The following material was taken from a recent interview conducted by Berklee College of Music with Hal Crook:
Q: What basic advice would you offer beginning level improvisers?
A: The most basic advice I give to improvisers at all levels of ability is to study instrumental technique, music theory, piano, drums, ear training and harmony before or as you study improvisation on your own instrument. It's similar to advising athletes to build extra physical strength by exercising and working out so that they're better prepared to play a sport.
Q: What are the hallmarks of good ensemble playing?
A: One major hallmark
of good ensemble playing (for soloists and accompanists)
is strong listening skills--meaning the ability to hear
not only our own playing but also the playing that is happening
simultaneously around us. The idea is to be able to
hear the musical relationship between our self and the other
players acutely enough so that it informs and guides our
own musical actions.
Another hallmark of good ensemble playing is strong instrumental skills, because the more advanced our playing skills are, the more capable we will be of dividing our listening attention between our self and the band.
I try to be a listener who plays, versus a player who listens.
Q: Can you describe your teaching style?
A: My teaching style is the same as my learning style, which is why I enjoy teaching. My approach is to begin by playing music with the student(s) while recording the performance. I then examine and critique the results, identifying any weaknesses in the student's playing. Then we select a topic for study and I suggest and design exercises that target the student's weaknesses. I then demonstrate the exercises while the student observes. Finally, the student demonstrates the exercises while we play together.
Q: How long have you been teaching at Berklee College of Music and what do you like about it?
A: I've been teaching
at Berklee College since 1986. I like teaching at
Berklee because the school attracts the best and most serious
jazz, rock and pop musicians in the world, lots of them--as
students and teachers. In my classes I get
to work with the best student improvisers in the school.
They audition for my ensembles and I select the players
and form the bands. I like the challenge of having
to continually stay in the best possible musical condition
so I can coach these super-advanced bands with some authority.
I also like to listen to new young players and think:
Now how can I learn to play like that?
Q: Can you talk about a musical highlight in your performing career?
A: A major highlight
in my performing career occurred recently when I recorded
the demonstration CD for my new book (Beyond Time and Changes:
A Musician's Guide To Free Jazz Improvisation) with some
former students I had at Berklee (Leo Genovese on piano,
and Take Toriyama on drums). The book is published
by Advance Music, Germany, and will be released in the fall
Q: How does your performing inform your teaching?
A: My musical performances
continually inform my teaching because by examining and
evaluating my own performances I discover weaknesses in
my playing--or aspects I want to change or refine--which
leads me to find solutions that I can then share with students
to help them overcome similar problems.
* * *