The very first class SFCM fuses jazz and baroque | Lifestyles
In a first-of-its-kind new offering, Roots, Jazz and American Music Executive Director Jason Hainsworth and Historic Performance Chairman Corey Jamason teach improvisation from both a jazz and baroque perspective
In partnership with the San Francisco Examiner
By Alex Heigl
The harpsichord isn’t usually thought of as a particularly swinging instrument, but Corey Jamason and Jason Hainsworth are here to change that.
Jamason, Director of Historic Performance at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, and Hainsworth, Executive Director of Roots, Jazz and American Music, are teaming up to offer SFCM students an all-new class that will focus on improvisation in the seemingly disparate fields of jazz and baroque music. And the class promises another SFCM first: an ensemble combining traditional jazz instruments like saxophones with baroque standbys like the harpsichord. The module was launched the third week of March and hopefully will return to the program.
“One of the beautiful things about this school is the desire to break down ideas about what is meant to be here and what’s meant to be the and bring them together,” Jameson said. “Music is music and musicians can learn a lot from each other, especially about the act of improvisation, which is fundamental to who we are – our true voice.”
“There’s a need for collaboration within the school, but there’s also a need to demystify some of these walls that we naturally put up between jazz musicians and classical musicians,” Hainsworth said. “But we always started from the base of ‘What would be a fun course that we would like to take if we study here?
“For years, since I started working here, Corey and I would just talk, at faculty meetings or in the hallways, about how you teach baroque improvisation to students,” he said. he continued. “How would you teach them to use the very traditional instruments or the figured bass – the typical things Baroque musicians would use to create music in real time.”
“We talk these days about how we recreate a score,” Jameson said. “And that’s fine and that’s fine and I’m sure Baroque composers would like that, but they expected and wrote in a way that gave room for performers to improvise.”
The overlap between baroque music and jazz may not be obvious to contemporary listeners, but it is substantial. Baroque soloists on any instrument had to add ornaments of their choosing to the melody they were playing, much like a horn player reinterpreting a jazz standard. And there was the practice of continuous bass, in which composers would notate bass parts and expect a harmony instrument (like the harpsichord) to improvise its part from there, which Jamason says is “very similar to this a jazz pianist would do”. He added that Bach was even criticized in his day for notating his parts too strictly and leaving no room for musicians to show their individuality.
Musicians of the time even swung their eighth notes: “French baroque music, if played in steps at a moderate or slow tempo, would often be very similar to swing music,” Jamason said, a quality called “uneven.”
“Musicians in these two regions were and are expected to know where they were in a tonal or tonal center and what notes work, what notes don’t work, or which notes lead to where,” Hainsworth said.
“There are also similarities in terms of standard material that jazz musicians know and baroque musicians knew at the time,” he continued. “You could get musicians together and call out a tune and they’d all be expected to know how to play it.”
“We’ve read about baroque-era improvisers, how amazing they were, and it seems far away,” Jamason added. “Because improvisation is a little less present in classical music these days,” he continued, classical musicians can look to jazz musicians to help bridge that distance.
“There’s no bad improvisation: if it’s something that comes from someone’s heart, then it’s real,” added Jamason.
Learn more about the Historical Performance Study or RJAM at SFCM.edu.