Why I’m Into Jazz Education?

Richard Warren Middle School Jazz Band
(Jaye George, director)

I just concluded a weekly residency on Saturday mornings at Richard Warren Middle School working with Jaye George‘s RWMS Jazz Band students. The class was preparing classic big band swing music selections for their annual Spring Concert, which is the final performance of the school year for the band. The jazz band members are eighth graders.

Richard Warren Middle School Jazz Band
(Jaye George, director)

I was able to supplement Ms. George’s work in several areas. I reinforced swing concept, particularly the interpretation of eighth notes and how the triplet is the underlying measurement. I was also able to supplement jazz theory as applied to improvisation, along with saxophone specific techniques.


Giving jazz band clinics and serving as faculty at summer music camps is no longer new or unique. Most jazz studies majors today also teach in some capacity as part of the scope of things. It’s what we all do now.

Richard Warren Middle School Jazz Band
(Jaye George, director)

I enjoy working with jazz students at various levels of ability and development. It’s pretty cool to see the “light” come on when a previously elusive concept is understood or applied in performance. I can work with beginners or advanced level players equally effectively. I particularly enjoy doing the foundation work with students at the age of Ms. George’s eighth graders in her jazz band because there is time to realize foundational aspects of their musical potential before college level studies. I’ve had relatively consistent positive success over the years working with students in this regard.

The artist educator paradigm of today isn’t simply the Ph.D. college professor or famous recording artist who gives master classes and clinics at a major education conference or music camp. The paradigm includes those of us who primarily work within our communities and regions sharing our professional experience and musical expertise in context.

I see several potential All-District and All-State Jazz Band members in this group – with continued work.


I learned the term “practical factors of music” from taking the various courses at the Armed Forces School of Music during my career with military bands. In essence, the term speaks to those things in music that you must be able to do in order to be competent professionally in the field of music. Specifically, the military music school stressed a high level of proficiency as a performer on one’s instrument as baseline to professional competency.

When I work with students, I only assume demonstrated knowledge and then go from there. Some of the basics stressed include:

  1. Know your major and minor scales – most all jazz harmonies (and chord cycles) come from the diatonic chords built from the individual tones of these scales (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7). The better you know your scales, the better you will play any style of music. Knowing your scales will facilitate improvisation greatly.
  2. Know your blues scales (1, b3, 4, #4, 5, b7) – it’s a variant of the pentatonic scales and works because it inherently contains all of the alterations commonly applied to dominant chords in jazz music. Good confidence builder and ear training for new improvisers.
  3. Using the triplet as the basis of understanding and performing the swing eighth note. Have students sing triplets (as in – 1, la, le; 2, la, le; 3, la, le; 4, la, le). Then, explain that the two swing eighth notes are just like that if you tie the first two notes of the triplet together. Students also learn that the first eighth note in a swing interpretation is of longer value in an organic and musical manner. The “swing” doesn’t sound forced or “corny.”

There are lots of other considerations that go into my music clinics and master classes, but this gives context to some of the subject matter possibilities (also see BurnettSchool.net).

Richard Warren Middle School Jazz Band
(Jaye George, director)


I started teaching private woodwind lessons in 1983 during military service while I was assigned as the Woodwind Group Leader to the Engineer Center Band at Fort Leonard Wood in south-central Missouri. I hadn’t considered teaching beyond the clinics we did as military band members whenever we visited a school or college to perform.

After one particular concert at the end of a tour, a man came up to me and asked if I would give his son saxophone lessons. Since the tour had concluded near our home base, the logistics to make it happen were practical. I told him that I hadn’t taught anyone, but would try. It worked out and that student went on to all-state honors and majored in music at college. He remains a music professional to this day, thirty-four years later.

I began teaching students by translating what I was actually doing to achieve certain techniques or understanding. I also had lots of conversations with my own various teachers, who mentored me by answering my questions.

I’m into music education because it develops a part of our being as humans that no other activity does. Particularly, performing music makes us use more parts of our brain in constructive ways that otherwise would go undeveloped.


I am particularly passionate about promoting jazz education and do so at every opportunity possible. I am also passionate about educating every demographic about jazz too. Charlie Parker did not attend an arts magnet school or conservatory, yet he went on to be a foremost architect of jazz harmony. His melodic and rhythmic influence upon all popular music remains in the same way that the influence of Bach and Mozart remains in classical music.

The students during this residency were playing big band arrangements of swing era music like “In The Mood” and “Little Brown Jug.” The students and their parents were not alive during the swing era. I was not alive during the swing era. Someone taught me and now, I have the opportunity to teach them. Passing it along to another generation.

Richard Warren Middle School Jazz Band
(Jaye George, director)

I’m into jazz education because it is important to our culture. And, it is one of the few endeavors that allows academia and master/apprentice learning applications to coexist then produce marvelous results in unlimited contexts. You must purposefully engage jazz music – it’s not just a groove or beat and it’s not just the words to a song. Most of the time it’s only musical sounds made by instruments that are not guitars.

Most of these eighth graders may not become jazz musicians, jazz educators or music professionals of any kind. However, many of them will grow up to be captains of industry, community leaders, and school board members. They will affect the arts. They will affect whether jazz is understood and valued in their cultural paradigm. // Cb

ABOUT: Mr. Burnett is a Conn-Selmer Artist / Clinician. He endorses and plays Selmer (Paris) Saxophones. Download 2017 Brochure.

*NOTE – student photographs cleared for posting.