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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.

Related links:

Vijay Iyer calls Banff jazz workshop 'crucible for creativity'

Canadian jazz legend Phil Nimmons on teaching and playing

BadBadNotGood celebrate J Dilla’s musical legacy

The Bad Plus break all the rules and win

 

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What's so BadBadNotGood about jazz school?

There has been some talk around the virtual jazz water cooler recently about the way jazz is taught i…

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Alvar Hanso
#1 posted by
Alvar Hanso
on Apr 17, 2012

My 45 year-old son has been placed in jazz school since an early age. I think jazz should be tought in schools but emphasis should be placed on extra-curricular activities that would allow young talents to further develop their skills.

astralgreg
#2 posted by
astralgreg
on Apr 17, 2012

Not just Jazz, but all forms of music should be taught more widely in primary school and high schools. Jazz should then be a part of that curriculum. If kids grow up around more varied forms of music, more people will learn to appreciate classical and jazz music. I agree that the emphasis on Jazz would then be best placed on extra-curriculars for those who have a keen interest and want to learn more. 

I'd love to see more Jazz shows and groups being promoted as well - people have to get excited about going to a jazz show! I live in a small market for jazz (Fredericton) but this is a town that loves music! We just need more people getting together in less formal settings to play and breathe new life into the genre!

Tim Tamashiro
#3 posted by
Tim Tamashiro
on Apr 17, 2012

Jazz is the ultimate music education. Why? Because you can do anything in music with a jazz education. You get book smarts AND street smarts. Jazzers can read music AND improvise music. Sure they can play jazz but they can also play pop, country, folk... even classical.

Jazz is a tool box that is an extremely good investment for any musician. 

I'd put any graduate of a jazz program in Canada up against any musician who is self taught or classically trained, put them into five varying music performance situations and I'll bet the jazzer would excel in four out of five and hold their own in classical. Any takers? :-)

Oh, and jazz makes you cooler.

Scott Tresham
#4 posted by
Scott Tresham
on Apr 17, 2012

So far, that's two votes for school (balanced with extra-curriculars – what specific activities did you have in mind Alvar and astralgreg?) and one vote for jazz students to jump in the ring and do battle (please contact Tonic host Tim Tamashiro directly about how to enter). Anyone else care to weigh in?

lostforwords
#5 posted by
lostforwords
on Apr 17, 2012

Apparently this all started when 3 jazz students formed a band to play hip hop jazz for a school ensemble performance and their performance was judged as having “no musical value” by their faculty mentors because they fused hip hop standards with jazz. Pretty creative I would think. Apparently not by their faculty mentors nor by Peter Hun http://blogs.ottawacitizen.com/2012/04/03/in-response-to-some-disrespectful-hip-hop-jazzers-and-now-magazine/  and this racist dude http://lubricity.wordpress.com/2012/04/04/badbadnotgood-leave-jazz-alone/ 

Also worried about making a living after you graduate with the appropriate business skills was not on the curricula. So what to do? Go out and make your own music, on your own nickle and be booed by your peers and mentors. This speaks volumes for stifling creativity and promoting academic professionalism. The following link provided a sobering reality of where the jazz job is heading. Get real and support the new jazz kids on the block. They may be onto to something Tim. http://www.jazz.com/jazz-blog/2009/5/19/talking-to-myself-about-the-health-of-jazz-music

Tim Tamashiro
#6 posted by
Tim Tamashiro
on Apr 18, 2012

Jazz musicians can have the best of both worlds: they can write / create / perform their own music under their own names (or band names) and also be sidemen for other projects and get paid for it. Juno award winning saxophonist Richard Underhill is a celebrated Canadian jazzer who has done this with poise and professionalism. George Koller is another. Mike Murley, Guido Basso, David Braid, Collen Allen etc. etc. It requires balance and smarts.

It feels like BBNG is doing the job they are supposed to do. They are being creative and controvestial. They aren't the first ones in jazz to do it. But what they may not have considered is that they are in the "proof business" just like everyone else. They have to prove themselves time and time again. I sense that BBNG will have the spotlight for a short time and then it will fade and eventually disappear. I'm willing to be wrong but it's their job to make me wrong not my job to make them right. Welcome to the "proof biz"!

lostforwords
#7 posted by
lostforwords
on Apr 18, 2012

Ah come on Tim! These are old dudes who I bet started from zero, didn't all go to jazz school but followed their passion trying to eek out a living and in their golden years trying to do the same to a smaller audience. The music biz today is about numbers.

BBNG's business model is working and wil continue to work because I beleievetheir in it for the long term. The Internet today is the distribution channel not record stores selling un requested CD's. I doubt the above artists would ever consider providing free downloads of a whole album or mixtape to widen their audience and establish their music credibility. Check today's  The Guardian music blog  http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/2012/apr/18/new-band-badbadnotgood?CMP=twt_gu for some consideration.

I also doubt that any of the above Canadian jazz celebs would be remotely interested in playing hip hop jazz fusion shoe gaze music or attend a Tyler the Creator or J dilla tribute gig. You say this. I say that. Who really cares. The court of public listnership will utimatley be the judge of their music 

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