Pro Provides New Perspective

Matt McKeever help jazz musicians improve their craft


Holding his mallets at the read and focused position, senior Michael Harris stands ready to play in fifth hour Jazz Band. The members of this class meet with professional musician Matt McKeever a couple of times per month to help improve their musicianship and encourage them to take on more difficult piece of music.

On every other Wednesday, Mr. Matt McKeever leads the rhythm section through a basic B flat blues progression as he plays a jazzy saxophone solo over top of it. FHC’s jazz students follow by playing a short solo. McKeever shows the students that it’s not hard to play a solo and that is why Mr. Nathan Griffin has brought McKeever, who is a professional musician.

Mr. Griffin has known Mr. McKeever for many years. McKeever was a former band director who stopped teaching after this past school year. Mr. Griffin took a clinic held by McKeever in January and after he stopped teaching knew he could be a great person to help his students.

“He understands education and the way it works,” Griffin said. “so having that knowledge base to just really helps, because I think that’s going to prepare us even more when he’s here” 

McKeever really values teaching young musicians and prides himself everytime he helps a student. After his first clinics at FHC, McKeever has enjoyed helping out our students already.  

“The students were very receptive and already had a good understanding of some of the things I planned to cover, so I’m excited to move on to some more advanced things,” said McKeever. 

One student McKeever has helped already is junior, Noah Layman, who is a saxophonist in 6th hour jazz ensemble. Layman has received clinics from other musicians through other groups at FHC. 

“It’s a new perspective in the program. It’s new information, even if it’s old information. It’s told to us in a different way and allows us more perspective,” Layman said.

For some improvisation is freedom to express themselves or to others a hindrance that causes lots of anxiety. Mr. Griffin wants to eliminate that anxiety.

“I would say that was one thing we can always improve upon. And it’s such a delicate thing. Such a hard concept to learn,” Griffin said. “I want there to be confidence where they know going into a solo.”

Improvisation is a foundation of jazz music and can mean a lot of different things to a lot of different jazz musicians. Mr. Griffin has been teaching jazz at FHC for many years and has always encouraged his students to take a solo. 

 “Improvisation is sort of the difference maker for jazz music. It is, you know, in a sense, it’s what kind of sets jazz music apart from other things you know,” Griffin said.

Improvisation is sort of the difference maker for jazz music. It is, you know, in a sense, it’s what kind of sets jazz music apart from other things you know,

— Mr. Nathan Griffin

Keeping their eyes on their music, trumpet player Brady Bounds and saxophone player Caden Scott practice during fifth hour Jazz Band class. (Avah Pauck)

Noah Layman can already tell that his approach to soloing has changed already only after one lesson with McKeever.

“It’s [improvisation] very important, I’d say, I think, at least 50% of what jazz is you have music and then you have solos and those solos really, they’re the things that make those pieces interesting.” Layman said.

Mr. McKeever sees jazz as a way to express oneself creatively and allow for uniqueness not seen in other forms of music. 

“Improvisation is what makes jazz so unique and exciting – you never know what is going to happen!” McKeever said.