Jazz Improvisation At Maharishi School Builds Appreciation and Skills

A course recap by Maharishi School music teacher Mike Cantafio. Maharishi School Iowa music teacher Mike Cantafio performing on stage.

Maharishi private School Iowa music teacher Mike Cantafio performing on stage.

“Teaching Jazz Improvisation last quarter was a good experience for both myself and the students. Two of the students had primarily a classical background and the other was coming from the pop music world. Although jazz has been a part of the collegiate curriculum since 1947, there is a notion that still lingers with administrations and the general public that it is not a ‘legitimate’ music. Although the course was brief, the students quickly discovered that this notion is completely unfounded.”

“Last quarter I gave the students an introduction to the basic skills and knowledge that jazz improvisation requires and they were surprised by the amount of work it takes to even attempt to improvise over the most rudimentary jazz forms. I am classically trained myself, so I speak from experience when I say jazz is a tougher idiom to develop in. Over the course of eight weeks we went over chord-scale theory (how chords and scales relate to each other); how to develop a swing feel; how to work with phrases of various lengths; how to target notes; how to develop motifs both rhythmically and melodically; how to improvise over stagnant harmonies; how to improvise over forms with multiple tonal centers and bit of how to listen and react in real time. Throughout the course, the students improvised and jammed together over modal vamps and three jazz standards. While it clearly wasn’t enough time to master any one of the subjects, the students really showed a lot of improvement by the end of the project.”