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Got the didactic blues

No area of jazz has grown quite as spectacularly as that of education in recent years. Developments such as the establishment of the National Jazz Institute at Jordanhill campus of Strathclyde University and the launch of the National Youth Jazz Orchestra of Scotland have intensified that process. No self-respecting jazz festival is now without at least a token youth day or workshop programme.

The Edinburgh International Jazz and Blues Festival increased its education programme this year, in association with the city's education department. Several "education" events were actually concerts, although Helen Crayford's History of Ragtime and Humphrey Lyttleton's Dissertation on Jazz did contain overt didactic content.

The Lothian Schools Jazz Orchestra (which becomes the Edinburgh Schools Jazz Orchestra next month) also played two concerts. That left four genuine workshop sessions, the first of which, run by the all-women saxophone quartet The Jazzabelles, was specifically aimed at very young children.

The quartet's members established a good rapport with the youthful audience and their watching parents, and had everyone participating in the audience and singing basic jazz rhythm patterns. Those children who had brought instruments - two saxophonists and a very young flautist - had the opportunity to play with the group, and to take their own solos, with various degrees of trepidation.

It is impossible to know how much the youngsters will have taken away in concrete knowledge, but there was no mistaking the enthusiasm of their response. The Jazzabelles are relatively lightweight when it comes to playing jazz, but their approach proved highly productive in this setting.

The remaining three workshops addressed themselves to a more advanced audience, although on each occasion there was a great deal of very useful basic information about the instruments and techniques involved. The audience was by no means confined to players on the specific instruments, or indeed to musicians and students, which suggested a more general appetite for what might easily be dismissed as specialist knowledge.

A student trumpeter, Ryan Forsyth, was brave enough to have his technique dissected in public by his tutor, Eddie Severn, during a fascinating trumpet workshop, while another student, Jennifer Campbell, more than held her own when invited to play a blues on clarsach by harpist Park Stickney in his harp jazz workshop.

The most directly participatory of the three was the Cuban percussion workshop hosted by Terry Seabrook's group Cubana Bop, where aspiring percussionists and the merely curious were not only shown the basic rhythmic forms, but encouraged to try them out.

Ultimately, though, the whole exercise still had a token feel to it. The festival is currently having an independent review of all its activities undertaken, and some serious thought will be required on both the level and nature of their commitment to education. With the advances being made (and the current threat to instrumental teaching in schools), the festivals may have a much greater role to play than in the past.

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