“We ARE the music,” says Jeff. “We make it happen. We are the energy and excitement, and it’s up to us to sing, play, and dance our hearts out!”
Drumming since the third grade, Jeff was inspired by his jazz drummer cousin, as well as his parents. “They encouraged me to play along with their records, and join school bands,” he says. During college Jeff played in bands to pay the rent, then went to Brazil and studied with various percussionists.
“The connection between music and dance is something I learned first-hand in Brazil,” he says. “It’s part of the culture. You don’t have to be a professional musician or dancer, people there naturally sing and dance for fun.”
Jeff’s passion for soulful music led him to perform with jazz, blues, and gospel groups, as well as calypso, samba, and Cuban jazz ensembles. He teaches percussion to people of all ages, both privately and in schools and universities. “I believe strongly in making music ourselves,” he says. “There’s a great sense of community and an uplifting feeling of hope that happens when we come together to sing, dance, and play music. You can connect with anybody through music. It’s one of the great human experiences.”
“I like to get students involved immediately. I do this through call-and-response songs and rhythms. My approach is to work quickly so there’s no time to think about how difficult something might be… we just make it happen! Good arrangements, encouragement, and fun are essential. I accompany classes using my own modified drum kit, which enables me to provide the tempo and feeling of the music, so students get an immediate sense of groove. I also share my own stories and experiences, as well as cultural and historical ideas, to give students some perspective.”
How do you create a vibrant learning environment?
“I love what I do, and I share that passion with students. I try and create a fun, welcoming vibe, and get them involved immediately. There’s no time to be shy or afraid of failing.”
How do you encourage youth leadership?
“I create opportunities for them to lead or perform; a spotlight, so to speak. And if a kid is disruptive or unsettled, I might give him additional responsibility and make him a section leader or assistant. Usually they like that and rise to the occasion.
“For most drum classes, I use songs from Brazil, Cuba, West Africa, and the U.S. I pick material that’s catchy and fun – music that makes them dance! With residencies, I may incorporate songwriting and vocal improvisation. Ideally I will teach them a rhythm, a song, and a dance. Each component complements the other, providing balance and meaning. Songs and dance steps help them understand the rhythm.
“We also talk about being part of team, and how we need to tune in to each other and watch and listen and be aware. When we work as a team, we can use our collective energy to make great music, have fun, and put on a show!”
How have you evolved as a teacher?
“By learning from other teachers. I’ve learned how to talk, discipline, and channel kids’ energy. And I’ve learned how to prepare music and concepts in ways that are accessible. I sometimes use vocal phrases (poems and rhymes) to help kids learn tricky rhythms. Associating a rhythm with words first can help translate that rhythm to hands and feet. We explore sounds, too. We explore the instruments so they’ll have a hands-on experience they’ll remember.”