Jazz in American Education Today

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Persons concerned about the future of the arts and aware that the arts are essential to the continuance of culture were thrilled with past Secretary Of Education William Bennett's recent report on James Madison High School, in which he stated that all American students should have one semester of music history. But they were disturbed to find his proposed course based entirely on the European classical tradition, except that "where appropriate, American developments (e.g., jazz) are highlighted."

Bennett's statement, and MENC President Donald Corbett's column in the December 1987 issue of Music Educators Journal, serve to remind us how far we still need to go to remove the Eurocentric bias in American education (and not only music education). Corbett discounts jazz, mistakenly placing it in the same category as marching bands, strolling strings, and musicals, and maintains that such music "has little to do with the task of making students musically literate and intimately aware of the rich cultural heritage that is theirs to experience and understand in music." Clearly, Corbett means the heritage of Europe, not that which originated in America.

We need to think about the purpose of education: If we agree that one of itsprimary purposes is to perpetuate and support the culture of each country, it would seem that the priorities implied by Corbett and Bennett are inappropriate for American students. The great European composers are essential for our students to know, and they are part of our legacy in America. But it is against our self-interest to keep our citizens ignorant of the major developments in our own culture, because such ignorance makes it difficult for our own culture to persist. It is disheartening to come upon such ill-informed attitudes among our educational leaders, especially because it has been over twenty years since the famous Tanglewood Symposium of 1967, at which it was decided that jazz should be an important component of American music education.

The good news is that jazz has made great strides in academic circles, especially during the past ten or fifteen years. It is the purpose of this essay to survey the extent to which jazz has been incorporated into our curricula, particularly in higher education, with reference to many specific programs, and to discuss some of the issues which continue to be of concern to music educators. I compiled much of this information while writing a report on the state of jazz for the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) in March 1988.

 

JAZZ IN ELEMENTARY SCHOOL

There are a few programs designed to introduce the younger grades to jazz. This valuable service helps to expand the jazz audience and also helps to preserve this aspect of American culture by making people aware of it at an early age. A major effort was the Jazz Artists In Schools pilot program (from 1978 to 1982), of which Larry Ridley, jazz musician and professor at Rutgers University, was the national coordinator. This program, a division of Artists In Education of the NEA, placed jazz artists-in-residence at schools to conduct workshops with students. Often community artists were used, which helped to get them more local recognition. Ridley also conducted two national training workshops for school staff members on how to work with the guest artists and best utilize them to enrich their programs. It is unfortunate that many states did not continue this program after the national pilot program ended.

Most of the larger cities have programs which visit each school once or twice a year, bringing a jazz group to perform and speak with students at various age levels. New York has been quite active in this area. Jazzmobile, founded in 1964, sends out teams of professional musicians to public schools throughout New York City and Westchester to lecture on jazz and perform. Another pioneering program was presented by Jazz Interactions, which received a $5,000 grant in 1966 from the New York State Council on the Arts to offer programs in the public schools. In 1967 the Sears Foundation awarded another grant which allowed the program to expand to Newark, New Jersey. The International Art of Jazz in Stony Brook has been serving Long Island and parts of upstate New York with programs of this type for about twenty years.

The Jazz Express program in the Chicago public schools, administered by the Jazz Institute of Chicago, presented one concert at each of sixteen schools in 1987 and planned to visit sixty more public high schools during the following few years, thanks largely to support from the Joyce Foundation. Young Audiences, a national organization that presents programs to school assemblies, sometimes includes jazz in its presentations.

These school visits are extremely important, but the absence of any jazz education from the regular curriculum in American public schools continues to be a problem. Presentations by professional artists are most valuable in the context of a regular jazz program, not in isolation. At this time there are many artists who are experienced at teaching and could design programs for our schools. The artist-in-residence concept should also be revived for consideration.

 

JAZZ TRAINING FOR MUSICIANS IN HIGH SCHOOLS AND COLLEGES

Institutionalized jazz education began in a few pioneering colleges and high schools in the late 1940s. Today, many high schools have jazz ensembles. For some years, many colleges and universities have sponsored a jazz ensemble and perhaps an introductory course, but the past two years have seen a steady increase in the number of institutions that offer courses beyond these two to provide some sense of a full-fledged jazz program. New York University's Department of Music Education expanded its jazz offerings to the Ph.D. level, a jazz program made its debut at The New School for Social Research, and programs have recently been developed at Queens College and at the State University of New York in Potsdam. On February 28, 1987, the University of Idaho renamed its school of music in honor of Lionel Hampton, who had supported the music program because of its half dozen jazz ensembles and several jazz choirs.

The best known jazz education program in the world is that at Berklee College of Music in Boston. Founded forty years ago, it attracts students from all over the world, and its mix of students is roughly 20 percent international, 40 percent New England and Mid-Atlantic, and the remaining 40 percent from the rest of the United States. At Berklee all students have a great deal of exposure to jazz, so there is no separate jazz major. Of the 2,925 students enrolled in the fall of 1987 (a continuing increase as compared with 2,487 in 1983 and 2,702 in 1986), 200 were performance majors, 81 were jazz composition majors, 138 were music education majors, and so on. The program stresses practical skills, so there is also training in such areas as film scoring (109 majors), songwriting (57 majors), and music production (279 majors). Berklee is a leader in the use of computers and synthesizers for music writing and performance, and 139 students are majoring in music synthesis. The University of North Texas's jazz program, dating back to 1947, was the first at a university. Today its program is the second largest after Berklee, with almost 300 jazz majors as well as a large number of Music Education majors with central interests in jazz.

Rutgers University has a twenty-year history of involvement with jazz, and is one of the few institutions that offers a B.A. in jazz as well as a Master in Music (performance) with a jazz option. The number of jazz majors, currently 25 undergraduate and between 5 and 10 graduate, is steadily increasing. The faculty includes the distinguished recording artists Larry Ridley, Kenny Barron, and Ted Dunbar, master trumpet teacher William Fielder, and others. One of the most important jazz programs is that at Indiana University, headed by David Baker, jazz performer and composer and one of the leaders in the field. This large program also has a graduate component. The program of Southern University at Baton Rouge, formerly headed by clarinetist Alvin Batiste, is notable because it involves black students, and has produced many of the significant New Orleans artists of recent years. Howard University has another important jazz program for black students, with several fine big bands and a B.M. degree in Jazz Studies.

The University of Miami jazz program has several big bands and strongly emphasizes writing and arranging commercial music and jazz in order to provide students with other job options. It offers a B.M. in Studio Music and Jazz. William Paterson College is celebrating the tenth year of its program, which involves bassist Rufus Reid and other respected performer-educators.

The Eastman School of Music and the New England Conservatory of Music conduct two of the leading jazz programs in the country. Eastman has produced many fine writers and studio players, and the New England program has graduated a number of up-and-coming young soloists. The Manhattan School of Music also has a thriving program with some of New York's top jazz artists on its faculty. All three of these institutions offer degrees up to the Master's.

In all, there are about seventy-five jazz programs in higher education. Down Beat used to publish an annual yearbook which included listings of jazz education programs, but it discontinued this service after 1980. The journal of the National Association of Jazz Educators publishes an annual listing of jazz summer programs, which is very useful not only in itself but because many of the institutions that have summer programs also have school-year programs. Among summer programs, the most popular by far are the week-long clinics of the National Band Camp, Inc., held since 1973 at various locations around the country. Jamey Aebersold, director of its Combo/Improvisation Clinics, has published a series of play-along records for practicing jazz improvisation at home, and these are widely used among jazz educators and young players. Other special programs exist at the Creative Music Studio in Woodstock, the California Institute of the Arts, Aspen Music School, and elsewhere.

As jazz becomes more established in higher education, there is an increasing need not only for performers who can teach, but for academically trained scholars in the field. There are only a handful of performers who have doctorates, such as Billy Taylor and Donald Byrd, and the number of scholars with Ph.D.s who specialize in jazz research is almost as small. Their doctorates are in general music history, music theory, or ethnomusicology, because there are only two programs anywhere that offer a Ph.D. in jazz. One is the program in jazz performance and composition of the Department of Music Education at New York University, but there is no research component in this program. The other is the Jazz Pedagogy program at the University of Northern Colorado, but that is a highly specialized area and does not solve the need for scholarly training. Another factor in the dearth of academically trained jazz scholars is the failure of Ph.D. programs in general to attract black students. The academic field has reached the point that the demand for jazz scholars is actually beginning to exceed the supply. Clearly, the most pressing need in higher education with regard to jazz is for the development of Ph.D. programs.

 

ISSUES IN JAZZ EDUCATION

Though jazz education is becoming more established, its development has been haphazard. It has grown in certain locations because of the initiative of a particular faculty member, and elsewhere because of student demand. For most universities the beginning was a jazz ensemble. Where academic courses exist, they are often not related to each other by virtue of any basic oudook or approach. Teaching methods have been borrowed from other types of music education, often inappropriately. There has been little effort to establish basic principles and methodology for jazz education. Rarely has the general social and cultural context of jazz in America been considered.

The presence of jazz in academia has been erratic, and the teachers have been hired too often by chance, on the assumption that any interested party can teach it. Many jazz courses have been taught by an enthusiast who is not even on a music faculty but is a member of some unrelated department. There has been little attempt to plan on a long-term basis. Rather, many schools survive on the barest minimum of funding, since their commitment to a jazz program is uncertain and must be renewed from year to year.

Jazz training traditionally has been acquired by listening to recordings and jamming with peers and superiors. Within the past ten years, jazz education has grown so much that performers under the age of 30 have typically attended such institutions as Berklee College, The University of North Texas, Rutgers University, the Eastman School, and summer and special programs. Still, family background and training within the family and from peers and seniors can never be replaced. A phenomenon such as the Marsalis family, the leading family in jazz today, does not happen strictly through institutional schooling. The father, Ellis, is a respected pianist and educator. Coming from a line of New Orleans musicians, his sons, saxophonist Branford and trumpeter Wynton, had a rich background to draw upon that could not have been acquired in school. Their brothers, trombonist and producer Delfeayo and drummer Jason (the youngest, still an adolescent) are also performers, although not with the international reputations of Branford and Wynton.

Academic programs can never replace the experience of performing jazz with other musicians. In fact, most successful graduates of such programs, including the Marsalises, were already playing professionally before they entered higher education. But academic programs have important contributions to make to the training of jazz musicians. They provide many performance opportunities in concert situations, with peer and teacher review. They provide supervised playing experience in big bands and other types of ensembles not easily found outside of school. They allow the young artist the luxury of developing his or her artistry without the distractions of trying to make a living (although, even with scholarships, most students hold part-time jobs). The student can learn a great deal about instrumental technique and music theory that would be difficult to pick up in a less structured setting.

On the other hand, jazz history, research, and analysis are not well developed. Despite the presence of such scholars as Gunther Schuller at New England Conservatory during the 1970s, and presently Dan Morgenstern and myself at Rutgers, and David Joyner at North Texas, these are the weakest areas of most programs. Student demand for such pursuits is growing but there are few faculty members who can respond. Part of the problem is that most history textbooks are inadequate, having been compiled more to interest the fan than to satisfy the needs of the serious performer and scholar.1 Most important is the circular problem already noted of the absence of Ph.D. programs in jazz and the scarcity of jazz scholars and performers with Ph.D.s. This area needs immediate attention. In particular, performers should be encouraged to pursue graduate training, in order to lessen the separation of scholars and performers. The ability to perform jazz, although not necessarily at a world-class level, is central to the ability to understand and analyze it. Musicians feel that this separation between those who perform and those who teach creates serious problems in jazz education. Many of the teachers entrusted with directing jazz ensembles or teaching jazz history are not themselves jazz players and cannot even improvise a jazz solo.

Jazz education tends to be restricted to those things taught most easily in the classroom—theory, technique, composing and arranging, and the transcription and reproduction of classic solos. The available books focus on these aspects. There has been very little attempt to develop successful methods of approaching the creative aspects of improvisation—the process of composing on stage and what it entails. Most programs present a very limited view of the available styles of jazz, and the orientation is usually that of the modern mainstream. The Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) in Chicago, with Muhal Richard Abrams among its founders and the members of the Art Ensemble of Chicago among its alumni, is one program that encourages exploration of less common approaches to jazz. The result of this lack of exploration in most programs is easily seen in the fact that very small numbers of jazz majors produced by our various programs actually go on to become known as jazz soloists. It is much more common to find these graduates playing in big bands, doing work in studios and for film sound-tracks, and playing non-jazz engagements. I have led teachers' seminars and lectured at meetings of the National Association of Jazz Educators and College Music Society about the need to reproduce the creative environment of the jam session in the academic setting, and have suggested ways of approaching this problem. I believe that we need to draw lessons for the classroom from our own development as jazz performers—the details will have to wait for another article. I suspect that the teachers who produce the most artistic students have been able to communicate these important lessons. But there needs to be a total rethinking of jazz education if we are to emphasize the artistic heights it can reach.

One important method of improving our programs is to make better use of the master performers who are not usually available to the young students. Artist residencies are an essential resource because the students can study what these artists are doing and can ask them questions directly. Many artists are already experienced at such presentations. Others will need some training in teaching, but the results will be worthwhile. Full-time faculty positions are appropriate for some performers, whose schedules allow them to be available for students. This is a relatively new idea, but such artists as Jimmy Heath (who began at Queens College in 1987), Richard Davis, Arnie Lawrence, Kenny Barron, Ted Dunbar, Max Roach, and Archie Shepp have been very successful in such faculty roles.

 

SUMMARY

The role of jazz in American education needs to be reexamined. As educators, we cannot expect every student to like jazz, any more than we expect every student to love classical music. But we must be deeply concerned that our citizenry should have a basic knowledge and understanding of our native art forms. The absence of any jazz education from the regular curriculum in American public schools continues to be a problem. Presentations by professional artists would be more valuable if they were tied into a regular jazz program. In higher education, jazz programs are on the rise, and the demand for jazz scholars is actually beginning to exceed the supply. Clearly, the most pressing need in higher education with regard to jazz is for the development of Ph.D. programs. In conclusion, we need to take seriously Joint Resolution 57, passed by both houses of Congress in 1987, recognizing jazz as "a rare and valuable national American treasure to which we should devote our attention, support, and resources to make certain it is preserved, understood, and promulgated."


1Reviews of four jazz history texts appear in an essay I wrote for The Black Perspective In Music (Fall 1978). Five more are reviewed by Edward Berger in Annual Review of Jazz Studies 4 (1988).

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Last modified on Tuesday, 23/10/2018

Lewis Porter

Lewis Porter, (Lewisporter.com), long known as a jazz educator (Ph.D. in music from Brandeis) and author of books including the most celebrated volume on John Coltrane, is also very active as a jazz pianist, keyboardist and composer. Known for a free and open attitude, he contributes to many types of musical situations. Dr. Porter has appeared in concert internationally with such masters as Dave Liebman, Ravi Coltrane, Judi Silvano with Joe Lovano, Jeff Coffin, Jane Ira Bloom, Wycliffe Gordon, Marc Ribot, and many others. He is a regular member of the Indian-influenced quartet Dharma Jazz with Badal Roy (Dharmajazz.net). His three-movement concerto for saxophone and orchestra was performed by Dave Liebman at Harvard on April 19, 2012 and is now on youtube. He appears on the Liebman/Marc Ribot quintet CD (Enja, Fall 2012), and as sideperson or leader on various releases of Unseen Rain Records, Allen Lowe projects, Italian Encounter (live in Italy), and Transformation (duets with fellow pianist and Berklee professor Marc Rossi); and he appears on the Dharma Jazz CD Just Four, the duo CD with clarinetist David Rothenberg, and others. The critics have said that Porter is “A helluva piano player” (Jazz Times). "Mixing experimental with traditional, [he] plays up a storm." (Midwest Record) “Porter is a deep thinker.” (Swing Journal).  His music is “founded upon depth and cunning use of space" (ejazznews.com).  Porter was nominated for a liner-note Grammy in 1996. You can follow his occasional blog of his new jazz research here: https://www.wbgo.org/blog/category/20877

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