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Accordion to Dannon

“The Art of Jazz”

Written By Tony Dannon


The majority of accordion students who desire to play jazz do not appreciate the importance of the study and background required to do so well.  You will find that the great jazz artists, like Art Van Damme, Benny Goodman, George Shearing, etc. have not only a complete mastery of their respective instruments, but also a sound classical background.  Those who do not, are a rarity and are the exception to the rule.  Students who do not realize and refuse to realize this are in for a great disillusionment.

Although everyone does not have the same capabilities or talents necessary to become good jazz performers, I find that many of those whose talents do run in that direction never fully develop their talents due to the lack of proper training and study.

Since jazz comes under the heading of creative music, in order to express well the ideas which might spring from a fertile mind, one must have a complete understanding of the capabilities of the instrument (this comes under the heading of a good technic).  Developing the mind’s creative possibilities comes under the heading of a solid musical background.

The guidance and help is required of a good and dedicated teacher whose qualifications are of the same high standards we have come to naturally expect in other fields of music.  But many times, even with the help of such a teacher, so many students who might be potentially good jazz accordionists are too impatient and lack the perseverance needed to do so.

Time and again, students have come to me with the idea in mind that, because they had had two years or so study on the instrument; they were now ready to start right in playing jazz.  About 90% of these people were completely lacking in the above mentioned necessities.

But assuming that the students have had the required or necessary background, the transition from classical music to jazz isn’t as simple as it might seem.  Among other things, one of the great objectives in the teaching or learning of jazz is to ultimately create an individual style.  Since every worthwhile undertaking, no matter how complicated, must have a fairly simple beginning, the beginning here deals with working with the printed jazz material (arrangements) available for the accordion. 

It is important that the student memorize jazz arrangements, at the same time analyzing and trying to associate the improvisations with the chord from which they were formed (and also the manner in which these improvisations were formed), thereby they will begin to store up ideas for future use.  Through learning and memorizing of these arrangements or ideas will enable the student to gradually become aware of what can be done with a given melody and harmony.

In addition to this line of study, very valuable in aiding the student in this absorbing and analyzing process, is to listen closely to the works of great jazz artists.

Eventually, one will begin to create ideas that are distinctly his/ her own and these added to the ones which have retained through this memorizing, thoroughly learning , analyzing and listening, will be the basis of an individual style.

Another important thing to remember in playing jazz is the importance of good taste to good jazz.  To many students don’t realize that good jazz doesn’t necessarily mean that too many number of notes or ideas are just as essential, if not more so than a flashy technique.

From personal experience, the above ideas on learning to play jazz have proven very successful with my own students, but of course, all of this takes much time and patience – not to mention hard work – but the rewards are very satisfying ones and are well worth the effort.