There has been some talk around the virtual jazz water cooler recently about the way jazz is taught in formal institutions. It began with this Now magazine profile of the young instrumental trio BadBadNotGood. Some comments were made – about how jazz has "ossified over time" and about the "cloistered" atmosphere of the jazz department at Humber College (where the three bandmates met and formed BBNG) – which drew strong reactions from jazz bloggers like Peter Hum, Anthony Dean-Harris and many others.
Part of what's at issue here is jazz education's move away from the nightclubs and dance halls and into academia's ivory tower – and what effect this shift has had on the tradition. Some feel the universities, colleges and conservatories are crucial for jazz's survival, while others see the institutionalisation of jazz as a threat to its health. Depending on your point of view, the following is either a list of milestones or tombstones:
1928: Mátyás Seiber, Hungarian composer and teacher at the Hoch Conservatory in Frankfurt, gives classes in the theory and practice of jazz – the first program of its kind anywhere in the world. Classes were discontinued in the mid-’30s because of the prohibition of jazz by the Nazi regime.
1942: British journalist Leonard Feather and Belgian music enthusiast Robert Goffin teach the first “officially sponsored” jazz history courses at the New School for Social Research in Manhattan. Cost to attend each lecture: $1.10 US.
1945: American pianist and composer Lawrence Berk establishes Schillinger House of Music (now the Berklee College of Music) in Boston, Mass. – the first American music school to teach jazz. Number of students when the college first opened: three. Number of students in 2012: 4,131.
1947: American saxophonist and educator M.E. “Gene” Hall creates a dance band degree program at the North Texas State Teachers College (now the University of North Texas) in Denton, the first jazz program of its kind and, until 1967, the only jazz degree offered by a U.S. university.
1950: American jazz critic and musicologist Marshall Stearns establishes the first organized summer jazz workshops at the Music Inn in Lenox, Mass., which evolved into the short-lived but highly influential Lenox School of Jazz (1957-1960).
1974: Canadian jazz musicians Oscar Peterson and Phil Nimmons lead The Banff Centre’s first summer jazz workshop (now the International Workshop in Jazz and Creative Music).
1977: St. Francis Xavier University (Antigonish, N.S.) establishes Canada’s first dedicated jazz studies degree program.
1981: McGill University (Montreal, Que.) offers the first bachelor of music degree program in jazz performance in Canada.
For better or worse, post-secondary jazz programs have proliferated over the last 50 years and are now offered at hundreds of institutions all over the world. As for BBNG, Now reported that two of the band's three members dropped out of college in February. The drummer is still enrolled, "but only for the dental plan."
Do you think jazz is too cool for school? Or is the academic route still the best way to train the next generation of musicians? Let us know in the comments.
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