I do want to spend the last couple minutes talking about your role as an educator. You spent many decades teaching at Berklee, correct?
I did. Thirty three years.
And I think that you have an online course now that you've developed.
Yes. I do.
I listened to a part of a lecture that's on YouTube that you gave.
Yeah. I think that somebody pointed that out to me. It was at Loyola in New Orleans where I did a clinic for the music students there. And it was videoed and then ended up on YouTube, which is okay with me.
Are there any particular aspects of your techniques that you think are unique to your style—to the way that you teach? Are there any particular things that you try to emphasize?
Yes. Well, here's the thing. Most people learn to improvise on their own, listening to records, endless hours of noodling on their instrument in the bedroom with all their spare time. That's traditionally how people learn. You couldn't study improvisation back in the 1930s, '40s, [and] '50s. There were no books and no teachers. You essentially learned from other musicians and from listening to records.
So when you talk to people about improvisation, there's a lot of different ways people will describe it and explain how they came to understand it. The truth is we all are doing the same kinds of things. We have different ways of talking about it and explaining it and picturing it. When I started teaching, my goal was to find a way to organize these various elements of improvisation, the working parts of it that we all make use of when we play. That is, our knowledge of chords and scales and harmonic progressions. And in a way that I could teach it and explain it to the greatest array of students that it would be easy for people to follow and understand.
And I had learned a lot of my music by the trial and error method. And one of the great things that Berklee did for me when I came there as a student, was it gave me a very organized and logical education in harmony and music theory and melodic themes and so on, that explained a lot of what I had sort of figured out on my own, but didn't know how to talk about it or understand it or organize it in my mind.
So I wanted to accomplish that with my teaching of improvisation. And so I think there are these concepts. And I'll just briefly say that I often use—we all often do, people that teach improve—we use an analogy to speech. When we talk, we don't think about nouns and pronouns and verbs and sentence structure and so on. We just think of sort of what we want to communicate. And as we picture it, words appear in our mind and we simultaneously speak them. And that is because we've learned a big vocabulary of words. And the rules of grammar that we've assimilated and our language abilities that our brain has allows us to then use them spontaneously. We don't have to stop and organize those sentences our self. They just come pouring out.