Winnipeg's Jazz Magazine


Rise of the Phoenix

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The first meetings of the Jazz Educators Network, the new incarnation of the IAJE, took place this May 2010 in St Louis, my hometown.

The biggest change is that the JEN gathering is a lot smaller and much more manageable. I could see more of the talks, masterclasses and concerts because there were fewer things happening at the same time. Still, I’d like it if they’d repeat the offerings on different days—that way I could catch everything.

The smaller setting also made for better connections. Everybody seemed more approachable and relaxed, and people stayed around to take in the talks, listen to music, and jam together.

One session that really caught my interest was the panel about jazz education featuring several of the young critical darlings who are celebrated performers these days—Stefon Harris, Gerald Clayton, and Don Braden. They were critiquing the way jazz is taught, and complaining that too many players come out sounding like robots. I agree with them, but they miss the point that university is not a place that makes artists—it’s a place where people go to study and broaden their knowledge base. Everybody who plays basketball doesn’t make the NBA! They have some resistance about focusing on history and tradition as well. They gave an educational model that started with the teacher and branched down to the student, but it seemed to overlook the importance of the roots….

It’s good to hear fresh ideas, though. It certainly made me examine my own personal educational concepts.

The jam sessions at the hotel bar every night gave us a chance to hear what’s happening all over the continent. There was some interesting music being made and at one point I felt particularly familiar with the style of accompanying coming from the piano so I looked up and it was Jamey Aebersold, the jazz play-along recording superstar. How funny is that? It was great to make music with old friends (even ones I hadn’t yet met), and to hear some new players on the bandstand as well.

It’s important that jazz educators have a context to get together and talk through the big challenges that make this work so interesting and important. The Jazz Educators Network is off to a great start. Next year we network in New Orleans!

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