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Old Dec 7, 2008, 12:31 AM
james mcrae james mcrae is offline
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Join Date: Aug 2004
Location: nanaimo
Posts: 104
jazz school and jazz more generally

up until this year i hadn't really been to one.. i remember hanging around the music dept of capilano way back in the mid 70's and might have taken one or 2 music courses p/t along with some ology courses that were quite fun, but i was never a regular student probably due the fact i didn't have an ambition to study in a formal setting or that i was busy working and other stuff like that.. i was out playing p/t and having fun doing a few things for a livelihood.. i had some friends that were immersed in the program at cap and they seemed to be sometimes short on drummers so i got asked to play.

i suppose if you want to get a piece of paper with your name on it, then you go thru some hoops and you end up learning a few things along the way, hopefully playing music and meeting new people that you stay connected with thru music after you leave school... jazz schools are a place to meet and connect with other musicians.. perhaps you'll meet some like minded musicians that you end up making music with and it goes further.. everybody goes into school with different goals or ideas about what they hope to get from it.. i suppose it goes without saying no two people are the same..

i decided to audit a jazz comp course this fall at vancouver island university - viu.. i have been writing songs on off for a long time, but i have been doing it more aggressively in the past 5 years then i have prior to this time.. i find the process really rewarding and i felt i could benefit from taking a jazz comp course.. when i saw the course material i realized i had most of the suggested reading text and although i hadn't scratched the surface of most of them that far, i felt it would be an enjoyable and great experience for me personally.. it turns out it was from the pov of writing more songs and rethinking the writing process.. i found myself gently forced into meeting deadlines on assignments that i probably wouldn't have put on myself otherwise.. i think it depends on how self motivated and disciplined one is whether they get much done or not in school and in life... school demands you pull it together with deadlines and assignments which i think is a great life skill to have..

my observation on spending the past 3 or 4 years more closely with students from the music program at viu is that they are given a lot of info and i'm not sure how much of it they absorb.. the image i have is someone having to eat a lot but never getting around to chewing on that much of it.. hopefully some of it sinks in on a deeper level and is beneficial in the long run.. i guess it will be different with everyone, but that is the image i come away with from one semester at viu...

i wonder where the whole jazz school thing is going, but it is going and probably will be going for quite some time.. jazz school seems like the new classical music school type thing.. it is like studying some past art form, while there are people who continue to make new arts forms that are coming out of jazz, classical and numerous other influences.. i realize jazz school has to focus on jazz as opposed to rock for example, but all of these elements overlap a lot more today then they did back in the 40's or 50's for example.. these institutions have to answer the basic question 'what is jazz' and go about the business of teaching it.. my definition of what jazz is, is a lot broader and inclusive of many elements then more traditional jazz type folks as i understand it.. i guess this means i am not 'traditional'.. we have to go with who we are, while remaing open to continually discovering who we are while changing over the course of time.. a fun term i've used to describe those who hold to more traditional attitudes about what is jazz i call jazz nazi's.. i picked up the term somewhere along the line, but it seems jazz school seems to encourage one to polarize strongly along one or the other pole - traditional, or more unconventional and experimental.. lord knows what the term is for those who are experimental by the more traditional.. maybe just whanker, lol..

an institution is where analyzing, measuring, being clinical, qualifying and quantifying music (or whatever), having juries overseeing it and etc. etc. is what happens when you want to get a music degree but some of it, perhaps a lot of it seems to be the antithesis of what making music is all about.. i guess that is the learning part!

for me making music is like making love, or being involved in a joyous and intimate experience.. to think about having someone grading me on how i play might be what they do in jazz school but it seems to really run counter to what i think of what music is all about..

there seems to be an element of elitism to jazz school..maybe it is just school generally... relations between students and teachers can probably evolve any number of ways.. generally it seems the teachers are venerated and some of it is warrented and maybe some of it is not.. some of them are great players, but being a great player doesn't translate as being a great teacher and vice versa... i think being a great teacher requires certain social skills which i doubt all great players have, at least that has been my observation..

i think you can either hit it off or not with a school, or teacher and it is hard to pin point what it is that makes that happen.. i think chemistry enters into the equation...

i was thinking of heraclitus and his saying of 'you can't step into the same river twice' as capturing an idea i hold to with regard to where jazz music, jazz is at today.. it is always changing.. to think that it wouldn't is to be looking at something that would have to be dead... sure the schools have to teach something and their has to be a structure built up around it, but to ignore where the music is headed and where it has gone since 1969 for example would seem to be isolating only a small part of the bigger picture of what jazz is.. i can substitute improv a lot of the time i think of jazz, but i know that only a part of it.. their is some important history, including what has transpired in the past (to use 1969 as a reference point) 40 years that has to be thought of as influencing and reshaping what jazz is circa 2009.. whether they teach that at jazz schools, i don't know as it might be harder to measure and qualify.. fortunately i am not responsible for coming up with a jazz school curriculum..

i wrote this in response to the discussion on jazz schools as i found the whole idea fascinating..
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