Eddie Landsberg, a virtuoso in the realm of jazz music, embarked on his musical journey with classical piano at the tender age of five. His passion for jazz blossomed in his teens, leading him to immerse himself in the vibrant world of jazz improvisation. Under the tutelage of jazz legends like Shirley Scott and Big John Patton, Landsberg honed his skills, particularly on the Hammond organ. His personal struggles in mastering jazz improvisation became the catalyst for a lifelong dedication to education. Landsberg's approach to teaching is deeply rooted in his rich experiences and the wisdom he garnered from his mentors, combined with his innovative techniques that demystify the complexities of jazz for his students. This commitment to education reflects Landsberg's desire to give back to the jazz community and nurture the next generation of jazz musicians.
INTERVIEWER: Could you begin by sharing a bit about your background in jazz and what led you to focus on teaching jazz improvisation?
Eddie Landsberg: I started on piano (classical) at the age of 5 and switched to Jazz in my teens, initially studying at Settlement Music School. I completed my BA in Music after receiving training and mentorship, mainly on the Hammond organ, from Shirley Scott, Big John Patton, and several other notable players. I initially struggled myself and decided to focus on education after making a pact with myself.
INTERVIEWER: That's a fascinating journey you've had in the world of jazz music. It sounds like you've had some incredible experiences and mentorship along the way.
I'm intrigued by the pact you mentioned. Can you share the story behind this pact and how it influenced your decision to focus on education, especially in jazz improvisation?
Eddie Landsberg: Well, I remember sitting down on the floor next to my instrument in frustration. I looked up and saw all those keyboards and all those notes and thought to myself, "This is impossible... there must be a million notes and a million options... no way I'm ever going to figure this out, but if I ever do, I'm going to develop a better way of teaching and share it with the world." And you know what? I did!
INTERVIEWER: That's an incredibly inspiring story. It sounds like a moment of frustration led to a significant turning point in your career, not only mastering jazz improvisation yourself but also leading to a commitment to teaching others in a more accessible way.
So, what was the big secret you figured out? How did you manage to make sense of all those notes and options, and how does that understanding translate into your teaching method?
Eddie Landsberg: Well, back when I was in my teens, I definitely had a passion for music. I used to cut school to go to record stores in Philly, and I'd take lessons too, but I spent most of the lessons just chatting with the teacher about music. It was kind of my way of filibustering, because I didn't understand the way the teachers were teaching me. They'd give me these impossible tasks without first assessing whether I had the underlying knowledge necessary to approach those tasks. I'd call them "mission impossibles". (*laughing)
INTERVIEWER: Mission impossibles?
Eddie Landsberg: Yeah, like in my first Jazz lesson. I remember biking to the music store. A place called Jerry's Music in Philly. Everyone in NE Philly knew that store at the time. I remember heading over to the shop... almost got killed. I had this canvas tote bag. It got stuck in the spokes to the bicycle, and the bicycle literally did a cartwheel. Somehow I literally landed on my back... uninjured and staring up at the sky. I collected myself, went in, Jerry plops down a lead sheet to HOW HIGH THE MOON and tells me I'm going to play a walking bass line in my left hand while accompanying it with chords in my left. He scoots me over and demonstrates.
INTERVIEWER: You survived! So, how did you do?
Eddie Landsberg: Good advice, but useless. He needed to teach me chord construction. Walking bass line? Like how...? This is really a basic concept of any type of education. You assess before you profess. That's why some teachers will ask you to sit down and play a bit before they start the lesson. It's not just to get you to warm up... they need to get an idea where you're at. I was at the learn to tie your shoes phase.
INTERVIEWER: Assess before you profess... I love that! So what happened next?
Eddie Landsberg: I did grab a few good books on the way out the door. That helped me a bit, but that was my first and last lesson with Jerry.
I was studying with a teacher who was studying under Dennis Sandole at the time, a major Philly Jazz guru. He had some kind of rift and switched over to Jimmy Amadie. At the same time, I discovered the Schillinger Method. Combining the two, I learned the simple math that goes into chord construction and suddenly began to make sense of things. I began to realize that it really wasn't that complicated after all... it just looked complicated!
INTERVIEWER: How do you incorporate this realization about simplicity and math in chord construction into your teaching? How do you help your students overcome the initial overwhelming feeling that jazz improvisation can often present?
Eddie Landsberg: Well, for sure I liked Jimmy's idea that the first thing you do is identify the root of the chord. That's the note everything is based on, and most likely the one the chord is named after. After that, certain tones, mainly the fifths and the subdominant, are going to be obvious in any key. All you need after that are the shell tones, the thirds and sevenths, then from there, you have just a few tones you can add on and alter to provide the color. It's not that complicated...
INTERVIEWER: That sounds like a very structured and clear approach to teaching jazz improvisation. Focusing on the root of the chord as a starting point, then building on it with the fifths, subdominant, and shell tones, seems like a great way to simplify the process for students.
In addition to the foundational concepts you've mentioned, what were your own unique additions or modifications to this method? How do you personalize or enhance these teachings for your students in jazz improvisation?
Eddie Landsberg: Well, from there I established some rules to make it easier to pinpoint the tones. At that time I was young and was just becoming interested in Japan and there was a Jazz Soul Samba influenced pop group over there called ORIGINAL LOVE which had a tune called MILLION SECRETS OF JAZZ. I came up with my own approach to identify the tones of which there were 7, so I called it THE 7 SECRETS OF JAZZ AND SOUL.
INTERVIEWER: That's a really interesting blend of influences and inspiration. The idea of distilling jazz improvisation into "The 7 Secrets of Jazz and Soul" sounds like a catchy and memorable way to teach. Could you elaborate on these seven secrets? How do they guide a musician through the process of jazz improvisation, and what makes them effective in your teaching?
Eddie Landsberg: Well, I'd like to say you have to get with me and study, but it's fairly easy to start. First you identify the root. Knowing the first and most basic overtones are good to start with... that's the fifth, and the octave. After that, there are a few tricks I show to quickly identify the different roots and sevenths, then I have the basic rules for finding the other tones, which are usually there for color. The basic rules of alteration are also thrown in. These are the tones you'll be using not only to make your chords but in your improvisations as well and they're pretty easy to master.
INTERVIEWER: Your approach seems to offer a structured yet flexible framework for students, making jazz improvisation more approachable and less intimidating. Starting with the root, understanding overtones, and then progressing to identify the different roots, sevenths, and other tones seems like a logical progression.
When it comes to improvisation, how do you encourage your students to use these tones creatively? Do you have any specific exercises or techniques that help them explore and experiment with these tones in their improvisations?
Eddie Landsberg: Well, the first thing you really need to know is how to use them to construct and resolve chords on the spot. All of that comes before the creative process. It's sort of like knowing how to put the paint on the palette. After that comes a bit of "brush" technique, and before you know it you're ready to start creating those landscapes... all, which I learned from John Patton and just about every other great player who would mentor me.
INTERVIEWER: That's a great analogy, comparing the process to painting. It emphasizes the importance of mastering the basics and understanding the tools before diving into the creative process. Starting with blues as a foundational genre makes a lot of sense, given its deep roots in jazz. Could you talk a bit about how you use blues in your teaching? How does starting with the blues help your students develop their improvisational skills, and what aspects of blues do you focus on to build their jazz improvisation abilities?
Eddie Landsberg: Well, there are millions of things you can learn from the blues, from walking bass lines to constructing chords. Note that in Jazz the blues aren't just 3 chord tunes, but can pretty much include virtually any chord in the Jazz vocabulary, especially once you’ve gotten around to implementing your passing and substitute chords. So, in the process of exploring your blues, you're going to learn how to walk, construct chords and accompany, follow form, solo, and a billion other things... even compose!
INTERVIEWER: That's a rich perspective on the role of blues in jazz education. The versatility of blues in jazz, going beyond the traditional three-chord structure to include a wide range of chords, seems like an excellent training ground for students. How do you structure lessons or practice sessions around the blues to cover these various aspects? Walking bass lines, chord construction, accompaniment, following form, soloing, and even composition - do you have a specific sequence or method in which you introduce these concepts to your students?
Eddie Landsberg: When I was with John, he taught me a basic walking blues bass line in F and wouldn't let me do anything else until I got it solid. Eventually, I had to start applying my chords. He told me if my bass line was solid, everything else would fall off of it. The chords become the paint dabs you're adding to the blues, and in listening to them and knowing the notes, you eventually learn how to turn them into solo ideas. That was where Bert Lignon and some old-timers helped me out.
INTERVIEWER: Bert Lignon?
Eddie Landsberg: Yes, a Jazz educator. He had this book out on Linear Improv. Amadie’s book on goal note improv also helped. Then, believe it or not, Frank Zappa.
INTERVIEWER: Frank Zappa?
Eddie Landsberg: Yes, he had this book out called The Real Frank Zappa Book. I read it when I was in high school and it had some very useful advice on soloing. He said something like, the secret to soloing is putting your hand in position then simply dancing with it. At that time there was an old school organist in Philly, and he also showed me something that pretty much amounted to the combination of the two, though I doubt he was a Frank Zappa fan (laughing).
Interviewer: But how do you guide students through this process? After they've mastered the walking bass line, what are the next steps you take them through to develop their chord skills and eventually translate those into solo ideas?
Eddie Landsberg: Well, you have to get solid on your accompaniment, which also gives you a chance to start playing with great players. Once you know those changes, all the rhythmic stuff becomes intuitive and you also start to hear things, like who to connect chords, and you begin experimenting with different concepts. From there, things start to take off... and at that point you're building your vocabulary not only by listening, but exploring different real book tunes.
Interviewer: It sounds like a very organic and immersive approach. By focusing first on accompaniment and playing with others, your students not only solidify their understanding of changes but also develop an intuitive sense for rhythm and chord connections.
As your students begin to experiment and build their vocabulary, how do you encourage them to explore and internalize different Real Book tunes? Do you have specific strategies or exercises that help them delve into these tunes and apply what they've learned in their improvisations?
Eddie Landsberg: It's really funny. With my first Jazz lesson, the teacher just plopped a lead sheet for How High The Moon down in front of me and asked me to play it constructing my own walking bass and chord figure. That idea wasn't too far off from what John would teach me, only he forgot to teach me how to walk bass and construct chords. I eventually gave up. A few years later I got with a great teacher at Settlement, and he was even worse, he simply said, "Learn all your chords left hand, right hand and together... all modes, all inversions... and by the way, here's a lead sheet to Body And Soul... I want you to reharmonize it... I'll get you started." In the long term good advice, but obviously not good teaching since I still needed to learn how to walk bass and construct chords and was yet to even know how to resolve them. It was totally ridiculous. Mind you, this was before I developed my 7 secrets approach and almost a decade before meeting John Patton.
Interviewer: Your experiences really highlight the importance of a structured, step-by-step approach in teaching jazz improvisation. It seems like being thrown into the deep end without the necessary foundational skills was a challenge, but it also might have informed your own teaching philosophy to ensure your students don't face the same hurdles.
Given these experiences, how do you structure your lessons differently? How do you ensure that your students have a solid grasp of the fundamentals like walking bass lines and chord construction before moving on to more advanced concepts like reharmonization and improvisation over complex tunes?
Eddie Landsberg: Well, it all begins with the basic rules of chord and bass line construction, which are initially applied to basic forms beginning with the blues, eventually minor blues, rhythm changes and simple Jazz standards. Little by little we evolve towards a more coaching-like approach. Being a Hammond organist helps me, especially with pianists who might not get to study with players with strong bass concepts. That's the key difference between Hammond Organ and Piano. A Hammond organist is a bass player first and foremost; however, to be a good Jazz musician on any instrument you have to know how to listen to the bass player and in your head be one yourself.
Interviewer: Your approach sounds both comprehensive and tailored to the unique needs of each instrument, especially highlighting the significance of bass concepts in jazz. The emphasis on starting with basic forms and gradually evolving to a more coaching-oriented approach allows students to build a solid foundation before tackling more complex aspects of jazz improvisation.
Given your experience as a Hammond organist and the importance you place on understanding bass concepts, how do you incorporate these insights into your teaching for students who are not organists? What specific exercises or practices do you use to help all your students, regardless of their primary instrument, develop a strong sense of bass and rhythm in their playing?
Interviewer: Well, I actually wrote a book on it, but the great news is that bass counterpoint isn’t rocket science. You’ve got a handful of very basic rules and approaches, and beyond that it’s about getting solid in time and learning to rely on your ear within the hand shapes you choose. Stock model blues walks definitely get you started, and things develop as you encounter new repertoire. What it comes down to is that each tune has secrets and approaches embedded in it, and as your repertoire develops, so too does everything you develop on your instrument.
Interviewer: But how do you decide where to go when it comes to developing your repertoire:
Eddie Landsberg: It’s interesting. Thinking back my first Jazz teacher was correct about introducing How High The Moon early on in the game. Basic Chords... Basic melody. In contrast, Stella By Starlight would be a great tune later down the line to get those half-diminished chords down. It's really not one about knowing the standard, but what skills and training each bring to the table, and to a great extent that’s where an experienced coach or mentor can help out.
Interviewer: Your emphasis on repertoire development as a pedagogical tool is insightful. By selecting specific jazz standards that align with different learning objectives, you're able to teach various concepts and techniques in a context that is both musical and practical.
With this approach in mind, how do you sequence the introduction of these standards to your students? Do you have a specific order or set of criteria for choosing which tunes to introduce at different stages of their development? Additionally, how do you adapt this approach for students with varying levels of experience and skill?
Eddie Landsberg: This is the golden question. Of course, as mentioned everything begins with the blues. From there you're looking at lots of basic II V I standards, then stretching out to more challenging tunes. Teaching students how to mine their fake books is one skill I get them started on from the get-go. Eventually, you begin to associate composers with tune styles and what they have to offer. Cole Porter, for example, a master of simplicity -- yet rich harmonic and tonal exploration. At the same time, Rodgers and Hammerstein tunes often had simple melodies and changes as well. Later on, you explore folks like Styne and Van Heusen who, like Porter could be simple yet slick and hooky when they had to. Arlen, in terms knew how to dig deep into the blues. Many people only know him for "Over The Rainbow", but as an example check out tunes like The Man That Got Away and Ill Wind.
Interviewer: Your approach to guiding students through the jazz repertoire is very strategic and thoughtful. By starting with the blues and gradually progressing to more complex II V I standards, you're building their skills in a structured manner. Teaching them to mine their fake books and understand the styles and contributions of different composers is a valuable skill.
When it comes to composers like Cole Porter, Rodgers and Hammerstein, Styne, Van Heusen, and Arlen, how do you use their compositions to teach specific jazz concepts? For instance, how would you use a Cole Porter tune to explore harmonic richness, or an Arlen composition to delve deeper into the blues? Could you give an example of how you would structure a lesson or a practice session around one of these composers' works?
Eddie Landsberg: Well, each example is a whole world of exploration. As an example, Stella is a great gateway into bebop since it's so rich in flat fives. That was the tune that enabled me to start exploring the role of diminished scales in improvisation. Porter's Just One of Those Things is almost an extended blues with a release, so with that, you can begin exploring ways to stretch out on the blues. Other composers just knew how to flow... opening up rich ground for exploring linear harmony. Take tunes like Cherokee, which was the tune that opened things up for Charlie Parker or Have You Met Miss Jones which starts off simple, but has a bridge that somewhat foreshadows Coltrane's Giant Steps. As for practice regimen, this is something that has to be individualized. Jazz has a rich culture, and one strong tradition is woodshedding as well as other forms of intensive practice. For me, I have certain tunes that I automatically go to, and can play and explore these for hours a day over extended periods of time.
Interviewer: A week or so?
Eddie Landsberg: Close to 30 years on Stella… It’s sort of like the morning prayer.
Interview: Morning prayer?
Eddie Landsberg: Muslims and Jews have these prayers they recite certain parts of the day every day of their life. For example, when Jews wake up, they recite the Modim before they even get out of bed. 9 times out of 10 I play Stella the second I hit the piano.
Interviewer. Your approach to using specific tunes as gateways to explore various jazz concepts is highly effective. It sounds like you tailor the selection of compositions to introduce complex jazz ideas like bebop, diminished scales, linear harmony, and even hints of more advanced concepts like those in John Coltrane's work.
Given the individualized nature of practice regimens and the tradition of woodshedding in jazz, how do you guide your students in developing their own practice routines? Do you have any tips or strategies for them to identify which tunes to focus on for their personal development, and how to approach these practice sessions in a way that is both productive and creatively fulfilling?
Eddie Landsberg. First, listening is key. You can listen to Jazz stations like WBGO, eventually and hopefully collect records yourself, and hopefully listen to repertoire that extends beyond specific Jazz recordings, for example, original recordings from before the tunes entered the Jazz staple. I have spent part of my practice each day, and have done so for almost three decades just leafing through fake books and trying out different tunes... You start to challenge or explore different tunes and eventually the tunes will seize you when the right moment comes. Pat of the training process is really learning how to find those tunes on your own. As a mentor, you’re just getting your students into the process.
Interviewer: Your emphasis on the importance of listening as a fundamental part of learning and practicing jazz is very insightful. It seems that exposing oneself to a wide range of music, not just jazz-specific recordings but also original versions of tunes, can provide a deeper understanding and appreciation of the music.
When it comes to exploring fake books and trying out different tunes, how do you suggest your students approach this practice? Are there specific things they should be listening for or focusing on when they leaf through fake books and experiment with various tunes? How can they make the most out of these exploration sessions to ensure they're not just playing the notes, but also absorbing the essence of the tunes and the jazz traditions.
Eddie Landsberg: First, find music you love and learn to respect the composers as much as the soloists. Beyond that, try to find tones you you think you could almost nail on the spot but have one of two challenges... use part of the practice to flow on what you know, and part to master those new challenges. That's what I do... then you're getting smooth, becoming more and more spontaneous and learning new things each time you approach your instrument. This is actually a big problem with many Jazz musicians. They listen to the artists, but aren’t willing to go to the source.