Jazz percussionist teaches Cordova to improvise

Jazz percussionist and educator John Damberg. Photo courtesy of John Damberg

For a novice musician, accurately playing music from the page is challenging — but making it up as you go along is even tougher. That’s where jazz percussionist and educator John Damberg comes in.

“Most public schools don’t train you for that kind of thing at all,” Damberg said. “They just say, ‘Play the notes on the page,’ so it’s either right or wrong. When you do improvisation, it’s neither right nor wrong… It’s up to you as the player to start paying attention to the notes that are coming out of your instrument, rather than just being a button-pusher.”

Damberg, percussion instructor at the University of Alaska Anchorage and president of the Alaska Jazz Workshop, will lead a music workshop 7 p.m. Tuesday, March 10 at the Cordova Jr./Sr. High School music room. In characteristic fashion, Damberg hasn’t drawn up a lesson plan. Instead, he’ll be playing it by ear, adjusting his teaching depending on whether participants are beginners or more advanced.

The John Damberg Latin Jazz Quintet performs at Anchorage’s Organic Oasis Restaurant. (Nov. 2, 2014) Photo courtesy of John Damberg Latin Jazz Quintet

“I’m an improviser,” Damberg said. “That’s the nature of the game: I improvise in life as I improvise in my music, so we’ll see what happens.”

At the March 10 workshop, he’ll focus on teaching beginner students scales from which they can pick notes for basic improvisation.

“It’s like grabbing a bunch of crayons and saying, ‘Okay, you can draw with green and black and blue and red for this picture, so go ahead and do it,’” Damberg said.Damberg has visited Cordova previously, including to perform with the Dan Mac Band at Salmon Jam 2019. He tours as a member of the John Damberg Latin Jazz Quartet, and has shared the stage with iconic performers such as Wynton Marsalis, Sammy Davis Jr., Ray Charles and Liberace.