By Chloe Sommer,
The students of the Davis High Jazz Band spent last Saturday learning from one of the nation’s jazz greats: trombonist and record producer Delfeayo Marsalis.
The Jazz Band, along with students of West Sacramento High School and the Sacramento Traditional Jazz Society, attended a clinic taught by Marsalis from 2-4 p.m. in the Vanderhoef Studio Theatre of the Mondavi Center. Though the allotted time was brief, Marsalis had a lot to share with the young musicians.
“I learned [from the clinic] that it’s more valuable to listen to a song and learn it by ear than to learn it from sheet music,” junior Sophie Seng said. Seng plays the tenor saxophone in the Jazz Band.
One of the organizers for the clinic had sent four old jazz recordings to all participating band directors more than two weeks prior, informing them that Marsalis wanted students to learn and memorize the songs for performance.
DHS Band Director Thomas Slabaugh instructed his students to listen to the recordings and write down the notes of each song in order to learn them for the clinic.
But Marsalis was surprised to hear that the band had learned the songs with the help of sheet music. Apparently, Marsalis had expected that the songs be learned only by ear, from listening to the recordings over and over again.
According to Slabaugh, the band was directed under the instruction of words from an email that simply stated that students should “learn [the songs] for the clinic and have them memorized”. But the clinic experience was not tainted by the unfortunate miscommunication.
“I think the clinic went well because Delfeayo taught us about soloing,” Seng said. The clinic also included advice on jazz technique, interpretation, and improvisation.
In addition to the clinic, the Jazz Band students were each given two free tickets to see Marsalis perform at the Mondavi Center the prior night.
Delfeayo Marsalis played the trombone alongside his father, Ellis Marsalis, Jr. on the piano, as well as John Clayton on bass and Marvin Smith on drums. Together, the four musicians make up a jazz quartet called “The Last Southern Gentlemen”.
The clinic and the concert were experiences not soon to be forgotten by the Jazz Band. But some students have regrets about their performance.
“I think we played to our ability. We played medium-good,” senior and lead trumpet player of the Jazz Band Nick Bachand said.
“We did not play our best because the environment of the clinic clashed with the environment of our classroom,” he added.
Still, the DHS Band Director is optimistic about the takeaway from the experience. “I think a new level of understanding about jazz phrasing and nuance was the primary outcome,” Slabaugh said.