Prof’s book reimagines jazz education

Piano and flute with sheet music

One of the defining elements of jazz music is improvisation, when musicians spontaneously create new melodies as they play. It is a skill that comes naturally to some and requires years of practise for others. In an effort to help budding musicians develop that ability and more, Ron Westray, a professor in York University’s Department of Music and the Oscar Peterson Chair in Jazz Performance, has published a new book called Jazz Theory: Contemporary Improvisation, Transcription, and Composition (Anthem Press, 2024).

Ron Westray
Ron Westray

Highlighting the importance of an organized teaching method, Westray’s book outlines the obstacles and misunderstandings in jazz education and covers a wide range of theoretical topics to help prepare students of all abilities and learning styles for effective improvisation, composition and transcription (writing down music after it is played). 

“The incorporation of diverse tools and methods, like transcribing and analyzing chords and scales, illustrates a dedication to historical comprehension and real-world use,” explains Westray, who was a member of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra in New York City before embarking on his career in academia. “This approach enables students to expedite their learning process and attain a thorough grasp of the topic.”

The stylistic considerations of jazz improvisation and composition, he says, require an extensive and working knowledge of jazz theory, which is why this book is an essential resource for both music students and teachers alike.

“My aim,” says Westray, “is to elucidate the fundamental principles that shape auditory perception and musical creativity.”

In the process, he hopes to help a whole new generation of jazz educators and musicians.

The book, released on Feb. 6, is now available for purchase at Indigo, on Amazon and other places books are sold.