producer for this groundbreaking Grammy Award-winning music project

Author’s note: As a response to the bile being directed at teachers by President Obama, Oprah Winfrey and NBC News’ Education Nation, I’ve decided to publish a series of articles I wrote celebrating great educators in my life. I encourage others to make the world a better place by sharing stories of great teaching. (use the hashtag = greatteaching)

Rocco Patierno & George Hicswa - July 2010

The challenge of telling one school story is a formidable one. I have so many to share. My colleagues urged me to tell the stories of the felonious teachers who taught from lawn chairs, led ethnic relay races and committed other hideous crimes against children. I could also tell the story of learning to love computing in the 70s because of imaginative trusting educators. Hopefully, I will have such opportunities in the future. This is the tale of music teachers who brought beauty, humor and a sense of place to my life.

Back in the 1970s, the Wayne, NJ Public Schools offered me the opportunity to fall in love with music and pursue it with abandon under the tutelage of spectacular teachers, Bob Simpson, Rocco Patierno, Ted Anderson, George Hicswa and Dick Lukas. Our fluid relationships flowed

from teacher-student, teacher-teacher, friend-friend to fellow artists creating together. My high school supported my desire to take four years of music theory and four years of performance classes (nine in all) without missing a single “important” academic course.

Midway through high school, George Hicswa, a professional jazz musician, achieved his goal of offering a daily Jazz Improvisation course. The class would be concerned with jazz theory, history and performance. Few universities at the time offered such a class. This was the perfect venue for a man of Mr Hicswa’s considerable idiosyncrasies, humor and talent as a musician. This class was quite comparable to the Brazilian Samba School Seymour Papert describes in Mindstorms, as an optimal environment for productive learning.

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The thing that strikes me today is how the course was so learner-centered. I remember the excitement of calling classmates on Sunday night to plan which records we should bring in to analyze on Monday and Tuesday. At the time we joked that Mr. Hicswa was lazy and that we were teaching his class. I now understand that a great teacher connects his/her wisdom and experience with the interests of students. We always felt that there was great gravity to the work we were doing in this class. After all, we were studying an American art form not taught in American schools. This was a music of the blues – of the struggle for civil rights, being performed reverently by white kids from the suburbs.

The course epitomized an interdisciplinary curriculum making connections between history, musical performance and the mathematics used to learn improvisation. It was a multi-age class you could take for credit year after year. How could that be possible? Because there was always something to learn and new ways to grow. A strong community of practice existed in which we could learn by “playing” together.

I remember the shock on the faces of judges as we took the stage for a jazz competition (one of those obscene oxymorons invented by schools). We would follow paramilitary “stage bands” wearing white platform suits and zoot suits as they faithfully recreated “In the Mood.” The stage band is a musical amalgamation with no analog outside of school.

Our small jazz combo would be garbed in dashikis, kimonos and “bebop helmets.” I once performed on gong. Our repertoire consisted of works by Thelonious Monk, Lee Morgan, Horace Silver, John Coltrane and student composers. We honored ourselves and our musical heroes by sharing our individuality through collective improvisation.

It was never clear if Mr. Hicswa liked teaching or even liked children. What he loved were musicians – even people trying to become musicians. He created an environment in which personal growth was possible. For that I will always be grateful.


©1999 Gary S. Stager
From Curriculum Administrator Magazine — June 1999