Higgledy Piggledy Jazz is the brainchild of teacher and composer Elena Cobb (http://www.elenacobb.com/index.html), who is on a dual mission to introduce more Jazz into children’s learning, and make it fun at the same time. As well as her books for Piano, Elena also has versions for guitar and alto sax students, and it’s the Classical Guitar Ensemble book I am reviewing today.
Ten of Elena’s Piano pieces have been arranged for a combination of duo, trio and quartets and set in order of technical complexity. The scores are clear and easy to read, with each part clearly marked*. The first few pieces in the book are variation on Blues in C and very simplistic. The main melody is one Jazz lick repeated and varied for the chord underneath. The accompanying parts are equally repetitive, and any player beyond the initial stages will quickly bore of it. My suggestion to teachers would be to rotate the lead between players, provided all of them were at the same technical level.
On the plus side, as the book progresses there are some interesting musical ideas, and the three guitar players Elena has called in to arrange these pieces have done a good job here. I really feel the intermediate pieces work better. My personal favourite is ‘Polka Butterfly’, a charismatic duo which would stretches students into a new style. As mentioned before the page layout is clean and easy to read, and I love Elena’s mission to introduce classical players to the swing rhythm, something not widely present in the classical guitar repertoire.
My one suggestion would be to include a page at the front to explain notation and guitar-specific symbols (such as the fingering labels and guides for which string to play certain notes on). I appreciate that this book is primarily for teachers, who would provide the guidance on these things to young students, but it would serve as a useful look-up reference page when practicing at home.
All in all, this is a useful book for teachers who are looking to encourage their emerging classical guitar students into exploring new styles and more contemporary ways of playing. It is also a valuable tool for young ensembles. One of classical guitar’s downfalls is that so often it is a solo venture; it’s uplifting to know that Elena is working to ensure young students of the guitar do not feel that isolation, and her book will go a long way towards that end. Highly recommended for any classical crossover teachers of children.
[*N.B. – There is also a Tabluture version of this book, for children who are still coming to grips with reading music]