"Teaching is a way for me to pass on the information I’ve gotten over time. To function as a jazz composer at any level, you’ve got to be willing to produce your stuff, even if it’s just a demo of what it’s supposed to sound like. As a producer you facilitate everyone else’s ability to fulfill their roles. You have to acquire listening and analytical skills and understand underlying systems of harmony, form, and development. You need be able to communicate both abstract concepts and concrete ideas; to conceptualize what’s going to be on a stage before even thinking about writing for what’s going to be on that stage. You have to learn how to organize sounds, instruments, time (in the musical sense and otherwise), groups of people, and schedules. It takes attention to detail. And—because this is jazz after all—it takes flexibility. You have to plan for improvisation."
"In Harmony 1 there's a lot of vocabulary that [students are] trying to comprehend to move on to the next level. Sometimes it seems like you're trying to learn the basic bricks, but where's the music in it? But you can't write a story without knowing how to spell words. Music is difficult because it's supposed to be fun and emotional, but how can that be if you can't remember what note goes on this chord? Once you internalize it, it becomes a part of you, and you don't have to worry about it. It's like being able to speak a language."
"Teaching is like performing for me. I bring a lot of energy into the classroom and like to share that energy with my students. It's also very improvisational in that I am not afraid to let the dynamic of the class set the direction we go in. I like to see the light shining; I can really tell when I'm connecting. I teach the advanced ear training classes, and one of the things I do with my students is to ask them go back and look at their earlier workbooks from past semesters. Upon review, they quickly realize, 'That's so easy now!' It's very reassuring to them—and it's a way of curing the frustration you can have when you're always trying to learn something new."
"I always teach in terms of, 'How does what you do affect how the listener reacts?' There's a lot that that implies in terms of preparation and fundamentals. But the end result is simply making people feel things with your music. You can't stress fundamentals without tying them to reality. I show my students why fundamentals are important and how working on fundamentals is eventually going to get them to a place where they can make whatever music they want to in the professional world."
"The pace at Berklee is super-charged compared to other colleges. Our undergrad program would be a masters program anywhere else, especially the last couple years. So there's a tremendous amount of pressure; you just have to go all the way. But I tell my students, 'We're the luckiest people in the world. We get to make music for a living.' In my case I use the analogy of my Duke Ellington class. It's kind of a scandal. I get paid for two hours to talk about Duke Ellington? I would do that anyway!"
"Music is a strange paradox, because on one side of the equation is pure raw mathematics: intervals and numbers. On the other side is the intangible stuff that lives inside you. And somehow these two things pull together. I say to my students, 'You have to wade through the nuts and bolts, and the mathematics of it, because it will be very rewarding when you hear your music played back.'"
"I think you have to bring yourself into the music and not just replicate other people's music. That's my whole philosophy. I'll assimilate all I can about Duke Ellington's music, for instance. And I'll try to write some things in his style. Not steal, but borrow. Then I'll let that sit in my system and figure out how I want to use it. I want to create my own language. Some of his sounds, textures, or vocabulary might come out in my music. But my ideas will come out, too."
"Jazz composition is a very intense major. The work is time consuming. But the discipline that the students get out of it is so valuable, and the portfolio that they put together is almost equivalent to a master's portfolio."
"When I ask students to create a piece of music, I tell them they have to be careful to preserve their own personal enthusiasm and not just fulfill my assignment. I want my students to know that, by sharing the things that really matter to them musically, it really gives their teachers happiness. I think it's important for them to realize that they're giving a gift to us, too. We may be giving them these torturous exercises [laughing] that turn into volumes of music, but the reality is, they're giving us something great back. I respect that."