Play Jazz Flute Now!: A Step-by-Step Approach to Styles, Phrasing and Improvisation for Flute, For 1-2 players, by Stephanie Wagner Schott Music Publishers, 2014
As I noted in last year’s review of Sarpay Özçağatay’s jazz flute method book, there appear to be many more jazz flute method books than I had ever anticipated. I promised a survey and a series of individual reviews. To begin this process I have turned to a book by German flutist Stephanie Wagner which I recently reviewed for Flutist Quarterly,
I have sometimes noted the tendency to refer to jazz as “America’s Classical Music,” but have responded that a classical tradition implies a certain consistency of pedagogy, a general agreement about curriculum and repertoire among teachers and conservatories, whether they are in London, New York, Caracas or Kuala Lumpur. For the most part, jazz has not yet risen to this level, a fact that is underscored by the diversity of vision and approach among jazz instructors.
This situation was evident to me while reviewing jazz master classes in the 1990s. It still appears to be true for jazz method books. To begin with, there are a growing number of them. Wth opportunities for on-the-job training — i.e. the traditional jam session — becoming ever more rare, method books and play-alongs are becoming a cottage industry. Many of them are excellent, and they do overlap in content to a large degree, but they largely remain a reflection of each writer’s teaching methods which are often individual, even idiosyncratic. Recommending any one of them over the others is quite difficult. Different approaches will appeal to different students.
A case in point is Stephanie Wagner’s book Play Jazz Flute Now!, published in German and English by Schott Music, and notable for its carefully balanced and very thoughtful approach. A good many of these methods, such as Sarpay’s, are quite technical, aimed at college-level players. Others are slanted more towards intermediate level players. Wagner has staked out her own area by aiming at the latter group. Accomplishing this requires a rather delicate balance between theory and practice. Jazz is, after all, an improvisatory art — one that requires some knowledge of scales and chords. There are many students who become excellent performers of the classical repertoire with minimal attention to this level of theory, which is why they are often shy of engaging in jazz studies.
Having put a lot of thought into this book, however, Wagner has achieved a real and very valuable balance between theory and practice for the intermediate years when the flutist could be taking their first steps into jazz performance. It is described by the publisher as “. . . just a little theory and many practical examples and duets.” So while the theoretical foundation given is limited, this is intentional; it is just enough to support the examples of various jazz genres — blues, swing, Bossa Nova, Funk, modal jazz — that constitute a major part of the book, and just enough, one hopes, to keep students interested without overwhelming them. The time for more theory comes later, in college etc., but with Wagner’s approach, it is hoped that by that time the student has used the many examples and exercises found here to build confidence with jazz phrasing, understanding different jazz genres and periods, and taking the first steps into improvisation. As Wagner wrote to me: “It was my issue to ‘catch’ the beginners to start playing jazz, and not to overwhelm them with too much information. Although there is enough information in this book where a student can be busy with a long time in my experience. It makes no sense to start with heavy stuff where the student does not experience success
Following this philosophy, Wagner’s book is divided into three main parts. The first section is focused on phrasing and jazz-styles, with particular emphasis on articulation and some scope for improvisation if the student feels ready. The exercises include duets the students can play with their teacher or with a friend. It is in Part II that the focus shifts onto improvising over the different jazz-styles, learning different chord-types, pentatonic and blues-scales, the II-V-I-progression, chromatical approach-notes, etc. playing a written solo and solo-analysis. The third section, marked as an Appendix, is about technique, scales, chords, patterns, a summary of scales and chords in each key, etc.
Backed up with a brief overview of the history of jazz flute and an excellent set of play-along examples on CD, this volume is an excellent starting point for the jazz flutist, whether they speak English or German!
Some fine jazz playing by Stephanie from November 2015:
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