Playin’ Around With Playbook: Director of Education, “Tall Sam”

Hey everyone! This week I had the opportunity to talk to the great and very grand “Tall Sam.” Sam Crittenden is the Director Of Education here at Playbook and is essential to the operation. 

Born amid the cornfields of Northern Illinois, “Tall Sam” shucked his agricultural roots for the allure of the trombone at age ten. After graduating from the University of Michigan in 2012, he continued east to New York City. He has consistently spent much of his life on the road and currently tours with Sammy Miller and The Congregation. “Tall Sam” has worked with the Jazz at Lincoln Center education programs “Jazz For Young People” and “Webop” in NYC and is as passionate about teaching as he is performing. He has worked with students throughout the U.S. and has penned several charts for Middle School and High School Big Band

With a passion for trombone, composing, and education, Sam is incredibly knowledgeable and eager to share his passion with students.

Below is an excerpt from our conversation on December 2nd, 2021. Click here to view the full interview. 




TRISTA FORD: As both a composer and trombonist, who and what inspires you the most would you say? 

TALL SAM: I would say my friends, all of my friends. All of the wonderful musicians I get to play with. That is really true in a lot of ways. I’m really lucky to play with a lot of amazing musicians and so a lot of where my ideas come from and the arrangements for Playbook are stuff that has been played in the small group for Sammy and the congregation. Some of it from something else that I heard. When I listen to music in general, the thing that really grabs me in general and makes me really go like I wanna listen to this, again and again, is: certain songs have this sizzle, this unstoppable drive. Right when I hear that, I’m like I wanna put that into the music that I write and give other people that same feeling. 

TF: In terms of structuring Playbook to make it accessible and easy for students to understand, how did you go about that?

TS: I think that when we are teaching when we are learning, or talking about jazz music in any kind of way. It’s so deep in improvisation, it’s so deep in these technical concepts, and it can be very physically complicated. It can be very easy to forget that all that we are doing whenever we are making music, is just being with the people who we are creating with, and creating something fun for us to play, and fun for people to listen to. So everything that we create on Playbook 1) is designed to give you the tools to learn, practice, and gain a new skill. But also, to feel like you’re creating at the same time, and feel like you’re part of this act of having fun, and being with other people. That’s what Playbook is all about. 

TF: What are some of your mantras for when you’re feeling low? 

TS: Uh,  go get another cup of coffee is the first mantra I have. I think there’s not a mantra per se. I personally get really caught up in this forward-moving thing. I can get frustrated, feel like I have to tackle every problem right away, and just keep going. When you’re on the road, you’re just really going for sixteen hours a day. When I’m trying to learn something, like some tunes for these weddings, it’s really easy to get frustrated, and you feel like if you just press harder, it gets better. I would say just take a breath, take another breath and chill out. It’s going to be okay. Just that act of breathing. I really like meditating when I’m on the road. Just take a few breaths and allow your brain to have a break. That’s true whether you’re on the road or teaching, anything. 

TF: How did you go about making Playbook unique and why are these programs so important in today’s classroom? 

TS: Well, there are a couple of things that make it unique. First of all, the color scheme, which makes it fun. So we start from a place of fun, but a couple of features on the site are pretty unique. You know, the flex player that we have… allows you to mute your own part, it allows you to mute anybody else’s part. I know that I did a video for you yesterday, where I was muting someone else’s solo; Ben Flocks’ solo instead of taking my own solo on the song. We can have that creative freedom, and you feel like you’re creating something every day. It makes practicing way more fun and makes practice more evolved.


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