It was with great pleasure that I read James Lincoln Collier’s “Jazz, The American Theme Song.’ He addressed the oft-heard lament – that the groves are producing students who all sound the same – with an accurate and thorough anlaysis. What does one expect considering the growing tendency toward a standardization of teaching materiels?
The over-publication of jazz transcriptions and improvisational methods hasn’t helped the over-intellecualisation of jazz methodology that Mr. Collier refers to. How many books have I started to write that I couldn’t finish because of the onset of the depressing realization that the last thing the world needs is another book on how to improvise. Not that I don’t think that my book and some few others can’t make valid contributions to jazz education; it’s just that with so many mediocre methods being printed, how can the naive student tell the difference between good and bad? Let’s face it, jazz instruction books, like philosophy books, say more about their authors than offer help to the reader. The reality is that most jazz authorings are created from motives that are far from noble: Publish or Perish, self promotion or the profit incentive. One of the IASJ’s most prominent and well established members once quoted to me, when I asked him what his book was about, ‘I don’t understand it myself.’
Noble as the gesture may be, trying to protect students from the agonizing ordeal of trial and error with ‘short-cuts’ and methodologies doesn’t, in the end, help the student at all. No one can teach anyone how to play jazz, it is, has and always will be, a self-taught process that cannot be bypassed. The days are long gone when I could take credit for having taught a student how to play. My best students didn’t really need me that much. Most have learned in spite of their teachers and need us mostly to keep them on the right track of their self-teaching process.
There are solutions to the problems that Mr. Collier addresses, none of them easy. Indeed, jazz educators who are serious about handing the flame down to succeeding generations will have to ask themselves difficult questions if the future of jazz is to be left in the care of higher education. To this end, and unlike ‘the other jazz educators’ journal,’ Jazz Changes is providing a great service to the jazz community by inviting controversy within its covers.
Bravo and keep it up!