Playin’ Around With Playbook: Bethany Robinson
Hey everyone! Tristatesax here with the latest Playin’ Around with Playbook, an IGTV series where Sammy and I interview educators, performers, and artists on their life experiences and knowledge. This past week, I spoke with educator and bassist Bethany Robinson.
Bethany Robinson began teaching music in 2005 at Noblesville Schools and currently serves as the Jazz Band Director and Assistant Band Director. She is Chair-Elect for the NAfME Jazz Council and President of the Indiana Jazz Educators Association. Robinson was named 2014 Indiana Jazz Educator of the Year, 2015 Noblesville Teacher of the Year, and was a 2016 Indiana Teacher of the Year Semi-Finalist. She is a 2-time Lilly Teacher Creativity Fellow, receiving grants to study jazz and culture in both the US (2011) and Brazil (2019). Each spring, Bethany helps to lead the Indiana Jazz Girls Day Event, hosting workshops and side-by-side concerts for students around the state of Indiana alongside professional musicians to elevate leaders through jazz. Bethany is a Finalist for the 2022 Grammy Music Educator Award and was a keynote speaker for the 2021 Australia National Band and Orchestra Conference in September. She spends her time outside the classroom playing upright and electric bass in the Indianapolis area.
Bethany is a source of inspiration and knowledge for jazz educators and bassists, and we are so glad we got to speak with her this past week. See below for an excerpt from our conversation.
Below is an excerpt from our conversation on November 18, 2021. Click here to view the full interview.
TRISTA FORD: I know your band has made an appearance at the ISSMA jazz state finals, and that Noblesville Jazz was named a Jazz at Lincoln Center Essentially Ellington finalist. What was your approach to developing your jazz band and teaching jazz to your students?
BETHANY ROBINSON: Well it’s interesting because when I came out of school, I loved jazz band but I had a classical bass background. What I loved the most in high school was playing bass in a big band. When I got my first band directing job, I was really hoping I’d get a jazz band. It took a few years, but I was given a jazz band. Even though I had really high hopes for how well I would teach and how well they would play, I wasn’t great at teaching when I was first starting. It was definitely trial and error. I would give them charts that were way too hard, and then kind of realize: where are these students actually starting from? I was trying to give them something they would actually enjoy, and then have great performances. I had to go down to almost pep band charts and work through that.
TF: Something we talk a lot about here at Playbook is that not many educators are taught jazz in their undergraduate studies. How did you go about learning that?
BR: It was a lot of trial and definitely error. I loved playing the bass but I left my undergrad not knowing what a real book was or a jazz standard. I had gotten called back from my high school, to help in their director’s combo. I asked what the tunes were, so I’ll prepare the tunes. I looked at the program and I asked who is your bass player for the proband tonight? They were like… you are. I was like oh yeah no. I instantly knew that it was going to be the biggest disaster of my life and I was 100% correct. I wasn’t in the jazz world… I didn’t know. At the end, I was thinking about what field I was going to chuck my bass in. But after the show, the great Kenny Phelps took me aside and said: “find some people to play with, you would be great.” It was that encouragement that made me think I could start this new journey and start playing jazz.
SAMMY MILLER: Can I ask about that idea of always being a student as an educator, and being humble? Were there educators that you had that sort of instilled that mentality in you?
BR: I feel like the best educators that I was watching and seeing were always either at conferences, sitting and taking notes, or listening to what was happening. Or they were inviting other students in and like mentoring. For me, I saw so much mentoring going on, that I thought wow the best people that I look up to are interested in coming alongside people. Not just being great and not sharing that.
TF: Why do you think that platforms like Playbook are so important in today’s classroom?
BR: I’ve been kind of looking in and seeing what’s going on. I’m just at the beginning of figuring out all of the things you guys offer. I love the idea that the more people that you are connecting with through the platform, the more you are building this community. I think one of the most powerful things musicians and educators can feel is that they are not alone. Having that idea that you are not doing it alone and having that connection is what keeps everyone going. You always have a resource to reach out to, whether it’s people or platforms like playbook jazz, and that’s why I think your platform is so powerful.