Jazz standards in Education

Wade Cornell

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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.
Standards shouldn't be eliminated, and neither should other potential types of music. At issue was giving new students a strict regimen of ONLY standards and the mainstream style of playing. It's a big world of music. By having a wide base of exposure it gives those who wish to play standards the opportunity to find that resource and also exposes the student to music that may be more important to them if they wish to become professionals. Berklee it seems has adopted a wider base for their jazz teaching and has more professors of "ear training" than any other type of faculty. There must be a reason why. Pete Thomas has also confirmed that from his perspective a wider base could be a better way to teach. Getting your fingers working and being able to read can be accomplished with any style of music. Improvisation can also be used in many styles and isn't just about a formulaic (paint by the numbers) style of playing riffs and arpeggios according to the changes. Within the mainstream style is a rational of how and why a musician improvises, and that's to impress their audience with their technical prowess. This is not a great premise for entertaining audiences. It worked when it was new and original. Part of the reason was that playing a "standard" meant that you were playing music that everybody knew. That's just not the case today. Go out in public and offer $100 to anyone who can whistle or hum Billy's Bounce. Unless there is someone who escaped from an old people's home or has studied jazz there won't be anyone. Mainstream had relevance in it's time and place. It's impossible to think of a good reason why it should be EXCLUSIVELY taught now. This isn't about a pendulum swinging wildly in the opposite direction and burning everyone's Fake/Real books. It's strictly about giving students the best chance possible to become well rounded musicians.
 

Jazzaferri

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In another side if my musical life I play guitar in a "gypsy jazz" band. We mostly play swing tunes from the 30's influence by the music of Django Reinhardt. It ain't really art, just good fun and the audience seem to enjoy the music.

Having finished a degree in jazz 4 years ago that was quite traditional and standards oriented, it took me a few years to shrug off the influences and get back to being me. But as has been said by greater minds than I, "fragile indeed is the talent that cannot withstand a little schooling" Even though I found the program more stultifying than satisfying, it did blow me out of where I was musically and, looking back, was a positive influence.

Some of Parker's compositions have become "standards" in the shrinking world of "jazz" @Colin the Bear.

Incidentally, there appears to be kind of a swing and "gypsy jazz" revival going on. 15 years ago, there were only a few luthiers building the type of guitar used by Django. Now there are several companies mass producing them. The world of music is changing so fast today that the concept of "standards" is probably becoming more and more defined by the sub-genre one is interested in. The definition of "standard" is probably a discussion at least a research paper in length if not a book as is the definition of "jazz"
 

Alice

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st not the case today. Go out in public and offer $100 to anyone who can whistle or hum Billy's Bounce. Unless there is someone who escaped from an old people's home or has studied jazz there won't be anyone.
I’m happy to say that in the UK, Young and old and all ages in between are going to the jazz festivals that I enjoy and my local restaurant which boasts live jazz every week has been popular since before I used to work there when I was a student in the ‘90s.
I don’t know much about the live music in my home town but if I go further afield to a more cultural city, there are bands comprised of young and older musicians who are breathing a lot of passion into the old New Orleans type jazz. Then there is the Youth Jazz orchestra in my town which plays big band and swing to an appreciative audience and gets booked months in advance for various venues.
I’ve enjoyed this discussion and I’m interested in everything that people have to say, but I’m disappointed that the attitude you display, Wade... is dismissive of something which is not dead and which people of all ages choose to pursue because they enjoy it immensely. There’s a vast catalogue of music in the Jazz genre and an awful lot which has its roots there. I don’t like rap or hip hop. I find it to be aggressive and exclusive. I also think that if a young musician had been taught how to play their instrument and has had the benefits of good teachers, they can just spread their wings and fly where they will :)
 

Wade Cornell

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I can't think of a reason why any type of music that was popular in the past or present should be either pushed or excluded. Students need to get their "chops" together and there isn't necessarily just one style/way to do that. By giving a wide range of exposure it allows the student to find those styles that work for them. Having a little bit of discipline towards a variety of styles brings into play having flexibility and finding appropriate ways of playing. If there is only one style that is taught and played then it's going to be a much more difficult transition, and it's been my observation that most will not easily make the transition.

The quote about talent presumes that talent = resilience and determination. I don't think that's entirely true. Many talented people are neither resilient, confident or determined. If they have those qualities (as well as talent) then they may overcome a system that would have otherwise hobbled them.

As an aside I've been playing in a Gypsy Jazz group in festivals for a few years. Yea, sax isn't a prime instrument, but they like me to be in there anyway. Gypsy Jazz is another example of improvisation that's not based on mainstream standards and a lighter style of playing that crosses over to dance. The sax is an amazing and versatile instrument that can fit into many situations with a lot of different ways of improvising...and that's the point. Gypsy Jazz is light fun that's not as preoccupied with everybody trying to impress the audience with their technical prowess. It does all sound "samey" after a while, so is best in small doses, kind of like Dixieland. The pay sucks, but hey, it's another fun style of gig. One thing I can say for sure: they would NOT want to hear a mainstream style player as the attitude and style does not fit.
 

Wade Cornell

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I’m happy to say that in the UK, Young and old and all ages in between are going to the jazz festivals that I enjoy and my local restaurant which boasts live jazz every week has been popular since before I used to work there when I was a student in the ‘90s.
I don’t know much about the live music in my home town but if I go further afield to a more cultural city, there are bands comprised of young and older musicians who are breathing a lot of passion into the old New Orleans type jazz. Then there is the Youth Jazz orchestra in my town which plays big band and swing to an appreciative audience and gets booked months in advance for various venues.
I’ve enjoyed this discussion and I’m interested in everything that people have to say, but I’m disappointed that the attitude you display, Wade... is dismissive of something which is not dead and which people of all ages choose to pursue because they enjoy it immensely. There’s a vast catalogue of music in the Jazz genre and an awful lot which has its roots there. I don’t like rap or hip hop. I find it to be aggressive and exclusive. I also think that if a young musician had been taught how to play their instrument and has had the benefits of good teachers, they can just spread their wings and fly where they will :)
It's Very disappointing after all of these posts to hear that the ONLY point that has been said is still misunderstood. Neither me or Pete Thomas have said that mainstream, or any style of music, should be dismissed, banned from a syllabus, or ignored. OK big print time: IT'S ABOUT WHAT IS TAUGHT. Do you think teaching should be strictly one style that's more than half a century old? I don't think so, Berkelee school of music doesn't think so and it seems the Pete Thomas agrees. Nobody is saying that people shouldn't enjoy, go to, or play whatever style of music they enjoy.

Why are you reacting this way? It's certainly true that there are not large audiences for Mainstream players and it would be difficult for anyone exclusively playing in that style to make a living (as a player). Is there any question about the validity of that? We can speculate why (and I have). If my speculations have offended I'm sorry. Maybe you can give us other reasons why Mainstream jazz isn't popular? Do you really think that teaching a strict regimen of mainstream music is the best way to prepare a musician to play in today's world of music?

You are welcome to NOT like a lot of the current styles of music. Does that give you or anyone else the right to dictate that a style of music that YOU prefer should be the ONLY style taught? Please, consider this with an open mind. Everyone should play and listen to whatever they want. You wouldn't want someone else to dictate to you what your taste should be. Our students deserve the same respect. A more open syllabus would seem to be the best way to give them that wider exposure which does NOT preclude their choosing to play standards or in the mainstream style.

It's about giving others a wider education and the freedom to choose, NOT about taking away your freedom to listen to or play whatever you want.
 
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Targa

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To quote the first line of this thread.
'Here's an uncomfortable question: Why do you want to learn "standards"? I know that this is generally what is force fed to new players, but it's time to question why.'

How to 'win' an argument.
'Here's an uncomfortable question: Why do you want to learn "Shakespeare"? I know that this is generally what is force fed to new literature students, but it's time to question why..........................................................now take six pages to try to convince me that my assumption is wrong and that it isn't, until I say that you all agree with me that it shouldn't be'.
 

Pete Thomas

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OK, I've deleted a few posts that were getting confrontational (and some others that weren't but made less sense when the others were deleted) so I will try opening this again as it really is (IMO) a very interesting discussion if we can keep it nice.
 

Alice

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It would be nice if the average school in the UK had any sort of musical lessons at all...
Absolutely!!
My daughter has managed to do a music gcse but had to choose between two when she would have taken both because one is a Btec qualification which focussed on the studio, recording, mixing, creating and composing music and the other is a gcse focussing on theory and performance. She already plays the piano, so her music teacher encouraged her to take the Btec because he said, not many girls do it.
 

Pete Thomas

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What actually constitutes a standard?
Good question, generally I think in this context standards are popular songs from the first half of last century, so would either be show tunes or radio hits. Often included under that general umbrella terms are jazz tunes (from the same era) that are commonly played - often due to being in the illegal or legal fake books or real books. Different in that they were composed specifically for jazz performace as opposed to show tunes. I prefer to differentiate those and call them jazz standards.

I think both are relevant to this discussion as they are the repertoire of "mainstream" jazz that we are discussing.
 
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jbtsax

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"Jazz standards" as they are called are an important part of learning about jazz, it's history, and how to play jazz. They are certainly not the only part, but jazz standards do provide an important foundation for understanding the musical styles that have followed. As I wrote in my first post in this thread:
What we call "Jazz Standards" comprise a body of music that demonstrate the best of its genre. In terms of harmony, melody, rhythm, form and lyrics. There is nothing better for an aspiring young musician to learn and study. All current, and popular music throughout history has as its roots, the music that came before.
"In Education" are key words in the title of this thread. My field of study was "Music Education". When I attended a university, my courses of study were not only to make me a better saxophone player, but to make me a better and more complete musician in order to better teach the subject. I learned about Medieval, Renaissance, and Baroque music in order to better understand the Classical, Romantic, and 20th Century Music that followed. Before I took classes in composition, and jazz arranging I had to learn the 4 part writing of Bach.

I also studied the development of jazz beginning with learning how the rhythms and call and response of "work songs" were blended with the harmony found in European church hymns. Then how the music was transferred to instruments and refined in the brothels of New Orleans later finding its way to Chicago where it influenced white musicians and composers. Eventually jazz became the "popular music" of the day beginning with Rag Time, and then Swing. Jazzy tunes started cropping up in Broadway Musicals, and even movies thanks to composers such as George Gershwin, and Irving Berlin and others. What we now call "standards" were an important part along that journey that began in the cottonfields of the south and continues growing and branching out today.
 

Pete Thomas

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Let me address the initial question, "Why do you want to learn standards"?

What we call "Jazz Standards" comprise a body of music that demonstrate the best of its genre. In terms of harmony, melody, rhythm, form and lyrics. There is nothing better for an aspiring young musician to learn and study. All current, and popular music throughout history has as its roots, the music that came before.
Well yes, of course it's relevant to jazz musicians, but far from relevant to a lot of "aspiring young musician"

Don't forget this thread(I think) is not about jazz education per se, but music education in general. Of course standards and jazz standards are important to jazz education, i think that goes without saying and I doubt anybody would argue with that.


In terms of harmony, melody, rhythm, form and lyrics.
Very few jazz standards actually have lyrics, and if they do they were mostly added afterwards, e.g by proponents of vocalese.
 

rhysonsax

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Good question, generally I think in this context standards are popular songs from the first half of last century, so would either be show tunes or radio hits. Often included under that general umbrella terms are jazz tunes (from the same era) that are commonly played - often due to being in the illegal or legal fake books or real books. Different in that they were composed specifically for jazz performace as opposed to show tunes. I prefer to differentiate those and call them jazz standards.

I think both are relevant to this discussion as they are the repertoire of "mainstream" jazz that we are discussing.
I would understand "Jazz Standards" to include both "show tunes" (a.k.a. "the great American Songbook", although not all are American) and also jazz compositions that have proved popular enough with other jazz performers to become part of the common repertoire of many jazz groups. The former category of songs are basically fixed but the latter continues to grow over time.

Rhys
 

jbtsax

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Well yes, of course it's relevant to jazz musicians, but far from relevant to a lot of "aspiring young musician"
Agreed. In my comment aspiring young jazz musicians was implied.

Don't forget this thread(I think) is not about jazz education per se, but music education in general. Of course standards and jazz standards are important to jazz education, i think that goes without saying and I doubt anybody would argue with that.
My interpretation apparently was different than yours. The word jazz takes me into jazz education.

Very few jazz standards actually have lyrics, and if they do they were mostly added afterwards, e.g by proponents of vocalese.
When someone mentions jazz standards I think of Misty, Take The A Train, Satin Doll, Stardust etc. In other words jazz tunes that were popular with the general public and are still around. These are tunes I played on gigs over the years.
 

Ivan

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Thanks for re-opening this @Pete Thomas

I read it in a oner today and at the end, when I saw it was closed, I was racking my brains as to how to communicate to @Wade Cornell and @jbtsax how much I'd enjoyed reading their views, and that when I saw the tetch level rising they still managed to remain pretty civil...though I bow to the moderaterii when it comes to the final arbitration on where that threshold lies

Anyroad

Interesting thread
 

Pete Thomas

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Agreed. In my comment aspiring young jazz musicians was implied.
I don't understand how the word jazz is implied by (or to be inferred from) aspiring young musicians. This seems to be the whole crux of various misunderstaings. Neither I nor (I think) Wade would deny that standards or jazz standrads are important in jazz education, but the thread seemed to be about music education in general.
 
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