Bend musicians took a lesson from the pros Saturday during a free jazz workshop at The Oxford Hotel downtown.

Music education workshops are part of the Jazz at The Oxford series, which features shows with a variety of artists each year. Darrell Grant, a professional pianist and composer, was scheduled to played three evening shows with vocalist Marilyn Keller and vibraphonist Mike Horsfall on Friday and Saturday.

But during the day Saturday, Grant put on his other hat as an educator, with help from Keller and Horsfall. Grant is a jazz studies professor at Portland State University.

Musicians young and old were invited to come learn at the two-hour event, and members of the public could sit in to enjoy the free music. About 20 people turned out, half of them with instruments, ready to play.

“What I always wanted to know when I saw professionals and I was in the audience was, ‘How did you get there?’” Grant said. “Well, what I really wanted to know was ‘How do I get up there?’”

Grant, Keller and Horsfall each told of some of the adversities they faced in becoming professional musicians. From Horsfall’s years selling organs and pianos for a paycheck, to Keller losing out on a part in a college musical because of racial discrimination, the experiences the pros shared weren’t all rosy. As Grant pointed out, pursuing a musical career is nothing like “American Idol.”

“Jazz is music, but also a cultural force,” Grant said. “It’s a conversation, so it’s about relationships.”

Improvising on stage playing jazz takes courage, Grant said. But even though a first gig won’t be the best one, a musician still has to take the leap, Grant explained to students.

Grant, Horsfall and Keller had already performed a few songs earlier in the workshop, showing their stuff. The rest of the session was about taking it slow, having fun and walking students through the process of improvisation.

Surveying some of the instruments musicians had brought with them, Grant asked a number of teens to come to the front of the room near the stage.

Grant taught some less experienced students in the audience the blues scale, a series of notes that can easily be integrated into jazz improvisation. Grant challenged Horsfall and then Keller to improvise solos using only one note. The solos were far from boring, Grant pointed out, since the musicians could vary the sound with factors like rhythm or space — increasing the amount of time between playing.

Maxwell Friedman, 12, of Bend came up to replace Grant on the piano and Christian George, 16, a senior at Bend High School, stepped on stage to play bass. Georges Bouhey, a local private music instructor who hosts the jazz workshop events at The Oxford, took his place behind the drums.

Grant invited a teen trumpet player, Ethan Breitenbach, 17, a senior at Summit High School, on stage to join them. Ethan played a couple of successful solos, using only a few notes.

Although the younger players may have been intimidated, the pros were happy to have them testing their skills. Keller looked thrilled as a budding vocalist performed a solo.

The girl had said she felt scared initially, but it was clear she was falling into the “groove” of the jazz, and sounded at home onstage.

After a couple of choruses, Grant stopped the girl to coach her.

“I’ve got to make sure you don’t levitate,” Grant said, grinning.

— Reporter: 541-383-0325, kfisicaro@bendbulletin.com

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