Why Jazz Education? – short version


After all is said and done I have always felt that when teaching an art form, you are accomplishing much more than the obvious transmission of skills and expertise. There should be a rationale and purpose for teaching that goes beyond the art form itself. The reality of the real world situation is obvious: supply and demand are way out of balance for artists of all types and always has been. We have many more good musicians than needed and as far as truly gifted artists are concerned though they may be rare, they are also in abundance compared to the opportunities for them to display their skills. So what benefits derive for a young person who immerses themselves in the study of jazz but may not find an outlet to use it?

There are the by now well documented benefits for the brain through the learning of music and the accompanying positive attributes (Mozart effect, etc.) To me the most important lesson learned in jazz playing is how to cooperate and work within a group situation while maintaining and exploring individuality. The members of a jazz group have to work together to achieve musical results but each musician eventually gets a chance to assert their own will at one time or another with all the others in supportive roles. This constant changing of position (more on some instruments than others) is very dynamic and is a wonderful lesson in group interaction, something that all people have to deal with in life.

Freedom of expression is a cliché but on an individual level jazz reinforces the notion that what an individual has to say is valid and meaningful, that (s)he has worked on the subject and is ready to deliver it. The sense of validation an aspiring musician gets when he hears back a solo and is acknowledged by his peers or elders is something very special. The relaxed atmosphere in the jazz community and surrounding environment means that though praise may be verbally muted or referred to using slang, it is deeply felt. Any person gets a real boost from this approval and knows he has honestly earned it. Music does not lie.

Speaking about the casual and relaxed feeling of the jazz world also translates to modesty and understatement in general. Being popular, wealthy or whatever values are bandied about in our culture have little place in the jazz world. This is a rich tradition built by real people from recent history of whom legendary stories are still spoken. This reality factor and lack of pretense gives the participants in jazz a real grounding based on true human values. A dry sense of humor pervades the jazz world and understatement abounds. Musicians involved in jazz are generally private people whose only desire is to play this very deep music knowing that material rewards are few and far between. To me this wonderful and rare trait of humility is widely common among jazz musicians by and large.

Playing jazz combines several qualities: instinct, honesty, confidence, experience, trust, imagination and a positive attitude. No matter what walk of life one enters in the future these are qualities that will serve any human being well. The saying that “the pen is mightier than the sword” is applicable to how I feel about teaching. To my mind, though this may appear to be an extreme and categorical judgment, unless an individual is an innovator who changes the history of an art form, one’s influence as a teacher, be it formal or not is more powerful than the playing of the music itself. It is important and noble work.