Renowned Jazz Studies professor Chris Bruya performs band clinic with Woodland High School jazz band students

Bryana Steck, music teacher for Woodland Public Schools, first sat in on a clinic with Bruya while attending the Western International Band Clinic hosted by the American Band College where Bruya focused on jazz improvisation.

Chris Bruya, director of Jazz Studies at Central Washington University, performed a band clinic with Woodland High School’s jazz band students, teaching them from his more than 30 years of experience at the forefront of jazz education. Bruya’s bands have performed at the Montreux, North Sea, the 2008 Next Generation Jazz Festivals, and the 2012 JEN Conference in Kentucky along with numerous appearances at state and Northwest conferences.

Bryana Steck (left), WHS music teacher, invited Chris Bruya (center) to perform a band clinic with her jazz band students. Photo courtesy of Woodland School District
Bryana Steck (left), WHS music teacher, invited Chris Bruya (center) to perform a band clinic with her jazz band students. Photo courtesy of Woodland School District

Bryana Steck, music teacher for Woodland Public Schools, first sat in on a clinic with Bruya while attending the Western International Band Clinic hosted by the American Band College where Bruya focused on jazz improvisation. “There tends to be a focus on the complex theory behind jazz in that subject rather than focusing on some of the more fun and melodic elements that make the craft so interesting to play and listen to,” said Steck. “Professor Bruya provided a great way to break everything down – this is exactly how improvisation should be taught all the time.”

Later, Steck learned that Bruya had a close working relationship with her father who was a music instructor at Woodland Public Schools when Steck attended Woodland High School. Bruya served as a judge for many band festivals attended by past Woodland High School bands. Steck’s father even arranged to have Central Washington University’s Jazz Band perform at Woodland’s Hot Chili Cool Jazz fundraiser one year as a special guest artist. “Dad likes to reflect on a year when the band played at the Pleasant Hill Jazz Festival and Chris Bruya gave our band a score of 100 out of 100,” said Steck. “That experience definitely stuck with him.”

Steck started using materials from Bruya’s clinics in 2017 to help her students work on reinforcing the fundamentals of the delicate art of jazz improvisation which focuses on making up solo material on-the-fly to fit with chord patterns in a piece of music. “Specifically, we had been working on 12-bar blues form using guide tones to outline chord structure combined with pre-set rhythmic patterns which can make music what a listener might consider ‘jazzy,’” she said. “I decided to reach out to Chris to see if he would like to meet with the class and help us further since he is a master at the material; he was immediately on-board.”

Bryana Steck invited Chris Bruya (pictured on left) from Central Washington University to perform a jazz studies clinic with her students after attending one of his clinics at an international band festival. Photo courtesy of Woodland School District
Bryana Steck invited Chris Bruya (pictured on left) from Central Washington University to perform a jazz studies clinic with her students after attending one of his clinics at an international band festival. Photo courtesy of Woodland School District

Steck arranged for Bruya to attend a class virtually where he planned a curriculum taking information students already knew – the knowledge of basic chord structure and jazz rhythms – and expanding on those fundamentals to create something more appealing for listeners. “The clinic went incredibly well with students remaining engaged and attentive; answering Bruya’s questions; and coming up with material or the whole class to use in exercises,” said Steck. “Bruya even gave us a spontaneous demonstration of his own version of Clark Terry’s ‘Mumbles,’ complete with scat-singing into his mic which raised a round of laughter from the class.”

Bruya recalled his experience performing the clinic. “This was a fun experience for me as the subject is something I love to expose students to,” he said. “What was really great was that the students were prepared and engaged in the subject already so we could start a more-involved level of understandings and develop concepts from there.”

Bruya pointed to Steck’s dedicated teaching methods for properly preparing Woodland’s student musicians. “The students’ understanding was, of course, due to the fine teaching of Mrs. Steck,” he said. “What a treat it was to suggest a specific jazz artist the students should ‘check out’ only to discover the name was already familiar to them; I look forward to performing more sessions in the future.”

Learn more about how Woodland Public Schools educates students and serves the community, by visiting the dedicated news webpage at www.woodlandschools.org/news/wsd

Information provided by Woodland School District.

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