Monday, April 21, 2008

An Education In Jazz

Class is over.

The following essay was posted earlier today at Plastic Sax. The YoungBlood Brass Band represent a viable alternative for scholastic jazz ensembles. Note the crowd's reaction to the hip hop elements of the Madison band's sound.

As I attended the MCC-Penn Valley 18th & Vine Jazz Festival last Friday afternoon, word was spreading that the International Association of Jazz Educators intended to file for bankruptcy.

According to a memo posted at the Manhattan, Kansas-based organization's site, IAJE "as it presently stands will no longer exist." The board president claims that the organization was "blindsided last fall with the discovery of the extent of the accumulated association debt."

Regular Plastic Sax readers already know that I'm not an advocate of the jazz education establishment. Friday's festival only solidified my stance.

The students could play remarkably well; that's not at issue. It's the distressing absence of passion and fire that's alarming. As if to confirm the event's lack of relevance, the audience consisted almost exclusively of supportive parents. I suspect that many of the teenage musicians applied their talent to ska, hip hop and rock bands later that night.

Why not allow these kids to make the music meaningful to themselves and their classmates during school hours? It's cool that high school marching bands play versions of Outkast's "Hey Ya!" and Black Sabbath's "Iron Man." But I'll bet they'd prefer to arrange and perform Green Day's American Idiot or Dr. Dre's The Chronic.

It's an appropriate time to reevaluate the status quo. The question must be asked- "Why jazz education?" If there's no satisfactory answer, perhaps jazz programs should be abandoned in favor of popular music departments.

I would rather hear an inspired cover of a Rick Ross hit than a desultory rendition of a Billy Strayhorn chart.

Kansas City Click: Lyfe Jennings croons at the Beaumont tonight.

(Original image by Plastic Sax. The inclusion of the YoungBlood Brass Ensemble suggested by The New Low Down.)


WLIB said...

I would've gladly joined the marching band in high school if I knew we'd be playing this kind of stuff. Of course, my high school didn't have a marching band (that sort of thing leads to dancing, you know...)

But seriously, folks, this is a watershed event in the history of American jazz. Anarchy in the USA!

bgo said...

My education in Jazz came from vintage records, 78's, LP's & 45's.

And reading Downbeat and books about musicians and the lives they led.

Now my information comes from sources all over the map, but especially the Web.

I try to keep up with the young and up and coming. I think I do a decent job of it.


Joel T. Luber said...

I have really mixed feelings about bringing rock or other popular musics into the academy similarly to the way jazz has been. On the one hand, such institutional support lends prestige and importance, but on the other hand, being in schools certainly hasn't made jazz any better or more vibrant. I might even go so far as to suggest that jazz's "rise" to acceptance in prestigious institutions killed it.

The Youngblood Brass Band ain't jazz, at least not to me, although I will admit a bit of a jazz flavor in the sax solo on this track. I do think that their dual music educator/hip hop band thing is intriguing. Their shows in Lawrence draw probably the strangest crowds of any shows I ever go to: two thirds KU band geeks and one third hip hop scene people.

Happy In Bag said...

You're killin' me, Lee.

That's the path of true love, BGO.

It's like this, Joel- Are students taught how to repair typewriters in high school shop class? Then why not move the music curriculum forward a couple decades?