The Crisis In Jazz
Shelly Berg’s response to the growing criticism of the IAJE’s involvement with the recording industry and the decay of the mentor-apprentice relationship raises more questions about the organizations’s awareness of the effects of this involvement and decay than it answers.
It is true that there is no panacea for the survival of the jazz tradition, each individual’s and organization’s contribution to the current crisis in jazz education must be examined on a case by case basis. In this case, it’s the IAJE and the major labels turn.
Mr. Berg describes the larger group (90 percent) of the convention as Fringe artists. I assume that this designation refers to those artists who do not have the promotional support of a major record label to increase their exposure to wider audiences. As most of the convention’s attendees are aware, these Fringe artists play in the 7pm-9pm time slot in the convention’s smaller venues, which seat only 100-300 people. They will not have the opportunity to perform at 9pm in the main stage venue, which often seats up to 3,000. If the IAJE were truly committed to promoting the music of the Fringe artists it could insist that, as part of their acceptance of record label support, at least one fringe artist appear as an opening act to the main stage’s major artists for every night of each convention’s main stage presentations. The major labels have purchased that time and space for their artists only. In this case, the IAJE caved in to the commercial interests of the major labels. Where is the so-called reciprocity that Mr. Berg urges?
His defense of the major labels alleged genuine and fervent commitment to the nurturing of the jazz audience is, to anyone who has any experience with theses labels, a cause of major concern. Whose audience are they interested in nurturing? I mean, really, when was the last time anyone met a record executive with altruistic motives? These executives are hard-nosed businessmen whose only commitment is to short-term profit and the bottom line. True, they are in the driver’s seat of the industry. However, as any musician will attest, these powerful labels, with their financial resources, can make anyone a star if they want to. Their focus on selecting marketable (read’ image’) yet mediocre jazz artists proves the point.
The most ominous aspect of Mr. Berg’s response is the major labels partnership in future IAJE programmes. This partnership in the IAJE’s outreach initiative begs the question: What further inroads will these labels be making into the educational system itself? What will these companies expect in return for their pledge of support for the IAJE’s future menu of programmes?
Not wanting to give anyone any ideas, when I wrote my original critique on the Crises In Jazz Education for the IAJE’s chat line, I hesitated mentioning any concerns I might have about the possibility of the major labels next buying their way into one of the few remaining viable venues left for these so-called ‘fringe’ artists, the college and university concert-lecture circuit. It would seem that they were ahead of me. Will we now be seeing more of their artists appearing at these venues? Other than creating more jazz fans in general, one wonders what these major jazz label artists, who are not a product of the apprenticeship system and the oral tradition themselves, can contribute to the future of jazz education? Mr. Berg’s dismissal of those who criticize the issue of the Xerox Effect as being examined superficially and at face value is unjustified and to a degree insulting. These critics are serious and dedicated educators and musicians with a genuine and realistic concern for the welfare of jazz music. They are the group who know!
Furthermore, Mr. Bergs’s statements about those unpleasant experiences with great jazz artists who are out of thier depth in a teaching situation really says more about the mentality of the IAJE than about the abilities of these artists to teach. Translate ‘out of thier depth’ as ‘they can’t verbalize about the music.’ The jazz education system, to a great degree, is populated by those who can talk and publish about the music but can’t demonstrate it. I can think of no better example of the educational system’s faults than the attitude among many of the IAJE’s members that musicians who can’t talk about the music in a classroom situation are not qualified to teach it. Since when has being able to talk about the music been a prerequisite to being able to teach it? I have had the good fortune, in my 40 years of playing jazz, to have apprenticed with many of the giants of jazz. These were my teachers. Most of them could not talk about the music they played. They taught by demonstration and example. That is the beauty and simplicity of the apprenticeship system.
Mr. Berg also demonstrates the educational community’s inability to come to term with the basic issues of jazz education. The system does not know how to take advantage of the talents of these non-verbal musicians, putting these great jazz artists into situations that are inappropriate for their abilities, then dismissing them as ineffective. Wouldn’t it make more sense to fit the educational system to the artist-teacher rather than try to fit the artist-teacher into the system? The educational system would be best served if it attempted to model its methods after real-life situations rather than the artificial environment of the classroom. Fledgling jazz students will learn more than can ever be verbalized by having them play with a jazz master for a week.
Lastly, I have never considered the educational system the proper place to cultivate future jazz audiences. Is it really necessary that the parents of future jazz fans $10,000 to $20,000 a semester to become qualified and passionate advocates of the music? Are we teaching jazz appreciation or jazz improvisation? It would be a generous estimate to suggest that only one in a hundred who graduate form a jazz school become front-line performing jazz artists. In that case, it takes the tuition from the other 99 students to finance the education of that one performing artist. Something’s wrong with those figures! True, the other 99 percent fulfil valuable roles in the support structure that keeps each performing musician functioning but the system is unbalanced in this regard. A two-track educational system, one geared to the needs of the support structure and the other geared to the needs of the performing musician, would clarify the issues involved in the current methodology of handing the jazz tradition down to succeeding generations of musicians and the music’s supporters.
With all due respect to the may IAJE members who are committed to the music and are excellent teachers, it is obvious that there are not enough of them in place to effect the changes necessary to make the system fulfil its responsibility and obligation to the music that fuels the financial support of the educational system.