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Randy Masters on Jazz Theory

Posted January 26th, 2018  |  By A4A.admin

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CSMA’s distinguished music faculty Randy Masters discusses the importance of Jazz Theory for a complete music education. Read his article below, and register for his Jazz Theory class!

Randy Masters, PhD, Distinguished Faculty

The jazz music genre has become vast in the music world since the early 20th Century. Some of the world’s most talented, creative performers and composers are jazz musicians, and they especially dominate the film score industry. Famous film score composers such as Henry Mancini, Lalo Schifrin and Quincy Jones are all well trained in music, jazz performance and jazz theory. Jazz theory in particular is vital in learning about other genres, including world, classical, and pop music. When I ran the Jazz Department at UC Santa Cruz, it was well known in the Music Department that the students who best understood music were the ones with a strong background in jazz theory, as it incorporates all that preceded it in music history. That’s part of why it is so exciting!


As a musician, there is great joy in truly understanding music so well that you can play, improvise and compose with mastery and grace. Many famous musicians were required to be able to improvise classically in the styles of their contemporaries. Western classical composers and performers that were amazing improvisers include J.S. Bach, F. Chopin and others. They could sit down and improvise a composition as good as what they composed on paper, in real time. In other words, they studied music and understood it so well that they could do whatever they wanted! 

Jazz theory education is now a cornerstone of almost all college and university music departments. Jazz virtuosos like Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker and others were big on teaching each other jazz theory, and pianist John Mohegan was one of the first to formalize the teaching of Jazz Theory in the 1960’s. Now all colleges, universities, and community schools that have a Jazz Department offer Jazz Theory courses, including CSMA! CSMA’s own prodigies Taylor Eigsti and Yuma Sung have taken my Jazz Theory class. Taylor Eigsti started when he was 6 years old and studied Jazz Theory and Composition until he finished high school. Now he records and plays with famous musicians like Sting, Chris Botti and with symphony orchestras playing both classical and jazz.


Taylor Eigsti with Randy Masters in 2013

The balance of knowledge, skill, experience, creativity and intuition are what is needed to be a complete musician. Jazz theory can help students discover how music works and learn how to improvise, create and compose. This has been my world since I was very young, and I have been teaching jazz theory since the 1960’s. It is still great fun in every way! Come join me in a Jazz Theory class at CSMA!

Tags: music-school

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