It Don’t Mean A Thing, If It Ain’t Got That Swing: Overcoming stylistic challenges in cross-over repertoire through self-reflective learning and critical listening (2019)


Cross-over works in modern saxophone repertoire – i.e. works in which jazz and classical music conventions are fused – present a range of interpretive challenges for undergraduate saxophone students. These challenges are exacerbated by the current structure of many tertiary music programs in which the development of jazz and classical performance skills take place in parallel lanes and in which student skills in self-directed investigation and the entertainment of unfamiliar stylistic skills are not scaffolded. This study identifies the interpretive challenges associated with performing cross-over repertoire, examines the studio practices of seven master saxophone pedagogues who have successfully worked with undergraduate students in the development of cross-over works and puts forth a template for enhancing these studio practices through the incorporation of critical listening and self-reflection strategies that have been linked in a spectrum of music education studies with student empowerment and self-directed learning. The findings of this study indicate that while successful saxophone pedagogues often find ways of working around institutional deficiencies when “skilling up” students, student initiative plays a large role in determining the successful realization of cross-over repertoire. The two potential models of studio pedagogy put forth at the end of this thesis aim to demonstrate how developing student initiative might feature more prominently in the context of one-to-one teaching. 

Link to dissertation:

Blowing Zen: non-Western influence on the scores and performance of contemporary saxophone repertoire (2010).


The saxophone has long been viewed a musical outcast, its Dionysian qualities heralded as its most important yet simultaneously most exclusionary characteristics. In no area has this nonconformist nature been more enthusiastically embraced than in saxophone works requiring the performer to operate from a performance practice idiom outside Western art music. Occasionally, these works require the performer to mask the saxophone as another instrument and implement stylistically appropriate effects throughout. More often, the works are based in a philosophy distinct from Western conceptions of music, requiring the performer to ‘invent’ music or apply tools of indeterminacy. In either case, it is the performer’s choices, informed by both previous experience and personality that shine through when these works are played. Such compositional design places high demands on the individual and emphasizes plurality over standardization in interpretation.  

This thesis surveys non-Western influence in avant-garde saxophone works in two sections. The first discusses indeterminacy in the experimental music of John Cage as an outgrowth of Eastern philosophies put forth in the I Ching and its related manifestations in contemporary saxophone music. The second discusses the presence of Zen Buddhism in performance practices of the Japanese shakuhachi, aligning this concept with Ryo Noda’s early saxophone works Improvisation I (1974) and Murasaki No Fuchi I (1981). This background provides the context for analyzing performances of the works Hard (1988) by Christian Lauba, Mai (1975) by Ryo Noda and Fuzzy Bird Sonata (1990) by Takashi Yoshimatsu. An impetus on diversity of performance is found to be inherent in the compositional design of these works and acceptance of such plurality is seen in reviews of disparate performances. Future research regarding non-Western compositional influence on the integration of audio technology into saxophone composition is then put forth as a further step in this line of inquiry.

Copies of this thesis can be found on Australian & New Zealand Music Research.