This article is copyright 2004 by Antonio J. García and originally was published in STYLE Weekly, January 12, 2005. It is used by permission of the author and, as needed, the publication. Some text variations may occur between the print version and that below. All international rights remain reserved; it is not for further reproduction without written consent.

Free Expression

by Antonio J. García


How long has the saying “The Beauty is in the Difference,” been around? This phrase has been a center of my perception of the world for my entire adult life. For example, when I was a dating teenager — or a lot of the time, more accurately, a teenager looking for a date — I was just stunned by the variety of attractive women. They were all over. Yet they had such pressure to conform to the cultural standard of the time for beauty, be it hair-length, shoe-height, style of glasses or no glasses. Guys had fewer pressures put upon them for style and fashion. We were just ... guys.

During college I had a steady girlfriend, so I was non-threatening enough that other women would talk to me about their lives. I could see that these pressures on women hadn’t lessened. Some friends had serious self-esteem issues because they didn’t match the fashion ads’ version of womanhood. And I thought — and sometimes outright told them: “HEY! ‘The Beauty is in the Difference!’ The things that make you unusual are the things that make you individual — and to me, attractive.”

This has a lot to do with my creative life in jazz music and education. Young musicians seeking to grow in jazz expression often seek the day when instead of wondering what they might play during their solo improvisations during a given performance, they’ll “just know” — and thus jazz expression will be safer, more predictable.

But eventually they realize that safety is not their goal, that this would actually be the enemy of learning how to improvise solos. Their true goal is to be different, to be individual — and in large part to do so by observing “The Beauty in the Difference” around them at that given moment of performance and incorporating that into their solo expression.

Jazz musicians would be bored if they could predict what would happen. Any comfort comes in having spent a creative lifetime responding spontaneously to surprising possibilities — and enjoying the ride those surprises give. In his book “Free Play: Improvisation in Life and the Arts,” author Stephen Nachmanovitch writes: “An improviser may have to practice for years before being able to play a totally spontaneous minute of music in which every detail is right for its own fleeting moment. ... The fruits of improvising, composing, writing, inventing and discovering may flower spontaneously; but they arise from soil that we have prepared, fertilized and tended in the faith that they will ripen in nature’s own time.” That’s not necessarily what an 18-year-old future jazz musician wants to hear, but it’s true in life as well.

Through it all, we seek balance. Jazz musician David Liebman defines the following: “An ideal aesthetic combination for an improvising musician would be total control of the rules of music, instrumental virtuosity, mental and intellectual depth and the looseness of personality which allows these factors to mix spontaneously in a balanced fashion.” That wish list also has parallels in real life.

I can’t teach a jazz musician what to musically “say.” But if I’m fortunate, I can teach musicians how to express what they want to say — even if it’s something I’m not a big fan of. I should have a high tolerance for “The Beauty in the Difference” of their views versus mine. That, too, has great parallels in life.

Tolerance of the differences among us is crucial to positive growth in our humanity. After the conclusion of such a bitter presidential campaign, we now approach Inauguration Day. I have witnessed many occasions when conversations took an ugly turn. “Things were fine in my neighborhood until all those DemoPublicats moved in. They’re so ignorant.” Or, “Our lives will go to hell if the DemoPublicats run the country for the next four years.” No matter which way the election turned out, I knew I was going to have some depressed friends.

But I was struck by how sweeping and intolerant the conversation was. Try substituting: “Things were fine in my neighborhood until all those Hispanics moved in. They’re so ignorant.” Or, “Our lives will go to hell if women run the country for the next four years.” When did it become more acceptable to stereotype voters than it would be to assume that all Jews have identical beliefs on issues — or that all gay people would vote the same on a given civic referendum?

I say, “The Beauty is in the Difference.” To me, there is no greater day on the political calendar than Inauguration Day, when civic powers change hands without violence — because of the close-second-greatest day of Election Day, when each individual gets to declare his or her views as the same as or different from the next person’s.

Those days may not be my preference any more than I can control the musical expression of my students — or any more than I can predict the outcome of a jazz solo I’m about to take. But each of those expressions strikes me as the individual, creative, artistic “Beauty in the Difference.” I invite you to celebrate that at every opportunity in your lives.

Musicians — artists — create because they must. Yet each person on this earth creates, differently, often beautifully, each day. As Stephen Nachmanovitch says, “The free play of creativity ... is the ability to experience life as it is.” I wish you that experience, each and every day.

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

Antonio J. García is a Professor of Music and Director of Jazz Studies at Virginia Commonwealth University, where he directs the Jazz Orchestra I; instructs Applied Jazz Trombone, Small Jazz Ensemble, Music Industry, and various jazz courses; founded a B.A. Music Business Emphasis (for which he initially served as Coordinator); and directs the Greater Richmond High School Jazz Band. An alumnus of the Eastman School of Music and of Loyola University of the South, he has received commissions for jazz, symphonic, chamber, film, and solo works—instrumental and vocal—including grants from Meet The Composer, The Commission Project, The Thelonious Monk Institute, and regional arts councils. His music has aired internationally and has been performed by such artists as Sheila Jordan, Arturo Sandoval, Jim Pugh, Denis DiBlasio, James Moody, and Nick Brignola. Composition/arrangement honors include IAJE (jazz band), ASCAP (orchestral), and Billboard Magazine (pop songwriting). His works have been published by Kjos Music, Hal Leonard, Kendor Music, Doug Beach Music, ejazzlines, Walrus, UNC Jazz Press, Three-Two Music Publications, and his own, with five recorded on CDs by Rob Parton’s JazzTech Big Band (Sea Breeze and ROPA JAZZ). His scores for independent films have screened across the U.S. and in Italy, Macedonia, Uganda, Australia, Colombia, India, Germany, Brazil, Hong Kong, Mexico, Israel, Taiwan, and the United Kingdom.

A Bach/Selmer trombone clinician, Mr. García serves as the jazz clinician for The Conn-Selmer Institute. He has freelanced as trombonist, bass trombonist, or pianist with over 70 nationally renowned artists, including Ella Fitzgerald, George Shearing, Mel Tormé, Doc Severinsen, Louie Bellson, Dave Brubeck, and Phil Collins—and has performed at the Montreux, Nice, North Sea, Pori (Finland), New Orleans, and Chicago Jazz Festivals. He has produced recordings or broadcasts of such artists as Wynton Marsalis, Jim Pugh, Dave Taylor, Susannah McCorkle, Sir Roland Hanna, and the JazzTech Big Band and is the bass trombonist on Phil Collins’ CD “A Hot Night in Paris” (Atlantic) and DVD “Phil Collins: Finally...The First Farewell Tour” (Warner Music). An avid scat-singer, he has performed vocally with jazz bands, jazz choirs, and computer-generated sounds. He is also a member of the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences (NARAS). A New Orleans native, he also performed there with such local artists as Pete Fountain, Ronnie Kole, Irma Thomas, and Al Hirt.

Mr. García is a Research Faculty member at The University of KwaZulu-Natal (Durban, South Africa) and the Associate Jazz Editor of the International Trombone Association Journal. He serves as a Network Expert (for Improvisation Materials) for the Jazz Education Network and has served as President’s Advisory Council member and Editorial Advisory Board member. His newest book, Jazz Improvisation: Practical Approaches to Grading (Meredith Music), explores avenues for creating structures that correspond to course objectives. His book Cutting the Changes: Jazz Improvisation via Key Centers (Kjos Music) offers musicians of all ages the opportunity to improvise over standard tunes using just their major scales. He is Co-Editor and Contributing Author of Teaching Jazz: A Course of Study (published by NAfME) and authored a chapter within The Jazzer’s Cookbook (published by Meredith Music). Within the International Association for Jazz Education he served as Editor of the Jazz Education Journal, President of IAJE-IL, International Co-Chair for Curriculum and for Vocal/Instrumental Integration, and Chicago Host Coordinator for the 1997 Conference. He served on the Illinois Coalition for Music Education coordinating committee, worked with the Illinois and Chicago Public Schools to develop standards for multi-cultural music education, and received a curricular grant from the Council for Basic Education. He has also served as Director of IMEA’s All-State Jazz Choir and Combo and of similar ensembles outside of Illinois. He is the recipient of the Illinois Music Educators Association’s 2001 Distinguished Service Award.

Regarding Jazz Improvisation: Practical Approaches to Grading, Darius Brubeck says, "How one grades turns out to be a contentious philosophical problem with a surprisingly wide spectrum of responses. García has produced a lucidly written, probing, analytical, and ultimately practical resource for professional jazz educators, replete with valuable ideas, advice, and copious references." Jamey Aebersold offers, "This book should be mandatory reading for all graduating music ed students." Janis Stockhouse states, "Groundbreaking. The comprehensive amount of material García has gathered from leaders in jazz education is impressive in itself. Plus, the veteran educator then presents his own synthesis of the material into a method of teaching and evaluating jazz improvisation that is fresh, practical, and inspiring!" And Dr. Ron McCurdy suggests, "This method will aid in the quality of teaching and learning of jazz improvisation worldwide."

About Cutting the Changes, saxophonist David Liebman states, “This book is perfect for the beginning to intermediate improviser who may be daunted by the multitude of chord changes found in most standard material. Here is a path through the technical chord-change jungle.” Says vocalist Sunny Wilkinson, “The concept is simple, the explanation detailed, the rewards immediate. It’s very singer-friendly.” Adds jazz-education legend Jamey Aebersold, “Tony’s wealth of jazz knowledge allows you to understand and apply his concepts without having to know a lot of theory and harmony. Cutting the Changes allows music educators to present jazz improvisation to many students who would normally be scared of trying.”

Of his jazz curricular work, Standard of Excellence states: “Antonio García has developed a series of Scope and Sequence of Instruction charts to provide a structure that will ensure academic integrity in jazz education.” Wynton Marsalis emphasizes: “Eight key categories meet the challenge of teaching what is historically an oral and aural tradition. All are important ingredients in the recipe.” The Chicago Tribune has highlighted García’s “splendid solos...virtuosity and musicianship...ingenious scoring...shrewd arrangements...exotic orchestral colors, witty riffs, and gloriously uninhibited splashes of dissonance...translucent textures and elegant voicing” and cited him as “a nationally noted jazz artist/ of the most prominent young music educators in the country.” Down Beat has recognized his “knowing solo work on trombone” and “first-class writing of special interest.” The Jazz Report has written about the “talented trombonist,” and Cadence noted his “hauntingly lovely” composing as well as CD production “recommended without any qualifications whatsoever.” Phil Collins has said simply, “He can be in my band whenever he wants.” García is also the subject of an extensive interview within Bonanza: Insights and Wisdom from Professional Jazz Trombonists (Advance Music), profiled along with such artists as Bill Watrous, Mike Davis, Bill Reichenbach, Wayne Andre, John Fedchock, Conrad Herwig, Steve Turre, Jim Pugh, and Ed Neumeister.

The Secretary of the Board of The Midwest Clinic, Mr. García has adjudicated festivals and presented clinics in Canada, Europe, Australia, The Middle East, and South Africa, including creativity workshops for Motorola, Inc.’s international management executives. The partnership he created between VCU Jazz and the Centre for Jazz and Popular Music at the University of KwaZulu-Natal merited the 2013 VCU Community Engagement Award for Research. He has served as adjudicator for the International Trombone Association’s Frank Rosolino, Carl Fontana, and Rath Jazz Trombone Scholarship competitions and the Kai Winding Jazz Trombone Ensemble competition and has been asked to serve on Arts Midwest’s “Midwest Jazz Masters” panel and the Virginia Commission for the Arts “Artist Fellowship in Music Composition” panel. He has been repeatedly published in Down Beat; JAZZed; Jazz Improv; Music, Inc.; The International Musician; The Instrumentalist; and the journals of NAfME, IAJE, ITA, American Orff-Schulwerk Association, Percussive Arts Society, Arts Midwest, Illinois Music Educators Association, and Illinois Association of School Boards. Previous to VCU, he served as Associate Professor and Coordinator of Combos at Northwestern University, where he taught jazz and integrated arts, was Jazz Coordinator for the National High School Music Institute, and for four years directed the Vocal Jazz Ensemble. Formerly the Coordinator of Jazz Studies at Northern Illinois University, he was selected by students and faculty there as the recipient of a 1992 “Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching” award and nominated as its candidate for 1992 CASE “U.S. Professor of the Year” (one of 434 nationwide). He was recipient of the VCU School of the Arts’ 2015 Faculty Award of Excellence for his teaching, research, and service. Visit his web site at <>.

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