Interview Concerning International Education (mid 2000s)

Lieb Speaks On International Education to Fred Bouchard

How I Got Into Teaching

I didn’t go to school for jazz. I only took  “jazz” lessons with Lennie Tristano at 17, with Charles Lloyd for a minute, and later real saxophone studies from the master, Joe Allard. I didn’t even think jazz should or could be taught. I was unaware then of the jazz programs that existed at U. of Miami, North Texas State and Berklee College, to name a few.

In 1977, Jamey Aebersold phoned me to participate in a winter jazz clinic. I more or less thought a clinic was like checking yourself into a hospital! He explained what it was, and I said ‘I’ll be there.’ It was in Hays, Kansas in the middle of the winter. I’d just been in India with my mother for a tour. Jamey had me play in trio with two of his regular guys, Ed Soph and Rufus Reid and also speak to a group of saxophonists. Most importantly, I met the ABC’s of jazz education — Jamey Aebersold, David Baker and Jerry Coker.

Shortly after Jamey invited me for his more extensive summer jazz clinics, which lasted six weeks and toured several states: California, Colorado, Indiana, etc. This turned me around on several levels. The ABC’s and others were teaching jazz in an organized and complete fashion. This was a crew of top professionals who’d been with Jamey for ten years. I was amazed! I’d been skeptical of jazz being codified into a pedagogical approach, and had considered it more or less a spiritual and intuitive pursuit. When I realized the level of musicianship of these guys, how immersed they were in bebop and in tune with teaching it, I was not only impressed but slightly intimidated. They knew it better than I did! They were really completely knowledgeable. This was my introduction to jazz education.

Eventually, I make several albums for Jamey’s play-along series and became part of his crew. I realized that it was viable and that jazz education was a force to be reckoned with, at least in the US, even at the high school level.


Finding A Mission Cured My Doubts

Well, in the early 80s I was plagued with doubts about my future as a professional musician. Yes, I had played and recorded with Miles and Elvin Jones, toured the world, recorded under my own name, been on the polls, but I felt an emptiness — I guess a spiritual emptiness. What else was there to do? I was frustrated by the jazz scene for many reasons. I took the LSAT (law school board exams) and applied to law schools. I was accepted to several and ready to go in 1982. But it was teaching that brought me back to a center which performing was not doing for me at that time. It gave me a higher purpose and I needed that. For the next few years I was involved with Dave Holland at the Banff Center [Alberta, Canada] and I could see the level of students rise dramatically.

By the mid 80s, I was getting more requests for Quest [Dave’s quartet with pianist Richie Beirach] to teach and perform in Europe, ranging from a few hours of talking and playing in small private neighborhood schools (like in Spain) to intense, week-long programs at state funded conservatories. After I’d taught in many places, I started to assemble my own materials into books and instructional videos, and to write articles for periodicals.

Jazz schools were becoming quite common in Europe, as they were in the States. One thing is for sure—whatever language one uses, French, Japanese, whatever — when you learn an art form most of the information is common language. Everyone in jazz education has to learn about Miles, Duke, the greats. [not quite clear]

When I realized that jazz educators would find it rewarding to meet and get to know each other, I started writing letters to them in 1987, suggesting a sort of United Nations of Jazz, with annual meetings, newsletters, and other ways of staying in touch and furthering common goals. Eventually on April 29, 1989, I called a meeting at my publisher’s office in southern Germany [Munich?] (Advance Music) and lo and behold, 15 schools showed up from Spain, Israel, New York, Paris… The IASJ (International Association of Schools of Jazz) was started. We are now in our 14th year of existence!! [more on IASJ]

By this time I had begun to form a personal ideology. As you get more serious, you become more bound to truly understand what and why you are doing something. Soon it becomes a mission! I’m not just teaching jazz, but the values that jazz demonstrates which are valuable principles in all of life, ranging from–

  • The balance between democracy (group participation) and asserting one’s own individuality.
  • Freedom vs. discipline-the desire and ability to soar with the confidence of a firm foundation.
  • The deep and rich traditions of America’s melting pot from which jazz springs: Blacks, Jews, Italians, etc.
  • Just plain old great music without the often pretentious trappings and formality of the Western classical tradition.

When I think of the hundreds of students who’ve passed through our yearly Jazz Meetings of the IASJ, my Saxophone Master Class held the last 15 summers at East Stroudsburg University in Pennsylvania, private lessons and public lectures, it is extremely gratifying. We are spreading this positive message to young people, regardless of whether they end up doing something in jazz or not — the point is positive energy! [explain the alternatives, the energy]

The bottom line that I’m left with is, to borrow a cliché, “The pen is mightier than the sword.”  The pen is the thought and the message behind the art while the sword is performance. It seems to me that unless you’re a genius like Bird or Trane — which I’m not — I could do a lot of good spreading the word through teaching. That message, when we teach conscientiously, is mighty. [the word: appreciation? execution? achievement? career?]

Today, jazz is a big industry. The larger organization, IAJE, holds conventions that are massive events that draw 7-10K, running bands and clinics nonstop for several days. Hundreds of vendors sell books, instruments, jazz aids, and so on. This of course has its good and bad aspects like anything else.

For sure teachers are getting better. Before there were teachers and there were players, often separate. Now the teachers are good players.  Interested students are getting better while the levels of learning and teaching are incredible. Where did it all come from?

Once you raise the bar on learning – improved technical proficiency, historical knowledge, etc — it keeps going. It’s like cracking the pole vault, the broad jump, the 4-minute mile. We educators are getting better, and our students are benefiting from our improvements.

For sure, but we cannot teach creativity. We can give them the information in a nutshell, inspire them, give them the tools to play, and show them how to learn. That is a main function of teaching. Actual information is secondary. That stuff is all out there. The process is where you key in on how to find it, think about it, organize it. Learn to take what is known and integrate it, assimilate it, and make it your own.


The Future Holds Promise

From what I see, I’m optimistic. To get major negative points out of the way, first is the increasing standardization of young players who have been taught a clean system, which, if followed honestly and diligently, can work — up to a point. And hand in hand with that is the commercialization of something that was once a kind of “voodoo “art form.  But on the positive side, the efforts of the IASJ and IAJE among others assure that jazz will find a place in Asia and South America, and hopefully Africa. For sure, it will continue to grow. Europe, being a bit more of a melting pot than the US, demonstrates that the mixture of different cultures readily incorporates the main tenets of jazz and combines its own music with it.  Jazz is a basis for the music of the 20th century as the three B’s were for the 19th. I believe what we will see is an amazing new thing: world music in which jazz is a cornerstone and plays a very significant role.