Learn Impro from a Pro – Open Academy at the Con
Dave Pudney is Open Academy at the Con’s tutor for the ensemble class ‘Impro Basics’. We wanted to talk with him a bit more about his journey with Jazz and Impro and what he loves about teaching. You can enrol in the OA classes that start mid July 2017 at:https://openacademy.sydney.edu.au/course/SCIMB
How did you start playing music and what lead you to Jazz?
My first musical recollections were of playing on the family piano at about 5 years of age.
I loved the fact that you could play tunes on it with 1 finger and drove the family nuts working out songs. I went to the local Methodist Church and met the new minister when I was about 12 and he was a great singer and the first real influence on me with jazz.
I played church organ for 15 years from the age of 15 and it was there that I met James and John Morrison (James was 7 when we met) and we started playing jazz together there. James went to the Sydney Con and convinced me to go there and do the Jazz course a couple of years after him. It was there I met Don Burrows and had a long musical association with him.
Improvisation is a word that makes lots of people feel intimidated. What do you have to say to this?
I don’t know about people feeling intimidated by improvisation but more mystified I guess. The perennial question is “are you just making it all up and playing anything you want?” The answer of course is not quite as simple. We are playing what we want but there is a lot of training that goes into that, just as there is a lot of training to become good at anything.
What are the main challenges for people who are starting off on their journey to improvise?
The main challenge for beginner improvisers is to understand that you need to hear the music and recognise it so that you can play the things you hear. Training your ears to know intervals, chords, scales and rhythms is vital. Singers can sing whatever they hear. There is no impediment to that process. There is a direct link from the head to the voice. Instrumentalists have to overcome the vagaries of the instrument in order to do that. As improvisers the music we play is coming from our heads first not our eyes and so we must understand the various sounds and melodies that we are hearing in order to reproduce them.
So you’ve been teaching jazz for decades (is it OK to reveal that?), what do you love about sharing your skills?
I have been teaching impro for a while now and it is constantly rewarding. So many of the people that enrol in the Open Academy are there because they just want to be able to play without the written notation-they want to play the music in their heads. Most of them come from a reading background and can’t envisage playing without the visual stimulus of notation. It is great fun to witness them playing improvised solos in only a short time. As with anything it takes a lot of practice but we keep it simple and work on tunes that hopefully give a quick and satisfying result. Many people come back for second and third goes and a lot end up forming small groups from the people they meet at the courses. This is very satisfying to witness.
What are the key skills you’ll cover in this course?
In these impro courses we focus a lot on ear training and putting theory to work. Theory is just the understanding of the nuts and bolts of music so that we can all become more fluent in our instantaneous compositions because that is what we are doing when we improvise. We expect a basic understanding of reading notation because that is how we learn the melodies and we look at recognising chord symbols because that is how we represent the harmony of the songs we play. Above all we have fun while we are doing this as these courses are a safe place to experiment amongst like-minded people who are all after the same goals. Come and join us-I know you want to!
What: Con Open Academy
Where: Sydney Conservatorium of Music
When: Courses Start July 2017