1. Call & Response Exercises
Groups of useful jazz patterns sequentially organized into call & response exercises develop multiple skills at the same time, including stylistic sensitivity, ear training, ear-to-hand coordination, and muscle memory of the patterns. To be most useful, each pattern should be repeated several times, since a single hearing is not enough for most students to get it right.
2. Play-Along Tracks
Jamey Aebersold certainly has the right idea. Jazz students MUST have a rhythm section to practice with. Even better are play-along tracks with full Big Band backups - these make you feel like you are standing in front of the whole band on stage. Fun!
3. Transcribing Exercises
Every jazz improv teacher says, "You must transcribe solos!" However, finding developmentally-appropriate solos can be an exhaustive challenge. A good improv method should provide you with multiple, appropriate solos on each instrument so students can use their time to actually transcribe solos instead of wasting time trying to find them.
4. Step-by-Step Introduction of Skills and Concepts
Most jazz improvisation methods go too fast, and do not provide enough meaningful details for the average beginner. They introduce too many different scales and music theory concepts, rather than taking a student step-by-step towards mastery of the essential concepts and skills. A good method, like a good mathematics textbook, should move slowly and have a lot of review. Both teachers and textbooks should not expect beginners to move from basic arithmetic to calculus in one year!
5. Rhythm Section Development
The roles of rhythm section players are so intertwined with jazz in general, that any jazz or improvisation method should address the basic concepts and skills needed for good style and comping within the rhythm section. Gladly, most methods I reviewed do attempt to address rhythm section needs, but they all leave out such essentials as improvising a walking bass line and finding nearby voicings of different chords.
6. Sample Solos on All Standard Jazz Instruments
Every method I reviewed has at least one sample improvised solo for listening and transcribing, but none have samples of solos on all standard jazz instruments. The piano really is a different animal than saxophone, which is very different from trombone. How about the bass, and the drums?
7. Use of Guide Tones to Frame Solos
The concept of guide tones has been around for decades, and is a very powerful tool for helping you build a melodic, harmonically pleasing solo. However, first-time students need much more help with guide tones than just learning "what" they are.
8. Performance Songs
Because our rehearsal time is very limited, it really helps to have performance songs integrated into a jazz improv method book. However, among all of the books that have integrated songs, I feel that not a single one has songs that are worth performing at a festival. Sure they are okay for a school concert, but I want songs that are meaty and genuinely great standing in their own merits.
9. Specific Attention to Soloing Over Chord Changes
The goal should not just be getting kids willing to improvise, it should be getting them soloing intelligently over chord changes. Both knowledge and muscle memory are essential for this to happen, and a good improv method should develop both of these specifically.
10. Language and Exercises that Work in a Large Mixed-Instrument Class
Doesn't the transposition problem just throw water on so many if our educational fires? It is hard enough to teach improvisation in a private studio to one student at a time. Then we have a large class with 3 different keys and 2 different clefs and 7 totally different instruments. Can it be done?
After over half a century of jazz education and 16 years of my own efforts to teach improvisation in my jazz ensembles, isn't it time someone creates a good classroom jazz improvisation method? Yes, it is! Improv Pathways is the method! It is complete, concise, and most importantly created by a junior high band teacher through years of experimentation and testing with actual kids in large classes. It is fun, simple, and extremely effective.