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Black Music Ensemble
Richard Davis, director

Course number 660-266

1 credit

Black Music Ensemble, a.k.a. BME: An improvisational workshop experience. Professor Richard Davis' straightforward teaching style encompasses life lessons of equality sprinkled among superb insights into jazz performance.

Black Music Ensemble is a small, audition-only collection of both vocalists and instrumentalists devoted to studying the music of black composers; namely, jazz composers. Davis teaches palpable major-scale jazz solos based on simple scale alterations and urges simplicity, teamwork, and an understanding of historical contexts. As the students sit in a circle around him, he uses well-placed, thought-provoking critique to help his pupils break down challenging concepts with their existing knowledge. He stresses communication and equality in performance situations, and reminds students that the band is only as strong as its weakest member.

Performances occur twice per semester in Morphy Hall. In the class meetings that follow performances, Davis hones right in on trouble spots, and he won't accept weak, ambiguous excuses for lack of preparation. The scent of genuine effort is perceptible from miles distant, and Davis loves to help an interested student grow. "That's the joy of teaching; when you see a student go from not knowing to knowing," Davis once informed our wide-eyed class. He paused and allowed the idea to sink in with full effect; allowed our minds to breathe deeply. When Davis speaks, people listen; and even the dropping of a pin wouldn't sneak past his radar. He might ask you to sing the pitch that the pin made when it dropped.

In jazz, there are no wrong notes. A note is a note. Just pick one and make it sound good. Then connect it to some other notes and make them sound good. Just relax with an idea until you get another idea. The focus for one class period landed on how to articulate "Lee-dl-loo-dle" in a scat solo, and Davis went around the circle demonstrating his treatment of the phrase and asked each student to repeat it. As long as you expressed it; really let it fly, he moved on to the next student. Davis strives to encourage each student's individuality of expression.

Davis once said, "If you watch people, you know how to love them."

-Ensemble description by Christiaan Smith-Kotlarek, B.M. Vocal Performance, BME performer