Juliard graduate shares tips for spicing up jazz performance

Last Saturday, May 6, MHCC hosted the 39th Annual Northwest Jazz Band Festival, in which middle- and high school students came to compete, jazz clinics were held, and guest artist Dominick Farinacci spoke and preformed with Mt. Hood’s own Jazz Ensemble.

Apart from the variety of ages competing, it was hard to ignore the fact the festival was going on in various places, two of them being the Visual Arts Theatre and the College Theatre. Granted, I couldn’t stay for the whole shebang, but it was long enough to swing in and go back in time a bit. From instrumental duets, to solos, larger groups and even vocalists, the music was spectacular.

The highlight of the day, however, was definitely Farinacci’s performance as he played trumpet with the Jazz Ensemble that afternoon, along with his clinic which built on solos in the form of the blues, being the most basic form of jazz.

Then again, playing jazz on the fly can be both easy and hard.

“A couple comments from the clinicians earlier talked about using just a few notes to really build a solo,” Farinacci said. “Some of the greatest artists in terms of simplicity (and) using a couple notes, (built) an entire solo” around their songs.

“C Jam Blues… one of the most famous songs in the history of jazz, is built on two notes. So, if Duke Ellington can do that, we can all kinda do that,” he said.

The main point in Farinacci’s clinic was that – for the blues – a good way to begin try a solo was to “say something, say it again, and say something different,” a he put it. It’s hard to describe music in words, but the on-the-spot examples he and the students produced made it easy to understand. He played a more advanced example with the help of some of the students, blowing the audience away.

Farinacci also stressed the importance of active listening when it came to understanding music. “When you’re listening to something, you’re listening to it on the level of really enjoying something, and ultimately the stuff we love most really moves us,” he said. “Active listening in the educational process is listening to something and being able to talk about every aspect of what you just listened to.”

With the example of “Sing, Sang, Sung,” people commented that there were a lot of layers the music produced from the various instruments played, and how even in the quiet moments there was still energy behind their playing.

“One thing I will say, is to think about – in terms of dynamics – intensity, when you’re really loud versus when you’re really soft,” Farinacci said. “The tendency when you’re playing really soft is to kind of be more relaxed, but the key is to have this quiet intensity.”

The best way he explained it is with the annunciation of words, and how excitement can be seen, as well as heard, when it’s really quiet. “That dynamic range is one of the magic(al) things of music, with what really separated good bands from great bands,” he said.

For those who missed out this year, the next Jazz Festival will be held on May 5, 2018, and will feature guest artist Terell Stafford, another trumpeter. The location has yet to be set.

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