Monday, April 21, 2008
An Education In Jazz
As I attended the MCC-Penn Valley 18th & Vine Jazz Festival last Friday afternoon, word was spreading that the International Association of Jazz Educators intended to file for bankruptcy.
According to a memo posted at the Manhattan, Kansas-based organization's site, IAJE "as it presently stands will no longer exist." The board president claims that the organization was "blindsided last fall with the discovery of the extent of the accumulated association debt."
(Although there's absolutely no indication that he's in any way remotely responsible for the situation, it must be noted that Greg Carroll, Executive Director of the American Jazz Museum, was the IAJE's Director of Education for ten years.)
Regular Plastic Sax readers already know that I'm not an advocate of the jazz education establishment. Friday's festival only solidified my stance.
The students could play remarkably well; that's not at issue. It's the distressing absence of passion and fire that's alarming. As if to confirm the event's lack of relevance, the audience consisted almost exclusively of supportive parents. I suspect that many of the teenage musicians applied their talent to ska, hip hop and rock bands later that night.
Why not allow these kids to make the music meaningful to themselves and their classmates during school hours? It's cool that high school marching bands play versions of Outkast's "Hey Ya!" and Black Sabbath's "Iron Man." But I'll bet they'd prefer to arrange and perform Green Day's American Idiot or Dr. Dre's The Chronic.
It's an appropriate time to reevaluate the status quo. The question must be asked- "Why jazz education?" If there's no satisfactory answer, perhaps jazz programs should be abandoned in favor of popular music departments.
I would rather hear an inspired cover of a Rick Ross hit than a desultory rendition of a Billy Strayhorn chart.
(Original image by Plastic Sax.)