There are excellent lesson plans and then there are master classes.
Glendale High School students instructed by teacher Amy Rangel are used to the first but were treated to the second on Wednesday afternoon.
Eighteen current and alumni trombonists from the school’s three jazz bands, led by Rangel, took part in a lesson, discussion and tutorial hosted by professional jazz musician Nick Finzer.
The New York-based trombonist was on spring break from a teaching position at the University of North Texas and was scheduled to play at the Blue Whale Bar in Little Tokyo that evening.
Before his performance, however, Finzer shared his expertise with a group of students a little younger and peppier than he normally sees.
He said that, sometimes, university students can be very serious.
“Being with this group reminds me of when I first got excited about music and jazz,” he added.
Finzer spoke of legends, such as John Coltrane and Miles Davis, from whom he drew inspiration, along with mentors and teachers such as JJ Johnson, Curtis Fuller and Joe Alessi.
No one, however, had as significant an impact on his life as jazz icon Duke Ellington.
“I wanted to be a classical trombonist, and I played youth symphonies and all that stuff growing up, and I thought that was the route I was going to take,” Finzer told the students.
Finzer pulled out his King Trombone 3B Plus model and performed Ellington’s “Single Petal of a Rose,” written in 1958 for Queen Elizabeth II.
At the conclusion of playing the song, Finzer asked students what they heard during his performance.
Some mentioned “multiphonics,” others “dynamics,” and one spoke of the rubato rhythmic playing.
Finzer then gave the group a piece of advice.
“The most important part of playing any instrument, whether it’s the trombone or otherwise, is going to be developing a really good sound,” he said.
Students later played their trombones as a group under Finzer’s direction, while senior Daron Bedrossian was the lone young musician to have a one-on-one session with the jazz trombonist.
“The key point is you’re not going to learn music in a vacuum, and you have to listen,” he said.
Finzer’s appearance at Glendale High was due to help from Bertrand’s Music of Burbank.
“Sometimes, we just get opportunities like this,” Bertrand manager Wendy Stackhouse said. “Manufacturers let us know when their artists are going to be around, and we try to match them up with schools that will appreciate it.”
Finzer’s appearance was the culmination of a big week for Rangel, a Burbank resident.
The Grammy Music Educator Award finalist won a Teacher of Excellence Award from the Country Music Assn. Foundation on Monday. The honor includes a trip to Nashville in late April and $5,000 in grant funds.
“I want my students to be inspired by not just playing trombone, but the style of music that [Finzer] plays,” Rangel said. “I want them to see that good things can happen if they put some time and energy into it. You never know what’s going to come out of this room.”
Glendale High sophomore Kelli Bayona said she felt revitalized.
“I felt like I learned a lot, especially with the sound,” Bayona said. “I always felt like I was a little bit off whenever I played. After today, I feel like I learned a lot more, and I can fix whatever I need to fix.”