Bringing in the experts

By Jessica Barzilay

Beneath rooms full of students quietly taking tests and meeting with their deans, the atmosphere in a classroom on the bottom floor of Chalmers is slightly different. A group of students stomp their feet, clap their hands and beat their shakers, fusing the different sounds into intertwining rhythms and beats.

“Start making the sound of your instrument, don’t just sing against the pulse, but you become the pulse,” professional jazz musician Ed Roscetti instructed.

Bringing his expertise in percussion and rhythm, Roscetti is just one of many coaches recruited by Jazz Director Shawn Costantino to enrich different aspects of the upper school program. Costantino has brought in outside coaches since 2006. The professional musicians “deal with everything, from song selection to creating interesting arrangements, to jazz improvisation and musicianship,” Costantino said.

Although his initial goal in integrating coaches into the program was to accelerate the development of the small combos, introducing outside instructors also serves a practical purpose. When other coaches are present, Costantino said, two to three jazz groups, from a 17-piece band to a five-person combo, can rehearse simultaneously with coach supervision.

“In order for the jazz program to maintain its excellence, we have to be masterful multi-taskers,” Costantino said.

Throughout the year, Costantino rotates about five coaches and mixes in diverse specialists when the opporunity arises. The regular guests include keyboardist Lincoln Cleary, trumpet player Steve Reid, who performs with the Brian Setzer Orchestra and Earth, Wind, and Fire co-founder Al McKay.

“Learning from the best is very productive. They help with everything from small rhythms to keeping time to more developed and complex melodies,” said Patrick Edwards ’11, who plays baritone saxophone in Studio Jazz Band.

Although both Cleary and Reid are college friends of Costantino, finding specialists is often a matter of chance, as in the case of Roscetti. Former Head of Upper School Security Kevin Giberson became friendly with Roscetti, a frequent morning jogger at the Upper School. Giberson introduced Roscetti to Costantino and the two became friends. Like all of the coaches, Roscetti is a specialist, focusing on different styles of hand drumming and percussion. He has written books and produced CDs offering guidance on the wide applications of drumming.

Costantino began his eighth period rhythm section class with an introduction of Roscetti and a declaration of his hopes for the lesson: to “get more intense rhythms.”

Roscetti, a teacher at the Musicians Institute College of Contemporary Music, set out to accomplish this by emphasizing the importance of physically connecting to the music.

“Spend some time with independence, away from your normal axe, and if you do this every day you will feel like a different player,” Roscetti said.

He and assistant Nick Adams demonstrated their deep connection to the beat by performing a song on the drums before leading the class in exercises with the shakers, which included making specific sounds and improvised shaking.

“That feel is not going to come off of the paper,” Roscetti told the room of students, who were playing different rhythms simultaneously.

At the end of class, Roscetti and Adams invited the students to freestyle on the various instruments. Costantino said that Roscetti’s lesson is important to the students because music is about community interaction, which percussion instruments lend themselves to.

“Percussion loosens students up so that when they go back to their combo or band they have a larger awareness of rhythmic music,” he said.

Brian Gross ’12, who plays bass guitar in rhythm section, appreciates the unique guidance the coaches offer. Since students are largely responsible for arranging and rehearsing their pieces and performances, outside opinions prove extremely useful.

“The jazz teachers can help us figure out songs and harmonies that we could not figure out without their aid,” Gross said.

The coaches also offer invaluable advice regarding musicianship in general, Gross said.

“The best piece of advice I’ve heard was ‘You should play music because it’s fun and you love it, not because it’s work and you feel you have to’,” he said.

Noah Weinman ’12, a trumpet player in jazz band, values the coaches’ individual flair as well as their musical prowess.

“They bring valuable insight, professional experience and fascinating hairstyles,” Weinman said.

Renowned musical historian and pianist Michael Feinstein, who performed at a school assembly Feb. 7, also stopped by Costantino’s classes, instructing the players to incorporate his immersive way of performing into jazz instrumentalist shows. Since Costantino took the initiative, integrating coaches into the curriculum has become a fixture in both the upper and middle school programs. Very happy with the results, Costantino plans on continuing the tradition in the future.

“It is working like a charm,” he said.