Tallcorn and Myra Melford
Updated: Jun 12, 2020
Each year, our chapter of Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia puts on the Tallcorn Jazz Festival in February, where 40-50 high schools compete and receive comments and a clinic from expert judges and clinicians from around the United States. This year, I was the coordinator of this festival, and spent countless hours sending emails and organizing all of the things necessary with running a festival. While it was a lot of work, in the end, I loved the opportunity to spread music to those younger than me, and I felt that it was good experience, as running a new music festival is something I could see myself doing some day.
Each year at the festival, we also bring in a guest artist who does a daily clinic with the high schoolers and performs with UNI's Jazz Band One at the night concert that concludes both days. This year, our guest artist was Myra Melford, and she might have been my favorite guest artist that I have seen come to Tallcorn. Melford makes music that evades the genres of "jazz" or "classical," and lives somewhere in between the two. Bringing free improvisation to her music with a background coming out of the avant-garde jazz movement of the 1960s and 70s, she also has background as a classical musician and composer. She also happens to be one of the nicest and most genuine people I have met, period. She was kind enough to arrange a lesson with me over that weekend, and she talked about the ways in which she blends written-out composition with free improvisation. In that hour lesson, she made me completely re-conceptualize how I think of music and improvisation, and inspired me to look more into the performer's role in composition, and the indeterminacy and magic that can happen with a good improviser within a composition.
On the stage, Melford was incredible. She played with a passion and energy that I have seen in very few piano players, and made the entire audience really get into the music, despite the fact that it was "free jazz," which most people would typically scoff at. She also performed an arrangement of her tune The Promised Land that I did for our jazz band, and it was so gratifying to hear such a masterful musician play something that I had gotten so close to as the arranger. I feel so lucky to have gotten to meet Professor Melford, and I hope it is a connection that I can maintain. I have already started thinking about the ways in which I can explore improvisation within my own music, and am certainly reconsidering what "jazz" music has to be, and the ways that it can mix with "classical" music.