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It don’t mean a thing …
. . . if students only want course credit. But Ted Moore gives aspiring jazz players something more: a chance to grow

| 26 January 2005


Ted Moore’s students study music for music’s sake. “It’s a blessing to have something in one’s life,” says UC Jazz director Moore, “that continues to teach and inspire.” (Wendy Edelstein photo)
“I think jazz teachers ought to be players,” says Ted Moore, who was appointed director of UC Jazz Ensembles last April. “It’s a living, breathing, organic art form that needs to be practiced and not just discussed.”

Moore, a jazz drummer and composer, continues: “That’s why I like the performance aspect of UC Jazz, because we really get in there and play and encourage people to try to step out and take chances on their instrument. If it sounds awful in the rehearsal room, that’s okay, because that’s what learning is about.”

The 70 students enrolled in UC Jazz are unequivocally there to learn, since they receive no academic credit for their participation. For more than three decades, UC Jazz Ensembles, part of the Student Musical Activities program under Cal Performances, has been providing students an opportunity to study and perform jazz. Its members, a mix of music and non-music majors, sign up to join the Ensembles’ big band, one of its nine combos, or both. Performance opportunities include weekly noontime concerts on Lower Sproul Plaza, an annual gig at Yoshi’s Jazz House in Oakland, and a spring performance at International House. In years past, UC Jazz Ensembles has traveled to jazz festivals in such far-flung locations as Finland, Sweden, Denmark, Poland, and the Far East, including Tokyo, Kyoto, Nara, and Osaka.

Along with Moore, six part-time teachers lead the combos, which range from beginning to advanced levels, and in size from a quartet to an 11-person group.

“They’re great players,” says Moore of his staff, who cover the waterfront of jazz instruments and vocals. “Everyone has a career and has played with lots of other recognizable names in jazz.”

Students often report to Moore that reading the instructor biographies on UC Jazz Ensembles’ website inspired them to join the group. “They knew they would be getting access to top-notch people and good players,” he explains.

Moore himself has performed and recorded with a varied roster of jazz luminaries since graduating from the Eastman School of Music in 1973, including Stan Getz, Paul Winter, Marian McPartland, Chuck Mangione, Eric Gale, and Joey DeFrancesco. He’s toured in Canada, England, Spain, Holland, and Japan. The percussionist performs locally with several staff members from the UC Jazz Ensembles: pianist Jeff Pitson, vocalist Suzanne Pitson, and bassist Glenn Richman.

From Brazil to Berkeley by way of Tokyo

Moore’s real musical passion, however, is the Brazilian jazz group he leads called, aptly enough, Brasilia. His interest in Brazilian jazz was sparked in the early ’70s, he says, when lots of jazz musicians were drawn to the blend of jazz and traditional Brazilian music played by Sergio Mendes and Brasil ’66. For Moore, that interest grew into a deep love when, as a grad student at Eastman, he was invited to play in the national Brazilian Symphony Orchestra in 1978 and 1979.

Those two years proved pivotal. During his off- hours in Rio de Janeiro, Moore would go to jazz clubs and sit in with the band, a relatively easy thing to do as a rhythm player, he says. The only difficulty was that the Brazilian musicians wanted to play “American jazz,” while he wanted to learn about and play their music.

“Brazilian jazz takes the intellectual aspect of jazz and moves it down to the heart a little more,” says Moore. “I think that’s what makes it attractive to me. The improvisational quality is still there, but there is something else about the music that reaches me on a very deep emotional level. It may well have something to do with the fact that the roots of this music are heavily involved in percussion and voice. These primal aspects of jazz, combined with the blend and mixture of other elements, have made this music loved all over the world.”

Unlike American jazz, which has a relatively small market share of the music sold in the U.S., the bossa nova is “everywhere” in Brazil, says Moore, “and is a part of everyone’s life there. It’s the country’s pop music.”

Moore is thrilled about performing two concerts with Brasilia in February: one in New York with the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra, and the other in Vancouver with that city’s symphony. “I can’t wait to hear my music expanded to those proportions,” says Moore, who is working on the arrangements of his original compositions for the performances.

Unraveling the mystery of jazz

The students in the Jazz Ensembles don’t necessarily aspire to careers in jazz, though each year two or three of them with other academic pursuits “get in deeper and deeper with this music, and want nothing more than to keep it as a part of their lives,” says Moore, “whether it’s their main profession or not.” He cites the group’s Alumni Band as an example of that phenomenon, where the members have been rehearsing and playing together once a week for longer than 20 years. “For the most part they are not professional players,” says Moore, “but they play concerts around town and help keep the music alive.”

Moore, who teaches UC Jazz’s beginning group and two advanced combos, encourages students to suggest tunes they want to work on; hearing what they want to play, he says, gives him insight into what they’re listening to. He happily reports that many students are delving into the works of two of jazz’s major movers and shakers, Miles Davis and John Coltrane. They’re also checking out current players such as the Bad Plus, a trio from Minnesota that covers rock tunes and plays its own boisterous originals, and local concerts that include jazz greats like Keith Jarrett and Arturo Sandoval.

“It’s really important to balance both sides,” Moore says, “so students can see that the music is alive and that people are carrying on the tradition, but also to help them understand that these people who are playing now have done their homework.” To understand jazz, he says, it’s essential to go back and listen to its roots: “That means studying everything from the music of New Orleans through swing and bebop, and on to modern and post-modern movements.”

Some students come to Moore with a misconception about playing jazz, but quickly become aware of the depth of study involved in learning the art of improvisation.

For classical players, Moore says, “there’s something about the structure, sound, and freedom of jazz that’s unfamiliar.” The big question for them, therefore, is “How do you get to that place where you can play without sheet music with people you’ve never seen before?” To unravel that mystery, Moore’s combos have recently tackled transcribing a John Coltrane solo, “Moment’s Notice.”

“I’m encouraging them to take little phrases of that solo — they don’t need to learn the whole thing — and work them into their own playing,” he says.

Moore has met a number of students with classical music training who have “heard something in jazz they didn’t understand but that they wanted to understand.” It’s an experience similar to his own as a teenager. He had had a lot of classical training when, he recalls, he heard a Miles Davis recording that was then beyond his comprehension but “fascinating” nonetheless.

“The music had a mysterious element I had not experienced before,” he says. “Listening to jazz made me want to pursue and understand it. Strangely enough, it still is full of mystery in different ways. It’s a blessing to have something in one’s life that continues to teach and inspire.”

For information about UC Jazz Ensembles, visit ucjazz.berkeley.edu. Moore’s group, Brasilia, released its CD River Wide on Kokopelli Records in 1995; it is still in print.