“I really don't think a kid younger than 16 is at all ready for jazz.
I'll elaborate a bit: I think you can teach a younger person how to swing. I think a good jazz player, however, should have an understanding of how most of the developments in the music come from a degree of rejection of what went before. There's also the concept of musical movements being couched in greater social changes of the time they come from. You also have to know enough standard practice period music to get how jazz turns those conventions on their head (i.e. rhythm). I suppose there are some pre-teens who might be able to handle all that, but I've never met any.”
I disagree so strongly that I consider this a non-issue. The fundamentals for a jazz education can start at age three. Kids can improvise and play tunes at age ten. Pre-teens can communicate musically in jazz ensembles. Mid-teens can write tunes and start their own jazz ensembles.
I know this because I lived it. And kids are still living it at the Humber College Community Music School.
But there’s still something lingering:
Jazz education is maximum 40 years old in Canada (if not in North America and the world). Programs have been springing up (some with considerable resistance) in colleges and universities all across the country. Naturally, jazz is gradually seeping down into high schools where graduates of these colleges and universities are teaching and making a living.
Side Note: Remember this post? It fits nicely, especially these few sentences:
“Arts institutions serve much broader a purpose than creating performers…Not all graduates have the skills, perseverance (or desire) to be performers. But that experience remains with them forever. They have a unique perspective. They have a cultured perspective.”
I’m very fortunate that I’m part of the first generation of music students who had access to a jazz education from when I was 3 years old (at HCCMS). To my knowledge, it was the first of its kind in the world and is still at the forefront of jazz education today. I’m excited to think that more programs like HCCMS will be appearing over the next 20 years!
Unfortunately, this movement is challenged at the post-secondary level by classical-music education. That’s beginning to change. The jazz community also challenges it. That’s changing too, but there are still plenty of issues out there creating resistance (The Carolina Shout incident, Teachout’s article, Old vs. New, Ali’s comments etc.). They’re all related in that they expose the community’s disunity. I hope that ironing out these issues is only a matter of fully realizing the education movement. After all, how many of them would exist if jazz education was 80 years old?
I’ll be bold: I think this 40-year-old process is part of a greater movement that can change the face of music education. It can change the world! It’s only a matter of blood, sweat, tears and patience!
My job: Pave the way; Promote unity.
I spotted another elephant today. She’s hiding; I’ll show you.
I mentioned in the previous post that these music teachers recognize the imbalance and want to change, but don’t know how. What I should have said is that they want to change and think they know how. They hired me didn’t they?
“Mr. Donnelly, please teach us how to teach jazz!”
I had one hour to teach “how to teach jazz” to music teachers who know nothing about the jazz tradition. There’s the elephant! No, not the ‘one-hour.’ I’m referring to the last part.
Let me be clearer: These teachers are not qualified to teach jazz just as I’m not qualified to teach Russian. No number of workshops will change this. No number of workshops can substitute for blood, sweat and tears.
Here’s the problem: Anything other than blood, sweat and tears is a shortcut. I don’t believe in shortcuts; they’re beside the point. Otherwise we’re resorting to teaching RCM-approved Oscar Peterson solos, jazzy versions of Pachabel’s Canon in D and other shortcuts/variations. So what can you teach them to teach that’s not a shortcut?
Deeper: If our goal is to build another room, to what degree, if any, can the new room include non-specialists?
The topic: How to Teach Jazz Piano.
The class: Remember this post? Generally, the class consisted of piano teachers from the ‘read-execute’ tradition who are encountering more and more students interested in learning “jazz.”
The elephant: I’m not interested in RCM-approved transcriptions of Oscar Peterson solos. I’m not interested in jazzy versions of Pachabel’s Canon in D. I’m interested in a fundamental shift in methodology. They need to embrace a ‘listen-execute’ tradition. And I want them to embrace the jazz ‘listen-execute’ tradition!
Every music teacher I spoke to recognized the imbalance. They all want to change, but don’t know how. The elephant is getting bigger.
Our goal: Build another room!
UPDATE: I spotted another elephant.
“We take for granted how limiting most people’s vocabulary is for describing music… Open up their capacity to express themselves. Guide the development of their vocabulary.
I’ve heard people express contempt for post-secondary music institutions. Their viewpoint is that communities are being flooded with musicians who are offsetting the balance between supply and demand. There are too many players and not enough gigs.
After writing the previous post, I was opened up to implications that are far above and beyond the issue of supply and demand. Arts institutions serve much broader a purpose than creating musicians, and it relates to the quoted text above.
For one thing, arts institutions also create directors, promoters, programmers, agents, managers, presenters, donors, sponsors, educators, journalists, critiques, radio hosts, page-turners, presidents, CEOs, public officials, taxi drivers, factory workers, moms, dads and a host of other arts appreciators and supporters. Not all graduates have the skills, perseverance (or desire) to be performers. But that experience remains with them forever. They have a unique perspective. They have a cultured perspective.
Here’s another benefit: Arts institutions often host a plethora of cultural activities for the public to experience. Just at the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Music there are hundreds of performances every year that are open to the general public. Every performance is an education. All audience members are broadened with new expressions and granted a means to express it.
How does all of this affect society? How does this shape the human spirit?
This is new territory for me and I have more exploring to do. I’m just skimming the surface. But I’m not interested in the issue of supply and demand any longer. Let’s talk about the bigger picture.
I prepared a list of songs to play for them and asked them two simple questions: Is this jazz? Why or why not? My strategy isn’t to look for right or wrong answers or to plug them with my favourite jazz tunes. Instead, I want them to develop a vocabulary for describing music that is consistent with how they feel about what they’re hearing.
For example, one student said he loves drum & bass because it’s repetitive. Later on, he mentioned that he doesn’t like classical music because it’s repetitive. I asked him to clarify the inconsistency and he said that drum & bass is catchy-repetitive while classical music is just repetitive.
Most of them used the word fast to describe jazz. I played them a recording of Art Tatum playing Tiger Rag. Most of them agreed that it wasn’t jazz because it was too fast and too showy! But Bill Evan’s rendition of Here’s That Rainy Day was jazz even through it’s really slow.
Jobin’s recording of Samba De Uma Nota So was considered jazz, but his recording of Desafinado wasn’t jazz because it had vocals. One student thinks vocals in jazz makes it ‘bad-jazz’ (Kurt Elling’s version of Tania Jean was ‘good-jazz,’ but only for the first 15 seconds).
They were on the fence when I played them Mars from Coltrane’s Interstellar Space. But they all agreed that he was a ‘show-off.’
The entire session was filled with observations similar to this. I never implied what I thought was or wasn’t jazz, but I often challenged their definitions and viewpoints. Most of the time, I would repeat and question their statements and they would immediately pick up on the inconsistency. “There are never violins in jazz?” Or “Can jazz be slow?”
We take for granted how limiting most people’s vocabulary is for describing music. Even though I’m dealing with children, I would think that grown adults with little to no music education would have similar difficulties. How many people know the difference between a double bass and a cello? Can you imagine how they would describe jazz?
I haven’t wrestled with all the implications, but I feel there’s a wealth of information here that hits many levels. For example, if you’re wondering about how most people hear and describe your music, I would ask the kids. If you’re concerned about the future of jazz and wonder why it’s ‘dying,’ I would ask the kids. If you want to raise jazz from the grave, I would start educating the kids.
Open up their capacity to express themselves. Guide the development of their vocabulary.
PS: Before I played Brad Mehldau’s rendition of Radiohead’s Paranoid Android (from Largo), I asked them: “is Radiohead jazz?” One of the kids asked: “who’s Radiohead?” The kid beside him said in a very familiar tone: “You don’t know who Radiohead is!?”