Secrets for a Successful Masterclass

with Teodross Avery

Interview conducted by John R. Hylkema

You seem to have really honed your craft in regard to giving a masterclass. Have you identified any keys to success? 

Teodross Avery: The first and most important key is to know the material that you’re presenting thoroughly. Don’t just skim through the research. There’s always someone who REALLY knows a lot about the material that you’re presenting. They might not even be a musician. What I’ve found is that there’s a group of people who are musicians and there’s also a group of people that are connoisseurs of music. They just study for the purpose of acquiring knowledge. So, reading, watching and listening to videos of performances, analyzing transcriptions, and interviewing people who are related to the subject is very important as well. This approach will show that you really know an area of music versus skimming thru that area of study much like Wikipedia does. That’s a No-No. Your research should never end there.  

Could you speak to the logistics of arranging so many masterclass appearances? How do you do it? 

It helps to know various directors of Jazz Studies programs. They need to feel that they can trust you to present successfully. It’s really just like getting the opportunity to perform at a club or a Jazz festival. Someone needs to know you and be intrigued with the music/subject that you’ve chosen to present. They need to know that you can pull it off with precision and that you know what you’re talking about. Once you’ve gained their trust, it’s about scheduling the presentation. After you’ve been confirmed to give the masterclass or presentation, the logistics are the same as when you book a regular gig. You have to coordinate the air travel & hotel, make sure the technology requirements of the institution meet your needs, and finally, book the right band members.

What sort of preparation goes into each master class?  

My Multimedia presentation has three components:

1: My written words.

2: The Powerpoint slides which include pictures, mp3’s, and video footage.

3: A Jazz trio who performs various songs which are directly related to the presentation.

All of these components have to be studied well so that there is no hesitation when they are brought together as one. I practice every step as if it’s a TV production. Also, I have to pick the right band members who know how to be quiet and supportive while I’m speaking but who can TURN ON THE HEAT when it’s time to play. Most musicians don’t like to be silent with little or no movement in front of an audience. They want to play like they’re at a club! Luckily, I use musicians who can do both. So, choosing the right cats is essential.  

Recently, you’ve given masterclasses all around the world on Coltrane’s music. Could you please tell us more about those experiences?  

One of the biggest surprises that I learned is that non-musicians can understand the same material as Phd’s when the subject is described both with layman’s terms and with intellectual music jargon. I gave a presentation at the National Jazz Museum in Harlem and the majority of the listeners were people that liked Coltrane’s music but, for example, didn’t know what a Dorian mode was. I know how to use metaphors so that the average person can understand material that is intellectually dense. This is because I never forgot my roots as a blue-collar person. And, I’m always sure to remember that regular people want to enjoy the music just as much as college-educated musicians. They need to coexist so that the music can live on thru generations. This balance is very necessary.  

What project(s) are you currently working on?

I’m at the beginning stages of writing a book and also developing a documentary. Both are related to John Coltrane. I’m currently seeking funding for both projects. I believe that people, both in and outside of academia, are waiting to see and hear new perspectives on Jazz. I think that I can offer some new perspectives.  

For bookings related to Dr. Teodross Avery’s multimedia presentation on John Coltrane and other projects, please contact him at:

John Hylkema

Growing up and living in the Western New York/Buffalo area, John R. Hylkema is currently pursuing his Bachelors of Music degree in Music Business from the Crane Institute for Music Business and Entrepreneurship at SUNY Potsdam and is anticipating graduating Magna Cum Laude at the end of this Spring, 2017. As a trumpet player since the age of 10, he is extremely excited to be the Dansr Inc. intern for the Spring of 2017, working on Vandoren and Denis Wick projects. 

John, 22, has traveled with the American Music Abroad Empire Tour band and performed concerts in Austria, Germany, Luxembourg, Switzerland, and France and has had the honor of performing taps during the D-Day memorial site’s flag lowering ceremony at Omaha Beach in Normandy, France. As a lifelong lover of the music products industry, John aspires to work for a musical instrument manufacturer designing and repairing instruments.

Watching Buffalo Bills football and Buffalo Sabres hockey games are among some of John’s favorite things to do, along with traveling, camping, and hiking. He is also a lover of dogs as well as an avid Ole Miss Rebels fan when he isn’t busy drooling over cars or anything with a motor. During the summer, John can be found boating, fishing, and kayaking. Go Bills, Sabres, and Rebels

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