Jazz Performances Allow Students to Learn From Professional Musicians

Photo by Kaiden J. Yu.

For the eight years since jazz teacher Brad Linde came to GDS, he has invited dozens of experienced guest artists and bands to perform at lunch and to conduct masterclasses with jazz students during class time.

This school year, Linde has invited guest artists Sara Serpa, a vocalist and composer, and Allison Miller, a drummer, to perform for his students. Linde also organized a jazz festival, bringing in professional musicians to teach workshops and judge live performances featuring GDS students and students from other schools.

The musicians are people Linde has met or performed with during his time as a musician outside GDS. “I have a lot of friends and colleagues that I know, and whenever I see them on tour, I invite them to come by,” he said. “They’re already on the road, their hotel is taken care of, their travel is taken care of and for a nominal fee they’ll come out and change the lives of my students.”

According to Linde, he learned jazz from hearing guest artists who visited his college. “Students learn best from experiential learning,” he said. “And who has more experience than professional musicians?”

The lunchtime performances are open to all students, faculty and staff. “It’s not background music. It’s not music to shop for groceries,” Linde said. “I mean, it’s a high art that catches the attention. The performance is the point.”

This year, Serpa led a masterclass for jazz students and a workshop at the Social Justice Teach-In Day, where she spoke about her business, which seeks to empower female and non-binary musicians through mentorships. During Serpa’s workshop, she showed a scene from a movie about the Portuguese occupation of Angola that she wrote the music for. Serpa explained that her compositions for the film were her way of acknowledging her family, which was forced to leave Angola.

Linde said he invited Serpa to show his students how to convey a message through their music. “We sometimes think of music as entertainment, and we don’t think of it as a vehicle for political action or artistic expression,” Linde explained.

In addition to Serpa, Miller, accompanied by five other musicians and four dancers, came for a workshop and lunchtime performance in February.

Freshman Alexandra Solomon thought it was helpful to see dancers and musicians perform together. “It was cool to see how they all played off of each other,” Solomon said.

“It gives a whole perspective of learning about drums and musical theory,” freshman Lomahn Sun said. “Professionals show us how we can do that.”

The artist masterclasses can take many forms. Often, the visiting band performs before students ask questions in an open forum about the artists’ creative processes, how they write or arrange songs and how they get gigs. Sometimes, students even get the opportunity to play with the guest artists or perform their own songs and receive feedback.

To junior Hudson Brown, it was especially helpful to play with the guest artists. “Playing with people that are better than you helps improve the way you play,” he said.

Wadada Leo Smith, a professional trumpeter and Pulitzer Prize finalist, came to GDS last year. He performed at lunch and at a nighttime concert, where he played an original composition dedicated to GDS and Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, who sat on the Board of Trustees at the time of the concert but later resigned.

Six of the students who spoke with the Bit said that they learned a lot from hearing the guest artists perform and from asking them questions about their music. “Brad brings in such a variety of different artists and styles, and there’s something different to learn from each,” senior Jacob Getlan said.

“They all bring different stuff,” junior Max Boughner said. “It gives people ideas for things they can do, and I just think it’s cool to see professional musicians coming to the school to inspire people.”

“My plans are to keep working with creative musicians who have redefined the language of music,” Linde said.