Every jazz student enrolled in a post-secondary institution plays in a jazz ensemble as part of his/her course requirements. Every jazz ensemble is directed and graded by a faculty member.
Here are the jazz ensemble director’s official responsibilities, from the University of Toronto’s job posting:
“Meet with assigned small jazz ensemble for coaching session two hours each week, advise on the selection of repertoire for assigned student ensemble. Attend and evaluate ensemble performances and recordings. Participate in marking and grading of the assigned ensemble and submission of grades in accordance with policy. Consult as necessary with the Performance Office and Coordinator of Jazz Studies regarding visiting artist masterclasses and additional performance opportunities for small jazz ensembles. Maintain reasonable hours of student consultation outside scheduled coaching hours.”
Why aren’t directors required to play with the jazz ensembles?
When I was a student, on the rare occasion that a faculty member did play with the band, I always got my ass kicked. That’s when I was learning. That’s also when playing was most fun. If you combine a faculty member’s playing and directing in a jazz ensemble context, you’ve created a much more dynamic learning environment for students.
I’m not familiar with every jazz school and how jazz ensembles are set up. It’s possible that some schools balance a director’s responsibilities differently. But in my experience, 90% of the time, ensemble directors are not playing with the band. I think that should change.
Considering the current landscape, where young players don’t get as many opportunities to play with older players, I think this change has to happen sooner than later.
It’s not really a change; it’s more like a slight adjustment. But the consequences run deep and are key to a healthy and exciting music scene.
Who will make the adjustment first?