by Hal Galper

As published on March 2000 on

Dear Reader:

It’s all too easy to complain about the world. I’ve certainly done my share in these columns.

As I mentioned in my last diatribe, I’m offering these positive solutions to the crisis both jazz educators and masters of jazz alike have been mouthing off about of late.

Are they fantasies or can they be made into a reality? I don’t know for sure but I’ve done some numbers and they seem like they might work.

If not, perhaps they will at least stimulate some though, perhaps some constructive dialog and maybe even some action on somebody’s part.

I figure, hey, I can dream can’t I? Maybe we all can.

The Jazz Masters Guild

The state of jazz education has been coming under increasing scrutiny and discussion. There is growing dissatisfaction with the quality of it’s output and the search for solutions is beginning.

The most interesting aspect of these discussions are the variety of points of view, many of which would, at first, seem conflicting. However these discussions would seem to be expressed not as opposing differences, but as different facets of a whole. If this is truly the case, trying to solve these problems on a case by case basis will be non-productive. Jazz education’s problems are systemic and endemic and can only be resolved by a systemic solution.

From this point of view, what kind of an educational system can be created that could integrate the rich variety of ideas the discussions’ participants express? Could this new educational system preserve the traditions of the music as well as facilitate innovation?

Some crucial underlying assumptions not directly stated in these discussions should be questioned.

A. Is it desirable to codify jazz pedagogy into a unified concept?

One of the fundamental properties in the development of any organized system is that the more organized any system becomes, the more conservative and exclusive that system becomes. It would then seem imperative we must find a way of creating a new system. It must be capable of allowing a multiplicity of points of view to exist simultaneously while retaining the principles of freedom of expression and individuality.

B. Is it possible, and necessary, to create such a system within the established educational bureaucracy or is the creation of an alternative educational system only possible as an adjunct the system?

It would be an exercise in futility to expect to alter the established educational bureaucracy radically enough to effect meaningful change. Bureaucracies, by their very nature, are conservative and resist change. They tend to exist only to survive as an entity, eventually losing their effectiveness to produce quality results. A bureaucracy’s vested interests have a stake in maintaining it’s status quo.

C. To what degree has the demise of the apprenticeship system affected jazz education?

One well-known educator once expressed to me a recurring nightmare: “What if we graduated a student who couldn’t play?” I would postulate that this is the case with a majority of the graduates of the current educational system. It is this very concern that has prompted thoughtful educators to enter into a dialog about this problem.

It’s a well worn axiom that no one can show anyone how to play–it’s basically a self-taught process developed through trial and error and experience.

Jazz programs tend to teach their graduates how to learn more than how to play. This being the case, where do these graduates go to learn how to play? In the past, the apprenticeship system was the answer to that question. The loss of the apprenticeship system has had a dual affect: it has deprived many masters of a way to make a living performing their music and as well as opportunities for students to continue their education.

The creation of an alternative educational system would serve to address all of the concerns expressed by both the disenfranchised jazz master and jazz education’s critics. The following suggestions for creating an alternative educational system are based on my analysis of the problems inherent in the current system addressed in my article “Jazz In Academia,” previously published in Jazz Notes Magazine. View this article on my website. The crux of which is the fact that jazz education “borrowed” the methodologies of western education and forced the teaching of jazz to fit a pre-existing mold. A jazz educational system more conducive to the teaching of jazz has never been developed.

The following is a list of the goals and conditions that a new adjunct system would strive to achieve.

The Guild should be thought of as a post-graduate extension of the educational system. This would allow the involvement of university and college jazz departments without challenging the bureaucracy.

The Guild should be financed by tuition and other Guild revenue sources and not degree based. The work load involved in a liberal arts education tends to be labor intensive and non-productive. Students don’t have time to practice and develop. Any desires a student may express for an interest in liberal arts studies can be provided as adjunctive to the Guild. It should be cautioned however, that the profit motive creates a tendency for educational institutions to continually expand its student base beyond the institution’s ability to teach each student effectively, historically generating the need for a large student base resulting in the use of the classroom in order to mass produce. The classroom reduces musical knowledge to a mechanical format that produces mechanical players and a learning environment not conducive to developing the creative processes. Controls should be implemented to keep the Guild profitable but within the bounds of educational effectiveness.

The Guild educational approach should be structured upon the African concept of the Master-Student relationship. This relationship is given precedence over mere recitation of information. The structure must preserve the oral tradition and the apprenticeship system, be elitist rather than democratic in nature and be modeled like a “Guild System” wherein upward mobility is earned, not automatically awarded. The Guild should be performance based and reflective of the historical and current realities of the work-place. This will reduce the numbers involved. In this concept, smaller is better.

“Set & Setting” should be two of the major considerations of the alternative system. The mind set (read “Set”) of the student and teacher and the environment (read “Setting”) in which the educational process occurs are crucial to the development of any creative process. The most effective mind set that a student can adopt is that survival and advancement are based on accomplishment. The setting should emulate the bandstand as much as is practicably possible and should be “Gig-based.” When I was apprenticing, I was under the control of a master that insisted that I learn how to play the way that pleased him and behave professionally or the guy sitting behind me would get the gig. Informational sessions should be reserved for day-time hours and combo education for the evening. A centralized office would administrate the Guild. This office would oversee the placement and movement of students in and through the system, fund-raising and allocation, housing, external resources and collection of student applications and student and master feedback.

The Guild should be international in scope allowing the greatest latitude for genre specific education. The current educational establishment has a bias against those musicians who lack verbal skills to articulate musical concepts. It should be noted that as a product of the apprenticeship system myself, I never once worked with a master musician who could talk about what he did. The apprenticeship system was based upon emulation of the masters through continued on-the-job experience. One learned by hearing how it should be done night after night. Masters can be recruited from the educational community but would best serve the jazz community at large by offering Guild teaching positions to those who are more experienced in the performance aspects of the music. The are a vast number of masters available as a valuable educational resource. Because of ageism in the music business and the educational bias against non-verbal masters, this resource of master teachers remains largely untapped. Most of these masters, themselves a product of the apprenticeship system, are not in a position to find work for groups of their own. A primary component of the Guild would be that these masters play with and work and tour with their students on a for four to six months per year. This can be affected by the implementation of two other innovative companion programs: The Audience Identification Program and the Team Targeting Program.

This approach toward jazz education realizes two major goals: the resurrection of the rapidly disappearing apprenticeship system and the employment of those masters who have been disenfranchised by those who control the jazz music business.

Depending on the number of masters available, every major city, and smaller town, wherever possible, would have Resident Master Combos. These Master Combos would be genre specific to offer a wide choice of musical direction to the potential student body. For example, a city like New York City or Los Angeles could have as many as 100 Master Combos each whereas a smaller town, like Lawrence KS, would have perhaps only one.

Genres could include: mainstream bebop, Latin, world music, contemporary jazz, big bands, European, eastern and ethnic music, etc.

Masters would be autonomous in regards to decisions about teaching methodology and student combo personnel. Students would be accepted through live auditions.

Masters would be graded according to level: beginning, intermediate and advanced. Each master would recommend their students to a master on increasingly higher levels.

The master would be required to perform with the combo on a daily basis.

Masters would be remunerated on an equal basis, not dependent on combo size.

Masters would be required to spend a minimum amount of hours per week with the combo. A feedback system to insure minimum requirements are being met would be established.

Students would apply to study under the master that best satisfies his genre interest and level of expertise.

Students would be required to spend a year (12 months) with each master. Graduates of each year’s combos would earn their way up to the next level of combo experience, with a different master in a higher level. Each master recommends their students to the master on the next higher level. If necessary, graduates could move from city to city. Graduates of the highest levels could then be hired by a master to move upward into a true apprenticeship situation.

Students can be “fired” by a master and replaced by the next available student. Tuition would be refunded on a pro-rated basis.

Students not accepted on their first audition-application may reapply on a yearly basis.

Students would be encouraged to seek performance work in the local community aided by the master.

Extracurricular education for subjects not covered by a particular master would be arranged according the students needs as diagnosed by the master or the desire of the student. These subjects could be: arranging, composing, instrumental technique, etc.

Facilities and equipment would be supplied and arranged by the central administrating organization. This may require the rental of property that could be converted to rehearsal space and (except high school students) accommodations. The facility should be in the closest possible proximity of the Master’s own home.

Tuition would be less expensive than that of the average degree based tuition. Financial and equipment support could be sought from private, foundation, government and corporate sources by the central organization.

Masters and students alike would earn performance fees. Students performance fees could be applied to their tuition . A fixed percentage of all fees for performance and record sales would be fed back to the Guild to support it’s activities.

It is essential the means be developed to involve the current educational community in The Guild. Jazz departments could recommend their best students to the Guild. This would not only enhance the department‘s image but the Guild’s as well. A membership fee would required for jazz departments to qualify for their graduates acceptance into the Guild.

The Guild, with it’s combination of freedom of choice, loose structure and intense musical focus, would attract the highest quality of teachers and students.

Similar jazz education institutions have existed before but only in the micro, not the macro. Berklee School of Music, before it adopted its degree program was similar. Los Angeles once had a non-degree giving school called Westlake who’s graduates were well sought after. The Jazz School at Lenox, MA was another. Because of the quality of it’s output, Guild graduates would be in a better position to survive in the market place. The Guild would provide financial stability to both its masters and students.

The above is merely an outline of the shape the Guild could take. Details of administration, cost-expense analysis, funding, oversight and the myriad of details establishing The Guild would entail would have to be developed.

I’ve done some preliminary number crunching that would seem to suggest that such and alternative system would be financially viable.

The time and energy involved in creating The Guild would be no less, and perhaps more then the time and energy it would take to solve the problems within the currently existing system. However, the rewards of creating this new system would achieve more satisfying results for both its educators and students.