Around the world of teaching
with Rory Stuart

Image Credits: Rory Stuart © Rory Stuart

September 11, 2017
Rory Stuart is an American jazz guitarist, a composer and a very talented music teacher. He has completed and is about to publish a six-volume book on rhythm and the 2017 IASJ Jazz Meeting in Siena was the right occasion to interview him
> Ivano Rossato

Are there some differences between European and American teaching method?
Actually I think that the teaching method in Europe is a little bit different from one school to the other too. I taught in the Czech Republic for a semester and during that time I was an invited guest to teach in Corfu (Greece), Reykjavik (Iceland), Lisbon (Portugal) Austria, Poland, Germany and the teaching’s not always the same. And in US is the same. Some school is focused on small combos. Others on big band. After all I think that what really influence the way you will play come out of three things: different teaching styles, different culture and the force that springs out of people that you hear playing.

After all these teaching years, what do you think a teacher cannot teach to a student?
The biggest category of things that is hard to teach for me is in the difference about the world today and the world in the past. I mean, Wes Montgomery had a factory job and every evening he had a four hour gig and after that he used to go to an after hour jam session, every night for years! The problem now is that I don’t know any student that goes to jam like the greats of the past. It’s very difficult to teach in a classroom what you learn from playing night after night, six times a week with a band. Now there are great programs, great books and teachers, but the students don’t get the chance to play hours and hours. The first time you play with new people there is a lot of stuff that you immediately understand about the capabilities and styles of each person you play with. There are many “microelements” that are hard to write or even talk about.
Talking about teaching, is there something dangerous in trying to “decode” every aspect of the music?
As a professor you can choose to decode things to figure things out, but another issue is if that’s the way you teach to your students. But what really scares me is when I hear some students playing a tune of Sonny Rollins, that they studied maybe in the Fake Book, and I understand that they never even listened to the Sonny Rollins version! I think that maybe this is a problem more in Europe than in US. But that doesn’t mean that jazz education or books aren’t good. Those are necessary but not sufficient to learn. People get confused between playing along and making music. There are many players that comp as if they were playing along with the cd attached to books, without really interacting with the other musicians and reacting to what they are playing, like everyone standing in a room talking to themselves, nobody having a conversation!
What is the challenge for music teaching in future?
The first challenge is to incorporate all the advantages that we have now, without losing the individuality. You can recognize the greats in two bars. I think that there are some programs where the students are in danger because they want everybody to learn the same standards and transcribe the same songs. If a student has something a little bit different and original, the teacher has to let it blossom. There is a separate challenge, this one for the jazz world. To create the situations where the most talented students coming out of schools get to perform so much that they become the next Miles Davis, John Coltrane or George Benson. And to build audiences to support them. That’s not all on the shoulders of the professors obviously, but that’s what the whole jazz world has to work on. I did a workshop and after a couple of days some students came to me and said “wow this is amazing! You guys really want us to learn to get better! In our town there aren’t many jazz gigs and the teachers are afraid that the students will get very good and take the gigs”. Unbelievable!
What is the most important advice you want to give to a student?
It depends on the students. Even those students that might study with great teachers a lot, what makes yourself a great jazz musician is the time you spend working on things on your own. Even if you have good teachers, the same thing doesn’t works for everybody. Part of the journey is to understand what really works for you. So as a student is a very useful thing to just observe yourself. Another thing is to trust in your own taste sound. If you love Hermeto Pascoal that tells you something: maybe you should keep listening to him because there are things that Hermeto Pascoal kinda have to teach to you!

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