Thursday, September 21, 2006

The State of Jazz Education, More or Less

“Jazz Education—for Students Only?” was the title of the Jazz Journalists Association’s panel discuss last night. (Isn’t anyone taking jazz education courses a student?) The consensus was the state of jazz education is strong, but not really.

Evidently, there are 160 collegiate level jazz programs now accredited in America, which certainly suggests something is bubbling under the surface. Many panelists made a distinction between conservatory programs (essentially jazz musician vocational training) and liberal arts programs (history, appreciation), with a clear bias in favor of the conservatory approach. Logically, New York schools are weighted in favor of the conservatory, as so many of the leading jazz artists are living here. They have done great work, training many musicians with promising careers before them. However, I would suggest that the liberal arts programs shouldn’t be completely ignored, since they actually do more to build an audience for this important music. Disclosure: I teach a liberal arts style classes at NYU’s Continuing Education School. One of my goals in doing so is to increase the enthusiasm for jazz.

Not surprisingly, Victor Goines of Julliard and Jazz @ Lincoln Center made some of the most salient points. At one point Goines stated: “Jazz is a lot better than a lot of people really realize.” He argued that there are far more classical musicians matriculating than jazz musicians, but there are far fewer symphony jobs than jazz jobs after graduation. He also suggested jazz training was much more conducive to successful gigging in other styles (rock, pop, gospel, etc) than classical training, so the outlook for young jazz musicians is not as dire as one might think. Don’t misunderstand; he never said it was easy. Goines also made it clear why he was a teacher when he said: “We educate our students in the hope that they will be better than us.”

Other common refrains were the need to build support for jazz, and the difficulty achieving press attention. Some panelists wanted to require jazz education in elementary schools, but I think kids are resistant to mandated enlightenment. Truly, the lot of publicists, particularly jazz publicists is a hard one. Yet, off the music page PR is really what is needed. Jazz needs to get where it currently isn’t. In a way, that’s the idea of this blog. Instead of cultivating readers solely from the jazz community, I have also targeted political friends, publishing colleagues, and fellow conservative bloggers—jazz outreach of a sort.