[Dixielandjazz] Jazz is Alive and Well - In the Classroom Anyway

Steve Barbone barbonestreet at earthlink.net
Sun Jan 7 05:52:14 PST 2007

Reminds me that when I went to school 60 years ago, there were NO JAZZ
CLASSES. ZERO-NADA. In fact, among the band classes, etc., jazz was still
viewed as 'illegitimate noise" and jazz musicians were seen as the scum of
the musical world.

Steve Barbone

Jazz Is Alive and Well. In the Classroom, Anyway.

A student ensemble in concert at the New School in New York last month. Jazz
in performance is withering, but jazz education is booming at both the high
school and college levels.

NY TIMES - By NATE CHINEN - January 7, 2007

IF you happen to stop by the Hilton New York or Sheraton New York during the
latter half of this week, you¹ll be about as close as possible to the global
epicenter of jazz. That¹s because both hotels are playing host to the 34th
annual conference of the International Association for Jazz Education, which
is expected to attract more than 8,000 registered attendees from 45
countries: students and teachers, promoters and producers, and musicians of
every tier of accomplishment.

The New School¹s student jazz orchestra, led by the trumpeter Charles
Tolliver, in concert at the school last month.
Gordon Goodwin¹s Big Phat Band at a Los Angeles club last month. Mr.
Goodwin¹s makes his arrangements available to high school band directors.

Wandering the overcrowded ballroom levels of either hotel, or through a
75,000-square-foot expo hall, you might draw a simple conclusion: Jazz is
booming. And you would be right, in one sense. ³I don¹t have empirical
data,² said Bill McFarlin, the executive director of the association, ³but I
would have to guess that the jazz education industry has quadrupled in the
last 20 years.² 

Yet the conference also offers workshops like ³Jazz Radio in Crisis: Why
That¹s a Good Thing.² The panic in that title, and the strained attempt at
reassurance, are emblematic: while jazz education is thriving, the business
of jazz itself, as measured by things like market share and album sales, has
been in a tailspin.

Fifty years ago those fortunes were reversed. Jazz, like any folk music, was
imparted from mentor to pupil, or forged through trial and error. For many
of those making it, the most valuable lessons came not in the classroom but
on the bandstand. That was true even of artists who received some higher
education, like Miles Davis, who matriculated (but did not linger) at
Juilliard. The music¹s instructional methods were rigorous but not yet

Today¹s aspiring player has a choice of school programs, method and theory
books, videos and transcriptions. ³I can recall back in the early ¹60s, when
it was sort of taboo for jazz to be presented in the classroom,² said Greg
Carroll, the jazz education association¹s director of education. ³Now it¹s
unusual if a music program does not have a jazz program embedded within it.²
This profusion of information may be a mixed blessing. ³You can learn every
Coltrane solo there is without ever listening to a record,² the saxophonist
Bill Pierce said recently in his office at the Berklee College of Music,
where he is the chairman of the woodwind department. ³I¹m not saying that¹s
a good thing. But it¹s there. The musicianship, on a purely technical level,
is accessible to anyone who wants to pursue it.²

With its clinics, performances, ceremonies and panels, the conference is
where the disconnect between jazz education and the performance and business
of jazz comes into starkest relief. Still, the event illuminates how
profoundly jazz education has come to influence the aesthetics and mechanics
of the music. Though separate, the two worlds are symbiotic, and the big
question is this: How can one be so anemic when the other is so robust?

If the mass commercialization of jazz instruction has a decisive moment, it
would probably be the arrival in 1967 of a play-along album and guidebook
called ³How to Play Jazz and Improvise.² The recording featured a rhythm
section only, leaving room for anyone to fill in the blanks. Though not the
first effort of its kind ‹ a company called Music Minus One was already in
business ‹ it was quickly the most successful, and influential.

Jamey Aebersold, the man behind ³How to Play Jazz,² was no stranger to
formal study, having received a master¹s degree in saxophone from Indiana
University, one of the few colleges in the country with a jazz department at
the time. He originally conceived of his target audience as hobbyists
playing at home.

³Until I got up to about Volume 25 or so, I wasn¹t thinking this was going
to be a foundation for jazz education,² Mr. Aebersold said recently from his
home in Indiana. But he acknowledged that the Aebersolds, as his play-along
kits are now widely known, have become a regular part of jazz¹s training
arc. ³If they haven¹t heard of me, they¹re probably not doing jazz,² he
said, sounding not boastful but matter-of-fact. The series is now up to
Volume 118.

High school students especially take advantage of play-along materials; for
most young players it¹s the best option they have. That¹s partly because
improvisation is not the focus of their training, even among the increasing
number of secondary schools with serious jazz programs. For hands-on solo
training, many students turn instead to extracurricular experiences like the
Jamey Aebersold Summer Jazz Workshop or the Stanford Jazz Workshop, which
have both been around for more than 30 years.

Big bands, relatively rare on the performance circuit, are still the focus
of high school jazz education. This explains the continuing success of Jazz
at Lincoln Center¹s Essentially Ellington High School Jazz Band Competition.
And it explains the unusual prominence of Gordon Goodwin¹s Big Phat Band,
whose leader makes his original charts available to band directors.

³We¹re like rock stars to these kids,² said Mr. Goodwin, who in the grown-up
jazz world is known mainly as an accomplished studio professional. ³It¹s
kind of a crackup.² At the jazz education conference, he will be promoting
the first Big Phat Summer Camp, which won¹t have enough openings to meet the

So far the legions of high school band students haven¹t produced armies of
jazz consumers. That¹s partly a standard retention problem; consider how
many drama club members actually go on to become avid theatergoers. And not
every member of a high school jazz ensemble is a true jazz fan to begin
with. ³When you look at the choices high school students have in general
music education today,² Mr. Carroll said, ³the menu doesn¹t read,
ŒClassical, Jazz, Hip-Hop, Rock.¹ You mainly see classical music and jazz. I
think one reason jazz is so popular in schools today is that it¹s the
closest style of music to what they listen to outside the school arena.²

On the other hand record sales may be a flawed measure of jazz¹s popularity.
More and more jazz albums these days are self-produced or released on
independent or European labels. Those albums ‹ many sold in person, at
concerts and clinics ‹ can slip under the radar of Nielsen SoundScan or the
Recording Industry Association of America, which have reported a downward
turn in jazz sales even worse than the general decline. There are almost
certainly more jazz consumers than the data indicate.

Stroll through the closed environment of the conference, and the statistics
come to seem irrelevant. The students in attendance make it almost
impossible to get inside the door of some major ballroom performances. They
pack many instrumental clinics as well, hanging on to every word. One gets a
strong sense that jazz is something they¹ll find a way to support, if not

At the higher levels the infrastructure for training professional jazz
musicians is clearly working. Every year there are more supremely skilled
players with university degrees and strong, sophisticated ideas. For almost
every prominent under-40 artist, you could name an affiliated program, from
the pianist Brad Mehldau (the New School) to the saxophonist Miguel Zenón
(Berklee). For musicians now in their 20s the ratio is even more extreme. By
most measures the age of the autodidact is over.

When that trend started in the 1970s and ¹80s, a common complaint arose: too
many musicians sounded as if they were hatched in a practice room. The
problem with institutionalized jazz education, the argument went, was that
it fostered bland homogenization and oblivious self-absorption. And the idea
held at least a kernel of truth.

³It was the Me Generation,² said the trombonist and Berklee educator Hal
Crook, characterizing a succession of students obsessed with running
harmonic gantlets and indulging in empty feats of technique. ³Now it¹s more
of an Us thing, where the focus is on more interaction, communication on the
bandstand, continuity in the solos. Audiences have fallen away from jazz in
the past because it¹s gotten away from that.²

At Berklee, in Boston, one recent Friday Mr. Crook led a student ensemble in
a classroom session that felt a lot like a rehearsal. The students got a
piece of music and a conceptual objective, and Mr. Crook guided them through
it, stopping now and then to issue a pithy critique. For the most part his
comments had more to do with the collective concentration of the ensemble
than the particulars of any single player.

Mr. Crook was basically behaving more like a mentor than a professor,
filling a niche of jazz instruction once upheld by bandleaders like Art
Blakey and Betty Carter. And in that regard, he is not alone. ³The
apprenticeship model doesn¹t exist in the way that it once did,² said Mr.
Pierce of Berklee, a Blakey alumnus. ³So it¹s being incubated in

The august New England Conservatory is part of that movement, and so is the
five-year-old Juilliard Institute for Jazz Studies, which benefits from a
partnership with Jazz at Lincoln Center. At the University of Southern
California, the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz Performance admits only
enough students to populate a small combo, which is advised by that
program¹s artistic director, the trumpeter Terence Blanchard. And the New
School for Jazz and Contemporary Music, which has a network of hundreds of
private lesson instructors, consciously upholds what its executive director,
Martin Mueller, recently described as a ³tradition of the practitioner as

It¹s no wonder that the most serious high school musicians pay close
attention to the faculty at college music programs. ³That¹s my highest
priority, who¹s the faculty there,² the pianist Zachary Clarke, a senior at
the High School for the Performing and Visual Arts in Houston, said in the
school library on a recent afternoon.

Because of their talent and their training, students at that school rank
among the nation¹s elite young players. ³I¹d like to be signed to Blue
Note,² said the guitarist William Donovan, another senior, when prompted for
a blue-sky aspiration. ³I know I have more of a chance of getting
electrocuted by lightning,² he quickly added. One week earlier Mr. Donovan
had seen a clinic by the pianist Robert Glasper, a graduate of the school
and a recent addition to the Blue Note roster. Another alumnus, the pianist
Jason Moran, has recorded seven albums for the label.

Mr. Donovan was not far off the mark, but an increasing number of bright
young musicians are preparing to defy the odds.

³There¹s an interesting phenomenon happening,² said Roger H. Brown, the
president of Berklee, ³which is that some of our hottest players are
majoring in music business, or production and engineering. They believe they
are going to have good careers, though they¹re entering a world where
there¹s no superstructure to take care of your needs.²

The place where musicians find increasing opportunities, not surprisingly,
is within educational institutions, which often means a better quality of
instruction. Accomplished musicians like the pianist Kenny Barron and the
saxophonist David Liebman (both faculty members at the Manhattan School of
Music) have gracefully balanced education and performance. At Jazz at
Lincoln Center, Wynton Marsalis is a teacher as well as a player, sometimes
even in the context of his own band.

And the instructional efforts of working jazz musicians, through the model
established by Mr. Aebersold, can have a positive impact well beyond the
academy. ³I¹ve got about eight books out on jazz education, and they¹re all
doing great,² Mr. Crook said. ³They¹re doing better than I¹m doing,² he
added, laughing.

What remains to be seen is whether the rise of jazz education can cultivate
new audiences for the music. Some institutions, notably Jazz at Lincoln
Center, are not taking any chances; the organization¹s education department
encompasses an ambitious array of jazz-appreciation initiatives, starting at
the preschool level.

N.E.A. Jazz in the Schools, an outreach administered by the National
Endowment for the Arts and produced by Jazz at Lincoln Center, reached an
estimated four million students last year. ³This could be an enormously
powerful force in terms of audience development,² the endowment¹s chairman,
Dana Gioia, said of the program, a Web-based high school curriculum designed
to run as a weeklong lesson during Black History Month. ³The training of
musicians is only one half of the necessary support for a thriving jazz

Of course, exposure to jazz doesn¹t ensure an embrace of it; the biggest
onus is on the artists who maintain the state of the art. ³We have
incredibly talented young folks out here now, but they have to create a
market for themselves,² said the saxophonist Jimmy Heath, who retired from
full-time teaching at Queens College not quite a decade ago and was named an
N.E.A. Jazz Master in 2003.

However counterintuitive it sounds, local action may be the best hope for
the revitalization of the music¹s audience. Thanks to these educational
programs, jazz now exists in college towns and isolated high schools where
no club scene has ever thrived. The implosion of the monolithic music
industry has little effect on that network. In that sense, jazz has a shot
at becoming a folk music again.

³What I¹m hoping for the future of the music,² Mr. Pierce said, ³is that the
students who come to these schools go back to their communities, create
their own scenes and develop their own audiences so the music can come back
to some level, as it maybe once was. When you multiply all these individuals
and all these institutions, maybe that can happen.²

It may already have started. ³These kids coming out of high school are more
advanced than they ever were before,² said Mr. Crook, ³and it¹s because of
the people teaching them, graduates of programs like this one. They¹re
bringing it back to the culture.²

In that sense, the International Association for Jazz Education conference
might be understood not as a collision of worlds but as a gathering of the
tribes. And the most important thing that happens there isn¹t a clinic or
show or ceremony, or a negotiation on the expo floor. It¹s what happens
after, when the various jazz constituencies pack up their stuff and head

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