“Strengthening the connection between your ears and fingers”: senior musicians learn jazz improvisation from a master

“Strengthening the connection between your ears and fingers”: senior musicians learn jazz improvisation from a master

Renowned saxophonist, composer and educator Mike Hall kept QE’s senior musicians on their toes with a masterclass on jazz improvisation.

His hour-long, richly illustrated, online talk focused on examples of improvisation by two of the jazz greats, Herbie Hancock and Miles Davis.

The boys now have a couple of weeks to submit recordings of their own improvisations before Mike runs another two masterclasses in which he will offer them direct feedback on their work.

Director of Music Ruth Partington said: “This was a great event and we are very lucky to be able to welcome a player of Mike’s stature ‘to’ QE. At this time of year, we would normally be holding our annual Jazz Evening, so the timing of this first masterclass was particularly appropriate.

“Mike’s talk combined the perfect mix of approachability with some challenging concepts for our advanced students. He talked about how to improvise over chords using the notes of the chord, about guide tones and about specific scales such as minor pentatonics.

“And he included some live demonstrations on Zoom: it was wonderful to hear him play.

“The audience clearly enjoyed his presentation, and there were some interesting questions at the end.”

The class briefly covered the history of jazz, with Mike stressing that it is an “aural music…[that] should be learned initially by listening to and emulating great players”. He moved on to the specifics of improvisation, including the need to acquire the requisite skills, such as “strengthening the connection between your ears and fingers”.

Mike was Head of Jazz Studies at the Royal Northern College of Music for 20 years, during which time he directed well over 100 concerts with the RNCM Big Band.  He still teaches at the RNCM and has also taught at many jazz summer schools and been a consultant and composer for the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music (ABRSM – a Music examinations board).

He began with the National Youth Jazz Orchestra and then spent 20 years with Michael Garrick, the late English jazz pianist and composer – a period which saw them tour Malaysia as well as make several CD recordings and national radio broadcasts.

Today, Mike is a regular member of the Echoes of Ellington Orchestra and runs his own jazz duo, quartet and octet, for which he also writes.

A video of the masterclass can be seen on the QE Music department’s YouTube channel.