Pianist Nikki Yeoh asks: "What is jazz?" to the assembled audience of primary schoolchildren facing her in Glasgow's Tron Theatre. It's cool, suggests one. It's nice jiggly music, another ventures. It's fast rhythms, adds a third. It's nice to fall asleep to, one girl proposes, rather ambiguously.
Yeoh accepts all the answers with the kind of enthusiastic encouragement that is a feature of the workshop. She believes it is crucial not to judge the children's answers, but "to give them alternatives and make them feel that this music belongs to them, that they are not excluded in any way".
The workshop was organised by the Jazz Touring Collective, which was formed last autumn with the aid of a funding award from the Scottish Arts Council's National Lottery Fund. Its aim is to attract artists from England (and Europe). Its joint founders, Olive Mae Millen and Caroline Thompson, have consciously built education into their programmes.
"The educational element has been integral to our plans right from the start. We are interested in developing the audience for jazz in this country, and we see this as one important way of doing that," says Millen. "The projects will range from specific schools workshops like the one today with Nikki, through to more specialised masterclasses, and we are keen that they are not concentrated just on Glasgow and Edinburgh, but go out to other areas as well."
The aim of the workshops, as Thompson puts it, is "to open ears and stimulate interest", and Yeoh and Keith Le Blanc were certainly able to do that with a large group of children from the Hyndland After School Club, even though things did not go quite to plan. The workshop coincided with the Glasgow half-term holiday, which meant that two workshops had to be merged into one.
Yeoh, one of the most promising young jazz pianists in the country, has some experience of teaching, both in a stint for the Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme last year and in her sessions at the Camden Saturday Music School. She aims to give a general flavour of the special qualities of jazz and improvisation. She explained some of the principles by using the analogy of baking a cake, with the basic tune as the recipe, and the individual contribution of each musician as the spicing.
"With children that age, the important thing is to try to talk to them in a way that isn't patronising, but won't go over their heads, either. I'm trying to get across quite difficult concepts in a fun way, but without belittling their abilities. "Children at this age are very creative, but that creativity seems to get knocked out of them as they go through secondary school, which is a big worry."
The pianist worked on some exercises in fundamental elements like clapping out rhythms. She brought everyone down to form a circle on the stage, where she had them use a combination of stamping their feet and chanting their names in a rhythmic pattern of their own devising. In a slightly more formal approach, Le Blanc gave a demonstration of drumming techniques, and encouraged the children to try some clapping exercises in emulation of drum paradiddles.
A queue quickly formed when the children were invited to take a turn at playing either drums or piano and most of the accompanying adults slipped into line as well. It was difficult to gauge how much the participants actually learned from all of this, but what was evident was how much they enjoyed it.
With improvisation and invention now playing an import-ant role in the curriculum as well as in the creative development of the individual, it is never too soon to start to foster that awareness.
For information about future educational opportunities, contact the Jazz Touring Collective on 0141 334 4545