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Contemporary Compositions for Beginning Jazz Ensembles
Peter Johnston (2006)
As an example of my approach to jazz education, here is a description of a book I wrote and self-published in 2006 titled "Contemporary Compositions for Beginning Jazz Ensemble: A Progressive Method to Teaching Jazz Improvisation and Ensemble Performance Practices":

"Contemporary Compositions for Beginning Jazz Ensemble" emerged from my work as an instructor at the Acadia University Summer Music Institute, where I conducted beginner and intermediate level jazz combos. As I never knew the level of the students I was going to get each year, I found myself composing pieces that I could tailor to the needs of the particular students in my group. I continued this practice for a number of years, eventually compiling enough material for a book. "Contemporary Compositions for Beginning Jazz Ensemble" addresses many problems I perceived in other commercially available publications. Specifically, I encourage students to learn to improvise using a theme-and-variations approach to manipulating the melody of the pieces, rather than the chord-scale approach which is the dominant model in jazz education. My experience in the classroom has demonstrated to me that this melodic approach gets students comfortable with improvising much faster than starting them with chords and scales, as it allows them to access their own creativity without having to process too much new information. I have also found that over time students develop much more individual approaches to improvising than they do with the currently dominant teaching methods.

The other defining characteristic of the compositions in this book is my use of background figures, which allow students who are not soloing to contribute to the ensemble. This simple technique encourages students to learn the forms of the compositions, and keeps them engaged with the music.

"Contemporary Compositions for Beginning Jazz Ensemble" is currently in use in several Nova Scotia high schools, including: Kings-Edgehill School, Avonview High School, Hants West Middle School, and Dorian Hall Academy of Music. In addition, several of the compositions in this book were been performed at Musicfest Canada 2008 by the community ensemble Easily Distracted (based in Windsor, Nova Scotia), who won a gold standard for their performance.

Here are demonstration recordings of the ten pieces included in the book:

  1. Hotel Soup
  2. Have Two Bananas
  3. A Dollar Short
  4. I Had To Take The Bus
  5. Calypso Maniac
  6. 1.21 Jigawatts
  7. More Good News
  8. Off The Hook
  9. Party Tricks
  10. Riding The Pine

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Click here for a score sample of "Hotel Soup".

This book is available for purchase for $60, which includes scores, transposed parts, and demonstration recordings. Please contact me at the link below if you are interested.

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