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Ron Carter returns for his annual clinic with Jazz I

Rachel Halmrast, Staff Reporter
Originally published November 25, 2015

Jackson Croy

Jazz expert Ron Carter tries to explain the connection between singing and playing the notes. He asks musicians to do this as a way to hone their instrumentation.

Ron Carter, former director of the Jazz Ensemble at Northern Illinois University, held a clinic for Jazz I on Oct. 29.

As the members tuned and practiced in preparation, the anticipation filled the room. Every time the door made a noise, a dozen heads turned toward the sound.

When he finally arrived, Carter walked in during a song, dressed in a green trenchcoat. He proceeded to hug both Michael James, Jazz I director, and Brennan Carter, Jazz II director, and when they finished, he greeted the rest of the band with a “Roohah!”

Carter jumped right in, critiquing the song that they had just been playing. He had a casual presence with band members. As they ran through the song again, he nodded his head to the beat, made faces at the soloists and even clapped for the solo saxophone.

“Y’all weren’t dropping it like it was hot, y’all were dropping it like it was super cold,” Carter said. “The notes were great, but they didn’t sound like they belonged to you.”

This was the last time they were allowed to play a full song for the next hour. Carter tried to explain the jazz he wanted them to be able to play. “It’s a state of mind; it’s a state of being,” he said. “We’re going to work on concepts, then we’ll go back to the music.”

Jackson CroyRon Carter strays off the topic of music, inquiring about junior W. Emmett Armstrong’s love life.

Jackson Croy

Ron Carter strays off the topic of music, inquiring about junior W. Emmett Armstrong’s love life.

Carter thought the band was sounding too disjointed. “We just played real square,” he said. He drew a square in the air with his finger, while singing the notes in time. They came out sharp and broken. “You need to think of full phrases,” he said, as he drew a circle. “And every phrase should have dynamics. Y’all smell what I’m cooking?”

This was met with some scattered chuckles from the band, who then spent several minutes trying to sing the notes with a more continuous rhythm. “We should all be working on singing and finding the groove,” Carter said. “Everyone in here should be able to sing their part exactly how it sounds in a recording.”

Every so often Carter would focus on a single member and give them a one-on-one lesson. He might have them play their part alone, but more often than not, would have them sing it. “Don’t be scurred,” he said jokingly, after teasing a performance out of one member. He was anything but forgiving and had no problem calling out an individual in front of the group.

Carter’s main objective was to get the entire band to recognize the next level of detail in their music. “Y’all are doing better, but you can’t just turn it on when I come to visit. This has to become the culture of the band,” he said. “Getting the notes perfect is step one, but we still got 99 steps to go.”

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Ron Carter returns for his annual clinic with Jazz I