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November 01, 2009


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Matt LeGroulx

It's kind of appalling that teachers will ridicule a student for for liking Oscar Peterson. At the same time a truly creative individual's curiosity can't be snuffed out by bad teaching so I'm not too worried. The select few who really, deeply care about the music will survive and continue to play it and if we're stuck in a swamp of "modern jazz" there will still be pools of passionate people playing the "old" music passionately which is actually the opposite of what happened in the 80's and early 90's when we had pools of "moderns" awash in a sea of imitation Dizzys and Birds. I've been teaching since high-school and I've found that the best way to teach is to find out what the student's into and run with that, gently try to expand their horizon's by just letting them know what else is out there but never place one thing above another. Obviously, this is impractical in a classroom setting but maybe the classroom is not the best place to learn to play jazz. I understand that we all want to keep the jazz we love alive but times change, people change, well, everything changes and you can't stop progress and by progress I mean moving from one point to another not from something inferior to something superior. We have the same issue but with language here in Quebec. Nationalists want to keep french alive by putting in place government programs to "encourage" the french language. What happens most is that they discourage other languages and cultures. For example someone had painted a Greek flag on their garage door. The province not only made him paint it over but fined him as well. Another example I find particularly offensive, in the Metro every now and then you can find these posters with a picture of a small business owner and a fleur-de-lis symbol. The man is saying, and I'm paraphrasing, "I place this symbol on my business to show that I am dedicated to serving customers in french, etc." thereby labeling non-french businesses by omission. You can't stop people from playing whatever the music-of-the-moment is and you can't stop francophones from speaking english.

Sorry, I don't remember where I was going with this, haven't had my coffee yet. I think that my point is that we shouldn't be worrying about it so much and just let things happen. Study what you're into, even if your teacher wants to teach you something else. Learning this stuff should be hard work, you have to dig. Dig?

Bill Kirchner

Thank you for resisting the all-too-prevalent temptation to take easy, and largely uninformed, swipes at jazz education. I don’t know what “rather prestigious university in New York with a world-class jazz program” your correspondent attends, but what he or she describes is, while certainly not unheard-of, not overly typical either.

For my part and that of many, if not most, of my jazz-educator colleagues, we (should) make no assumptions about the students’ stylistic interests—those vary widely. My job as an educator is to expose them to a wide variety of jazz styles ranging over 100 years (not to mention classical music, world music, pop styles, etc.), and to give esthetic guidance when appropriate. Most of my more astute students take whatever stylistic “balls” they’re interested in and run with them.

Since your correspondent mentioned Erroll Garner, I’ll add that in my jazz-history class, I play Garner’s 1957 recording of “You’d Be So Nice To Come Home To” from his underappreciated “Soliloquy” album. It’s invariably one of the biggest hits of the spring semester. Overall, I play recordings of pianists ranging from Scott Joplin to Ethan Iverson and Robert Glasper.

The Irish bassist/composer/educator Ronan Guilfoyle recently posted on his excellent blog an eloquent “In Defence of Jazz Education”. I highly recommend that your readers check it out:

Ed Leimbacher

Oh, p'Shaw, Artie! Go ahead, enjoy fame and Ava and getting on the bandstand with Roy every night... I dare ya.

Ed Leimbacher

... and that remark should be connected to Monday, not Sunday of course. Guess I need more caffeine. (Or do I mean less?)

Hi Marc,

I enjoy your blog. I wrote a rather lengthy response to your student e-mailer on my own burgeoning blog, so I'll just post the link to that here. But in response to your question "Are music educators largely to blame for jazz's slipping popularity and taste level?," I think the answer is somewhat. When you have educators (and they're absolutely out there) who demand that students approach jazz by adhering to a specific stylistic bag which doesn't allow for influences outside of the realm of jazz, then you're going to see a culture who really couldn't care less what young jazz musicians are playing. And for the most part I don't blame them – why support musicians who are trying to replicate music that sounded better 50 years ago? But more on this in my post!

Jason McCool


wow, believe me most musicianns don't listen either, and as far as what we have read, man this kid already sounds like a politician, creating the illusion of separation. think for yourself, use yur brain, louis armstrong made me smile when i was a kid, don't know why, mickey mouse never even came close., taste? it goes way beyond that, , maybe u need a mind enema.

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  • Marc Myers writes regularly for The Wall Street Journal and is author of "Anatomy of a Song" (Grove) and "Why Jazz Happened." Founded in 2007, JazzWax is a two-time winner of the Jazz Journalists Association's best blog award.

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