Musicians without notes on a page: the UCO Jazz Lab

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EDMOND, Okla. - They are all student musicians who've grown up with notes printed on a page.

Follow the notes, and you make music.

So, what happens when the notes are gone?

That's where teachers like Jeff Kidwell take over.

"It's like someone yanking your security blanket from beneath you," he said. "You've got to learn how to think on your feet, all of a sudden, and turn on another part of your brain and let your ear work."

It's been seven years since University of Central Oklahoma professors took a week out of their summer to get young music students into jazz.

2017 marked their largest enrollment yet, close to 60 school kids and some adults too.

Musicians like trombonist Bettie Bunn came here to learn what plays in her head.

"It's a different part of your brain," she said. "It's not just that I need to learn how to play this in my head. But, it's like I need to learn to put what's in my head out there."

The language of music stays the same but, in jazz, tenor saxophone player Jozie Clarke said it comes from a different place.

"It's spontaneous composition," she said. "It can be what sounds right. It can be what sounds good."

So, at the end of a long week, the UCO Jazz Lab fills with young musicians testing and tasting the only truly American art form.

In small ensembles like these, there's no hiding, and everyone gets a solo.

Whatever is in your head has to come out through your fingers or your lips.

What comes back through your ear is a musical loop that's lasted a hundred years now, from the red light districts of New Orleans to a neighborhood in Edmond and every place in between.


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