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.)


the unthinking lemming said...

"Why not allow these kids to make the music meaningful to themselves and their classmates during school hours?"

As I recall, my HS marching band spent more time rehearsing outside of 'school hours' than during. Jazz band was completely outside of 'school hours'.

I'd hate to be the one to deciding which 'popular' musics should be the ones that will be offered.

Happy In Bag said...

You're correct, of course, about rehearsal schedules, UL. But I stand by my primary assertions.

the unthinking lemming said...

You'll only get desultory versions of Rick Ross tunes(?). What is the difference?

Happy In Bag said...

I beg to differ, UL.

Only last night I attended a scholastic concert featuring multiple ensembles. I noticed kids surreptiously listening to their iPods. Just a hunch- I don't think they were grooving on Oliver Nelson.

Sure, about half the kids are only putting in time. But the others, I think, would be energized by working in formats meaningful to them.

the unthinking lemming said...

You seem to want an approach that will continue to marginalize jazz.

What's next? Should we replace John Steinbeck with Alonzo Washington in our English classes?

Happy In Bag said...

It's my contention, UL, that without any acknowledgement that it's 2008, academic jazz departments will quickly become so irrelevant that all will be lost.

I wrote this elsewhere this morning: Are students taught how to repair typewriters in high school shop class? Then why not move the music curriculum forward a couple decades?

the unthinking lemming said...

There have been no notable musical advancements in the past couple of decades. All that I hear coming from the popular side of things has been completely regressive.