Friday, May 25, 2018
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Perrysburg: 4-point workshop peps up jazz


Gene Parker leads a jazz workshop in the Commodore Building in Perrysburg. The veteran teacher holds six-week courses for musicians with any instruments on all skill levels.


Three sax players, three keyboardists, two flutists, and a violin player peer at the scales written out in front of them, trying to play the root, third, and flat sevenths of chords of the B-flat scale, in rhythm.

Gene Parker's trumpet rises above the other instruments, leading the way for the nine students in his jazz workshop on a recent Tuesday evening.

"What I want to do is make an ensemble here," he tells the students. "An ensemble that we could improvise over."

Mr. Parker, who has been teaching jazz since 1958, is offering six-week workshops in the Commodore Building's Beck Auditorium in Perrysburg. A piano, two keyboards, and a circle of folding chairs are tucked between the stage and the auditorium seats, and a computer used for the drum section perches on the edge of the stage.

Before long, the students are playing an accompaniment to the blues and learning some runs they can use for solos.

"Wow, doesn't that sound beautiful?" Mr. Parker asks them.

The workshop isn't just a jam session or even a music lesson; it's also a history lesson and an in-depth discussion of music theory. That helps the students understand how the notes fit together to give them a strong basis for the improvisation that is at the heart of jazz.

"He gives you the confidence and the tools," said flutist Megan O'Leary Barrett.

Mr. Parker said they study scales and chords and progressions, tunes and styles and how what they do helps or hinders the other musicians.

"It's kind of all-encompassing," he said.

The blues, he tells the students, developed when West African musical scales were merged with the European scales used in America.

Mr. Parker ran a one-week jazz camp last summer and a winter program with the Toledo Jazz Society and the Toledo School for the Arts.

Alto sax player Mike Wilmoth said he's in the workshop because he enjoys playing in ensembles and wants to get better at improvisation.

Many of the students take lessons from Mr. Parker.

Joyce Wilson said that picking up the alto sax four years ago was her 50th birthday present.

"Thankfully I'm much better than I used to be," she said.

Mr. Parker said some of his students may never go out and play one gig, others may be inspired to make a living at it, and all of them will help build a listening audience for the American art form.

The six-week workshops, open to anyone who can play an instrument, are organized by the Perrysburg Area Arts Council and sponsored by DaimlerChrysler.

The second session begins Tuesday and costs $90 for nonmembers of the Arts Council.

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