Professor Fred Sturm kicked off this year’s Lunch at Lawrence series with a funny, informative speech about jazz music, at times comparing jazz to Batman.Sturm, director of jazz studies and improvisational music here at Lawrence, spoke to members of the Fox Valley community and Lawrence graduates about what to listen for in jazz music. Sturm’s goal was to simplify the art of jazz music into an attainable form for everyone in the room, whether they knew jazz or not.
Sturm stressed the importance of the history of jazz, and tried to dispel some common myths about jazz music. Sturm spoke about the rhythmic, melodic, harmonic, and improvisational aspects of the music. He was eccentric with his employment of these ideas, at times making the entire room play an air-drum set with knives and forks.
Sturm also spoke about the written form of jazz, and how jazz musicians know when to play and what to play. To help the attendees understand a basic jazz form, blues, he reminded them of a tune that everyone in the room knew: “Batman”, which Sturm described as, “…the whitest, hokiest blues ever!”
The theme song to the classic Batman TV show is a blues form, with the notes of the melody being the roots of the chords in the form as well. So while playing air-drums, the room sang the Batman theme with maestro Sturm leading them in chorus. At first the entire room was filled with uncomfortable laughter, but eventually the crowd loosened up and began to have a good time singing along and playing drums with silverware.
During his speech, Sturm compared everyday human actions to elements of jazz music. He paralleled speech to improvisation, personality to a jazz musician’s style, blues to outdated old TV shows, and so on. While Sturm touched on some very complex and intricate things that make up jazz music, he was always able to find a way to relate it to the crowd. Everyone left the lunch more informed and more excited about jazz music.
I spoke with Sturm after the lunch, where he described to me that he had to change his direction in the middle of the speech. “When I got about halfway through, I realized I was going to have to go somewhere else with it,” Sturm remarked. “I had to pick some things that the age group of the crowd could relate to.”
Sturm mentioned jazz greats from the ’30s and ’40s mostly in the speech, drummers such as Gene Krupa and Buddy Rich, bassist such as Jimmy Blanton and Ray Brown, and pianists like Duke Ellington. Sturm also kindly reminded me that if I mentioned the Batman thing that he would “wring my neck.”
Sturm’s speech was well-worded and easy for everyone to understand, and undoubtedly sparked new interest and understanding in jazz music for everyone in attendance.