Jazz standards in Education

nigeld

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#82
There is a big difference between what I, an elderly amateur, want to play and to listen to, and what should be taught to future professionals. I have sung and played "classical" music all my life, including newly-composed pieces, and I took up the saxophone because I wanted to play old-fashioned jazz in a big-band. So at the moment I am quite content to live in what @Wade Cornell earlier, and aptly in my opinion, called "the museum" - it provides more than enough challenges for a beginner like me. But a training course for professionals should range outside the museum and any one genre.

So if we are talking about education, I make a distinction between what my teacher should have been taught and what I want him to teach me. If he couldn't play and teach jazz standards I would find another teacher, because I want to learn that, but I would be very surprised if that was all he could do. At the end of the lesson we often play Mozart duets.

In the Café, our common interest is in playing the Saxophone, not a particular genre of music. We have no reason to limit ourselves to Jazz standards, and we don't, except possibly in BOTM. But there are many of us who enjoy the old-fashioned stuff.
 
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Pete Thomas

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#83
In the Café, our common interest is in playing the Saxophone, not a particular genre of music. We have no reason to limit ourselves to Jazz standards, and we don't, except possibly in BOTM. But there are many of us who enjoy the old-fashioned stuff.
I absolutely agree with this

So if we are talking about education, I make a distinction between what my teacher should have been taught and what I want him to teach me. If he couldn't play and teach jazz standards I would find another teacher, because I want to learn that,
I also agree that I would assume any saxophone teacher would be able to teach standards, the probelem to me is when there is a syllabus that concentrates purely on early jazz. I think perhaps in schools it's less of an issue, but more in higher education where hopefully students are preparing and being prepared to go out into the big wide world.

I doubt anyone would argue that jazz and standards are a big and important part of music history. Also the music theory involved (for impro and arranging) is something that (a) derives from classical or "western art" music and (b) can cross over into other genres. Possibly more easily than theory of other genres can cross over into mainstream jazz. (e.g. knock off the extensions, unsub the substitutes, reduce the number of chords and you have both Country and Western - apologies that was a bit facetious but you get my drift hopefuly)

There are probably two main reasons for any bias towards mainstream jazz:

  • It was the first non-classical genre to be taught (seriously and to any significant extent) in the educational establishment, and probably to a largest extent in the US and you can't blame them for wanting to elevate a home grown genre to a status of being considered "art." Notwithstanding any arguments of which continent owns the roots of jazz). Plus it can have the more complex and clever harmony that sort might legitimises in the eyes of the old-school academics.
  • It is easier to assess than pop or avant garde genres. Students (and their parents) seem these days to need very strict guidelines on how to get their grades. Gone are the days of the teacher giving a mark based on gut feeling, they need to justify those marks or they may get sued. And once you structure music into easy compartments for assessing, e.g. "you got that wrong, you should have played a Phrygian mode on bar 3 of Satin Doll because that is what I taught you in class" then you, as a teacher/examiner, have a much easier life. But sadly to my mind that devalues the whole point of learning music.
 

MikeMorrell

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#85
Very perceptive Kev,

Respect! (can ik say that as a 63 year old white guy?)
Mike


I've mostly stayed out of this, as all I have to go on is what's been posted here. However, my thoughts....

To stay relevant music needs to move forwards.
Many of the forward movements will be seen as backwards at some time in the future and we're not able to judge now what future generations will think.
The popular vote will decide success of musical forms, not musicians.
In every field of human creativity, be it arts or science or engineering or architecture, there are and will be those who won't move forwards and those who reject what's gone before. However the majority will decide how/when and where to move on. For an example, take the concrete constructions of the 20th century.
Official luddite approaches always fail in the long run. Sometimes it requires a revolution. Generally it makes the change agents try harder.
During times of change a percentage of people push hard to the point of extremism.

I see a few getting really uptight about perceptions which may or may not be true. Having lived in countries which have varying amounts of musical education, I'm appalled at the state of it in some of them. But teaching older forms gives students technical skills as well as a good background to develop new areas if they wish.

It's also interesting to me that as sax players we're pushing an instrument that never really made it in it's intended genres, made it in jazz, but has now largely been superseded by electric guitars. Perhaps we should have a separate discussion on the future of the sax in music.

Frankly I don't care if most of the music which surrounds us survives. Most of what was made in the past hasn't survived. Most advanced music only appeals to a limited audience. Music is for now, to be enjoyed by it's listeners. What went before will survive if it continues to appeal to future generations.
 

jbtsax

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#86
I can only address Jazz Education in the U.S. where I have over 32 years of experience teaching in the public schools, teaching privately, and being very familiar with the jazz courses and jazz faculties in colleges and universities throughout my state.

Jazz education has improved by leaps and bounds since I was in high school in the 1960's playing Jersey Bounce in a "stage band" and the only instruction in improvisation was being told to "take a ride" over the changes. :) We have come a long way since then. There has been an amazing outgrowth of literature made available to teach improvistion including backing tracks. There has been a surge of great charts written for high school jazz ensembles at all ability (grade) levels---even by some of the top arrangers for professional groups such as Sammy Nestico, Dave Wolpe, and Gordon Goodwin.

As a result, students going to universities to study music have much better training and playing experience in jazz than ever before. This, in turn, has pushed university and college performing groups to even higher levels of excellence. The curriculum for music majors of all types has typically included study of music theory, music history, composition, private study, methods classes (for music ed), and various performing bands and ensembles.

The literature performed by these college and university groups depend entirely on the choices of their director(s), and the level of ability of the group. The director's professional playing experience, his/her personal tastes in musical styles, and oftentimes the instrument(s) he/she plays play a part in the literature selected. As a conductor/director selecting music for a program these are common criteria:

- What the musicians can learn from preparing a given piece
- What will push or stretch the players to a higher level of performance
- What pieces will best match the strengths and weakness of each section
- What pieces might showcase the strongest improvisers
- What pieces will go over well with the audience

Stretching a student's exposure to playing and improvising in progressive, or avante garde jazz is best done through private lessons, and playing in combos, but that will largely be determined by the experience of the teacher in those styles of music.

All in all Jazz Education has never been better in the United States. It is my hope that music education in other countries has followed suit and the rising tide of jazz education raises all boats.

Here are some examples of the literature played by BYU Synthesis: The alto soloist on the 2nd recording is my friend and teacher Jory Woodis.


 

Wade Cornell

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#88
There is no doubt that the Jazz teaching industry is extremely robust. There is however an extreme doubt that the students graduating from those institutions can make a living from what they have learned. Once again I think that Pete's comments are extremely relevant about those hiring a sax player NOT wanting to hear a jazz type player.

There has never been a question regarding the professionalism or dedication of those teaching. The question is about the syllabus and whether teaching of the arts currently produces narrowly trained technicians or has instead inspired and nurtured the talent and creativity of our young people.

There is no question about whether those students have trained and prepared rigorously for a concert, or that there is a good standard of musicianship. The more relevant question is whether those shows could make the participants a living wage. Is the material in these presentations salable to today's audiences? When a student graduates and has had the success of being in a great student show, where do they go from there? Their experience was in preparing for three months (or more?) for a performance. A producer needing a session player for a TV sitcom pilot theme needs a player who can play in the style required and do it in as few takes as possible. What has the student's training given him to be able to do this?

The arts are one of the toughest businesses in which to make a living. The question is whether the system is giving them the best possible start, not whether they have produced a good show while studying. Has the syllabus given them the range of styles that prepare them for the music that is in demand? Standards, Big Band and show tunes from shows that have not been popular for years are not IMHO the kind of preparation that will help. Were they relevant and good music when new? Absolutely! Would using music styles that are closer to today give the same degree of training in terms of musicianship and discipline? It's hard to conceive of a reason why the same discipline and technical skill would not be required for any high standard style production. Teaching within a style that has relevance is critical.
 

jbtsax

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#89
There is no doubt that the Jazz teaching industry is extremely robust. There is however an extreme doubt that the students graduating from those institutions can make a living from what they have learned. Once again I think that Pete's comments are extremely relevant about those hiring a sax player NOT wanting to hear a jazz type player.

There has never been a question regarding the professionalism or dedication of those teaching. The question is about the syllabus and whether teaching of the arts currently produces narrowly trained technicians or has instead inspired and nurtured the talent and creativity of our young people.

There is no question about whether those students have trained and prepared rigorously for a concert, or that there is a good standard of musicianship. The more relevant question is whether those shows could make the participants a living wage. Is the material in these presentations salable to today's audiences? When a student graduates and has had the success of being in a great student show, where do they go from there? Their experience was in preparing for three months (or more?) for a performance. A producer needing a session player for a TV sitcom pilot theme needs a player who can play in the style required and do it in as few takes as possible. What has the student's training given him to be able to do this?

The arts are one of the toughest businesses in which to make a living. The question is whether the system is giving them the best possible start, not whether they have produced a good show while studying. Has the syllabus given them the range of styles that prepare them for the music that is in demand? Standards, Big Band and show tunes from shows that have not been popular for years are not IMHO the kind of preparation that will help. Were they relevant and good music when new? Absolutely! Would using music styles that are closer to today give the same degree of training in terms of musicianship and discipline? It's hard to conceive of a reason why the same discipline and technical skill would not be required for any high standard style production. Teaching within a style that has relevance is critical.
You may be right Wade. :)

Cheers
 

jbtsax

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#91
Has the syllabus given them the range of styles that prepare them for the music that is in demand?. . . . . Teaching within a style that has relevance is critical.
There has been so much ambiguity in this discussion about what types and styles of music are being taught in the universities. Let me pose a simple question:

What exactly is the music that you call "more current", "in demand", and "relevant" that players are not being taught to play that they could make a living playing?
 

Wade Cornell

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#93
There has been so much ambiguity in this discussion about what types and styles of music are being taught in the universities. Let me pose a simple question:

What exactly is the music that you call "more current", "in demand", and "relevant" that players are not being taught to play that they could make a living playing?
I think Pete Thomas (as a very experienced professional) answered this with something to the effect that it's certainly not Jazz. Take your pick of any number of styles that are out there. Turn on the radio and turn the dial....all of them.
 
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Pete Thomas

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#95
I think if a course is a course in jazz, then it's absolutely fine to be teaching early jazz (by which I mean the jazz of the the first half of last century). Not exclusively, but should certainly be there as a solid foundation. Also the theory that is involved with that era of jazz is important and still relevant in much of the jazz that came later.

If I was teaching a jazz course again though i would also concentrate on the stuff that came later, free form, modal, fusion of all kinds including rock, hip hop, plus a lot of the latin and so-called world music.

BUT

I don't think that a pure jazz course even with all those more contemporary aspects is particularly relevant to teaching up and coming professional musicians. It's fine as an arts degree, whether performance or musicology oriented, but not so much as a useful vocational course.

I understand why in the US it happened when attitudes broadened out from what was previously purely classical oriented discipline, because it could be argued that jazz not only has huh=ge roots in American culture, but also has a complexity of theory (thanks to the likes of pioneers such as Ellington) that could be justified to the stuffy old classical music academics and deans.

But as far as teaching music vocationally, I don't see jazz as being very relevant, particularly the way I see it being taught very often. I've mentioned many times that I dislike the Aebersold chord/scale/mode type approach which I find is almost the equivalent of painting by numbers.

These days professional musicians tend to be either playing pop music or what I would call your "jobbing muso" who might do anything from playing in pit bands, function bands, tribute bands, recording sessions, bar bands etc. ie bit of an all-rounder which is what I set out to be and as mentioned earlier, the jazz part of my education was probably the least useful. In fact I was playing professionally as completely self taught before I even went to college.

When I took over the job teaching performance at University, I inherited the kind of jazz education I now dislike so much. So we turned it round and made it "jazz and pop." If I'd carried on I would have like to rename it something like commercial music, or contemporary music to take the jazz out of the title (though there would always be a place for some jazz in the course IMO)

So our students could actually do any genre and as mentioned we had funk, ska, contemporary pop, jazz, smooth jazz, bluegrass. The teaching aspects would concentrate as much on stuff like image, staging and self marketing as it did on playing an instrument.

A very wise music biz manager once told me there are three elements to success:
  • Talent
  • Image
  • Originality (or USP)
Often two out of three would do, but all three was ideal.
 

jbtsax

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#96
Ha, the soundclick site! Haven't contributed to that for many years and it's kind of a cringe factor as the guitarist I was playing with at the time was fairly limited in his compositions and the recording quality is pretty shoddy. Didn't matter much to me (at that time) as I was primarily interested in any original music that would give the opportunity for improvisation. The site I work on now (examples in the "your soundclip" section) has thousands of excellent compositions/templates by some great musicians, but also has complete amateurs contributing...which is a good thing as they are potentially gaining that wide base of experience playing with top notch musicians. They can also interact with those musicians and get feedback.

Your question is a good one as I don't think anyone has all the answers and the state of professional music is certainly going through some massive changes. As you say there may be a misunderstanding in all this as I consider the saxophone an instrument capable of playing in a very large number of genre. It seems (unfortunately) that the student who wants to learn sax mostly has just two choices of styles: 1. Classical, 2. Jazz. If it's not classical then ...well you know what they are taught. The question is not about replacing one style of jazz with another, it's opening up a world of music and influences. I apologize if that was not clear.

Improvisation can be utilized and IS utilized in many other forms/styles. In my circumstance I played for some years in a "house band" that backed whoever showed up and whatever they wanted to play/sing. Most of them never had sheet music, and if they did it went to the keys or guitarist. It was all by ear/improvisation. I've also worked on a cruise ship (in the way back when) and other situations with professionals who have to be able to appease the punters with whatever requests they come up with. So you've got to be able to play by ear/ improvise for the situation. The styles I've worked include backing folk singers, R&B, Gypsy Jazz, pop crooners, a number of ethnic styles, Reggae, Rock and Roll, Ambient, and even DJ dance club. The mainstream style of playing is not necessarily welcomed in those other styles.

There is no particular one style that anyone can swear is the next best thing for a player, although playing live over dance music is kind of hot right now. So this goes right to the core of the topic: how should a young player be trained in today's multi-styled environment? Seems to me that a wide base of exposure that gives the player flexibility might be a good idea. There is no doubt that it takes years of practice and dedication to become one with your instrument and be an effective player who can play/improvise in a wide range of styles.

You are right, I never taught music in the public school system in the USA. I was taught in a USA system though so still recall our "big band" which was OK sounding. and playing for dances. Well for me, and others, it was a bit of an embarrassment as this was music of the previous generation and not relevant to us or our peers. No matter, the dances happened, and our classmates showed up and danced, clapped, etc. We played to the best of our ability. Would they have preferred us to be playing Rock and Roll...definitely.
Correct me if I'm wrong, but the closest thing I can find to an answer is the highlighted section. Is that correct?
 
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Wade Cornell

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#97
Correct me if I'm wrong, but the closest thing I can find to an answer is the highlighted section. Is that correct?
Selective reading is not required or trying to put others in a defensive mode. You can dismiss any and all that I have said...that's your privilege. Although unfortunate, it's understandable that you feel the need to be defensive about what you and others have taught. Yet I'm sure that this was done with honesty and integrity according to your tastes and ideals. Suggesting a change that may be in the interest of students should not be a challenge to an open mind. The world changes and certainly methods of teaching change. Teachers in the past used corporal punishment. I only caught the last gasps of that...and thank goodness it's gone.

Have you read Pete's reply above. It would seem that you are equally dismissive of his professional experience and judgements. Yet you have been selective in your replies. That says to me that you are taking this as a personal issue with me and no longer just discussing a topic. Is that appropriate?
 

jbtsax

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#98
My point is and has been throughout this discussion that the music programs that I am personally familiar with at both the secondary and university levels are in fact offering a wide curriculum to their students to prepare them for all types of musical situations. They are not "stifling" students with a narrow one sided curriculum as has been asserted throughout this discussion.

As proof, I offer this website. Utah Live Bands

I am good friends with Michael Tobian the owner and his brother Stephen and I work on their saxophones. Most of the artists who make up the groups they offer to the public on their website are from this area. Many of them attended and graduated from BYU as did Michael and his brother Stephen. Not only does the university turn out accomplished instrumentalists who perform in their top band Synthesis and other instrumental groups, there are vocal majors and dancers as well who travel all over the world as part of their entertainment bureau. Many of the talented musicians start out in high school working with Caleb Chapman and his Crescent School of Music.

Go to this website, click "band types" and check out the variety of musical and entertainment offerings and see how students are being prepared to enter the competitive music industry.
 

Wade Cornell

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#99
Well then there is no argument is there? You agree that sax student shouldn't necessarily be fed a strict diet of mainstream and playing standards. That isn't exactly what I recall, and the performances and list of tunes for bands didn't seem to agree either, but I'm very happy if your school systems and others are already giving students a broad based education. The whole discussion started around questioning the strict use of "standards"and the mainstream style of music for teaching today's students. So we are all in agreement that a wider range of music is preferable.

Whew, I'm glad that's over!
 

Colin the Bear

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But having said that, Duke Ellington, Hoagie Carmichael, Irving Berlin, George Gershwin and so many more, that won't just spring to mind, have taught me so much. Just by playing their compositions. Things, with my scatterbrained personality, I wouldn't have picked up from class or books.

Standards aren't why I started playing but they are why I still play.
 
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