PART III – Jazz Goes to School
*The following was written while on vacation (when I write most of my blogs!), and is pretty much a stream-of-consciousness thing. Apologies for any inaccuracies.
Jazz today tends to consist of what I’ll call “Academic Jazz” (high school jazz bands and college music programs), the club circuit, and concert hall jazz.
Thank God for Academic Jazz. Most public high schools (and some middle schools) have a “jazz band.” This is probably the most effective means of exposing mass numbers of kids to music most would probably never hear otherwise.
While most kids leave jazz behind with graduation, a few will fall in love with it and continue to play. Some of those will make it a career, with most who do going into teaching subsequent generations, and a tiny fragment will become working jazz musicians (some would say that term is an oxymoron!).
As great as it is to have widespread jazz education, it is, for the most part, a cyclical institution, keeping enough interest to perpetuate itself, but having little effect on the music world as a whole.
So, is there a way for Academic Jazz to have a broader impact? I don’t know, to be honest. But I have noticed some things of interest.
In the U.S., there’s a wonderful program called “Essentially Ellington,” based out of Jazz at Lincoln Center. This program provides sheet music of (mostly) Duke Ellington music to music programs across the country (and even the world).
The program also hosts an annual contest, attracting the best high school jazz bands from across the country. There are a bunch of videos of these bands on YouTube, and they’re very impressive. The bands perform entirely from memory, and they feature improvised solos that are often fantastic. It’s wonderful to see these kids playing jazz at such a high level.
Another cool Academic Jazz program is the Big Friendly Jazz Orchestra, an all-girl jazz band from Japan. They too have some very impressive videos with precise ensemble playing (though the soloing lacks some originality). I need to note that the most recent videos I’ve seen posted from this group are at least five years old, so I don’t know if they’re still around.
As great as these programs are, however, they pale in comparison to what I’m convinced is THE greatest jazz education program in the world: The Sant Andreu Jazz Band from Barcelona, Spain.
The program was started in 2006 by Joan Chamorro, a professional jazz musician from Barcelona. Since its inception, Mr. Chamorro has deluged YouTube with a dearth of highly professional videos of his jazz kids (often accompanied by adult pros).
While professional-quality videos don’t hurt, it’s these Catalan kids who have made Sant Andreu an international phenomenon. They range in age from kindergarten (seriously) to their early twenties, though most are teenagers.
Many are multi-instrumentalists and several sing incredibly well. The ensemble playing is precise, but swinging and nuanced. And the solos…often times if I’m just listening (not watching), I can’t differentiate between the kids and the pros.
The American kids (Essentially Ellington) play great, but they tend to take a more showy, competitive approach. It’s the “I can play higher, louder, and faster than you” mindset.
In contrast, the Sant Andreu kids don’t play like they’re trying to show off. Yet, their solos are better, conveying the tone, phrasing, style, and overall musicality that better serves the music. This can be achieved only by completely immersing themselves in jazz.
Okay, I’ve really digressed here! Let’s look at the club circuit and concert hall jazz next.
I've included some old blogs along with the new. Should you ever find yourself suffering from insomnia, this is the place for you! That's as poetic as I get...