Jazz Workshop Music instructor, Paul Pieper, has built a space to harbor the soulful music while helping aspiring musicians find their groove through improvisation. –Michael Balderston
It has been said that jazz is America’s only true art form. Ever since its emergence in New Orleans around the turn of the 20th century, there has been an alluring quality to jazz that makes it stand out. It is that quality that musician Paul Pieper seeks to instill in his members at The Jazz Workshop in Vienna.
A D.C.-area native, Pieper started The Jazz Workshop in the summer of 2007 and has since seen it grow to 75 passionate jazz musicians of varying skill level. Doctors, lawyers, and geophysicists makeup the regulars, but a good many have played instruments at some point in their lives, though that is not a requirement.
“I actually enjoy working with beginners more than anything because I feel like they need that push to get going and need an environment that is friendly and supportive to get started,” says Pieper. “I enjoy helping people understand that jazz is not as complicated as it seems, and not as difficult as it seems. It’s a lot like speaking … helping people understand the parallels between language and music perhaps can help people get started.”
Most notably, Pieper believes in teaching his members the importance of improvisation in jazz.
“Jazz is a music that celebrates improvisation more than any other,” he says. “It’s really the heart of jazz. It offers its practitioners sort of an unusual amount of freedom.” However, Pieper says “it’s equally important to understand the structure and the rules, if you will, in order to really achieve the maximum freedom. Helping people understand that balance, helping people understand the rules and conventions around jazz performance is a lot of what I do here in the workshop.”
Workshop members John DeDakis, John Cox and Mary Ann Brundage are starting to find their groove. And they are happy that there is a place that allows them the “vital contact with other people” to grow as jazz musicians.
“I can play and fail, and it’s all right,” says DeDakis, an author who plays the drums.
Pieper hopes to continue to expand his workshop with clinics, retreats and hopes for a new space that could recreate the classical café backdrop for which jazz is famous. But most importantly, he hopes to keep America’s art form alive and well just outside of our nation’s capital.