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BYU Arts Bravo

BYU Students Feel the Groove in Jazz Masterclass

The National Jazz Museum Band Encourages Music Students to Find Their Rhythm

In a beautiful collaboration, the swinging syncopation of jazz and the timeless enchantment of Disney have come together to bring magic to BYU campus.

Sean Mason Demonstrates a Piano Technique for BYU Student Heather Cutler. Photo by Emma Olson.

On October 3, BYU students were treated to a masterclass by the newly formed house band of The National Jazz Museum in Harlem.

The band members in attendance included pianist Sean Mason, drummer Ahmad Johnson, trumpet player Anthony Hervey and bassist Corentin Le Hir. The band, led by Mason, performed in the “When You Wish Upon a Star” concert later that evening as a part of the ongoing BRAVO! Performing arts series at BYU.

A group of BYU music students played for the Harlem-based band in a recent masterclass. They selected two songs to perform as an ensemble.

Mason offered words of encouragement after the students’ first song. He suggested minor adjustments to inspire the students to view the notes from a new perspective. “Just a simple adjustment can change the architecture and scope of the whole song,” said Mason. “There’s no right or wrong. I’m just offering a different perspective.”

Mason Addresses BYU Music Students. Photo by Emma Olson.

Bryson Vanderwel, a saxophone and performance major, performed for the band during the masterclass. “I liked how supportive they were,” Vanderwel said. “They gave us compliments first and framed critiques as suggestions.”

Drummer Ahmad Johnson encouraged the students to maintain eye contact with their bandmates while performing to help generate a natural and spontaneous atmosphere. “Eye contact is one of the most human things we can do,” Johnson said.

Following their feedback, the Harlem band performed the same song to show their suggestions in action. Each member used body language and eye contact to demonstrate the importance of chemistry among bandmates.

“You could tell they were having fun and they loved what they were doing. But most importantly, you could tell just how much they loved the music,” Vanderwel said.

The band performs for BYU students. Photo by Emma Olson.

The Harlem band listened as the students played “Someday My Prince Will Come.” Each band member then offered personalized feedback for each student that performed.

Mason suggested that the students go back to the basics to help them succeed in their musical improvisations. He recommended listening to jazz music of the 1920s to learn how to play traditional jazz. He encouraged them to “build a personal relationship with each note of a chord” and stressed the importance of hearing each note individually instead of the sound that is created when they are played together.

Heather Cutler, a commercial music major with a jazz piano emphasis, performed for the band in the student ensemble. Watching how each of the band members’ individuality came through in their performance was a learning experience for Cutler. She felt the band’s feedback encouraged her to continue developing her own unique musical style.

“I think it's so inspiring to see those who are making it in big cities — places I want to go,” Cutler said. “It’s wonderful to be able to make those connections.”