Fulbright to Teach Jazz Improvisation

July 30, 2021
Dave Meder with keyboard

By Heather Noel

Improvisation, or the act of composing melodies in real time, is the cornerstone of jazz. The most celebrated jazz musicians are praised for the way they can “converse” fluently with their fellow bandmembers through the music.

But the teaching of jazz improvisation is at a crossroads, according to Dave Meder, assistant professor of jazz piano in the UNT College of Music.

“Jazz academia as a whole has bought into a method of teaching improvisation that has certainly been helpful to the proliferation of the art form, but has not always been grounded in the true spirit of the music,” says Meder, who coordinates the improvisation curriculum for UNT’s undergraduate jazz studies majors.

Meder, an award-winning jazz pianist and composer, also studies and teaches the development of jazz improvisation methodologies in his graduate pedagogy seminar. While the plethora of academic books written about the subject over the last few decades have played a beneficial role in college music classrooms, he believes it’s about time teaching the core skill of jazz reclaims more of its roots.

As a recipient of a Fulbright Visual and Performing Arts Award, Meder will travel to Egypt next spring to explore and refine his own teaching methodology of improvisation with students at the Cairo Conservatoire. 

“I’ll use a method that’s more natural, approaching the music in the way it was originally learned, which is as a folkloric, aural art passed from generation to generation,” Meder says. “The students will be taught how to speak the music as a language rather than going through a book and learning these theoretical constructs about improvising.”

Meder has traveled around the world performing and teaching, but this will be his first trip to Egypt. 

“I’m really excited to be going at a time when there’s some budding interest in jazz. I’m looking forward to connecting with local musicians and taking part in the local jazz scene however I can,” Meder says.

Meder’s accomplishments include the ASCAP Young Jazz Composers Award, second prize for his song “This Road” in the International Songwriting Competition, winner of the Jacksonville Jazz Piano Competition and recipient of the First Music Commission of the New York Youth Symphony. 

His performances have headlined stages such as Jazz at Lincoln Center, Smalls Jazz Club and the Kennedy Center. Internationally, he has performed at Beijing Normal University’s International Music Festival and the Tokyo Jazz Festival, among others. In 2019, Meder was invited to join the esteemed group of Yamaha Artists. His forthcoming second album, Unamuno Songs and Stories, will explore the writings of Spanish Civil War-era philosopher Miguel de Unamuno. 

The Fulbright Program was established in 1946 by Senator J. William Fulbright to increase the mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries through international educational exchange programs. The Fulbright Program is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. Since 1963, more than 80 UNT faculty members have earned awards through the Fulbright Program.