I don't know exactly when it happened, but I think it's safe to say that at some point in the 1980s, maybe earlier, the center of gravity in the jazz world, financially and intellectually, though not musically, moved from clubs, record companies and musicians organizations like the AACM and BAG to educational institutions, with the International Association of Jazz Educators (or IAJE, the umbrella organization for now thousands of primary, secondary and collegiate jazz programs) and later Jazz at Lincoln Center the two largest. It's not simply a jazz neo-con phenomenon, either- Anthony Braxton, George Lewis, and Roscoe Mitchell among others are now based at large universities, and the School for Improvised Music in Brooklyn is a decidedly left-of-center alternative/addition to young players' options. In many ways, we now have something of a patronage system for jazz much like the classical world had in the 18th century, with the schools replacing the aristocrats.
One major, and/or related consequence of this shift is now most of the up and coming young players have come through some sort of jazz academic program. Most of the great players under 40 on many of jazz's mini-scenes- from Brad Meldhau to Ralph Alessi to Taylor Ho Bynum to Darcy Argue to Wynton's hot young drummer Ali Jackson to (insert name here). This is a very real shift from even twenty years ago, when most of the hot up and comers- Wynton, Kenny Garrett, Dave Douglas, etc. were still mostly getting their training on the road. (people seem to forget that Dave toured with Horace Silver, but I digress...)
There are two related but not identical issues here- what this institutionalization of jazz does or doesn't do for jazz's popularity, accessibility, etc, and what two generations of academized players (of which, of course, I'm one) does to the music and its audience. Vijay Iyer says some interesting and very provocative things about #2 in a recent piece I highly recommend. I'll come to #2 later, but want to focus in this post on #1.
There are certainly advantages to this move to academia, and I don't want to downplay them. A college teaching gig offers stability and fair wages (often, not always) for the musicians who teach at these schools, the opportunity for unusual and creative programming that clubs and even festivals don't allow (evenings of new music by student big band composers, album concerts of Mingus or Hemphill, concerts that juxtapose Bird with his classical idols, etc.), a safe space for young players to work out ideas and identities, etc. And through high school and now junior high music programs, a lot of kids are exposed to some form of jazz that may never be otherwise, especially with the current state of Big Media.
There are also, obviously, obvious drawbacks to this system, drawbacks that have more than a little to do with the disconnect that Doug Ramsay calls out. The first is not limited to the IAJE, or J@LC, or jazz- any institution's first priority becomes the survival and success of the institution. If there were a choice between the health of the IAJE and the health of jazz (as if you could measure such a thing), the IAJE would
As jazz gets more institutionalized, it becomes less connected to the real commercial marketplace. This is important- as long as the fulcrum of a music is a commercial label, then finding an audience, communicating and developing and marketing talent is important to that fulcrum. When the music is not beholden to a popular audience, but to academic bosses and grant boards, is there any wonder that it's not selling as many records. Alex Ross spends much time and space in his blog cataloguing new and interesting approaches to presenting and subsidizing classical music, and building new audiences. There is no equivalent to that kind of innovation (or certainly not on that scale) in the jazz world. Partially, I think, because the IAJE and its ilk wants to believe that everything is OK. (See Peter Breslin's deconstruction of the NEA/J@LC's recent "curriculum advice" if you need further evidence.)
Case in point, the IAJE's world headquarters is in Manhattan... Kansas. In a college town, yes (Kansas State), but a college with, according to its website, a full-time jazz faculty of... one. A little town an hour from any real city (Kansas City), and three hours from any town with a scene to speak of (St. Louis). Miles away, and light years in headspace, from any real center of music or musical thought, by any measure, in America- NYC, Chicago, Denver, LA, Boston, Miami, you name it. In other words, about as far away from the real successes, problems, and struggles of the average jazz musician as you can be.
And if you're far away physically, it allows you to be far away philosophically. I'll borrow (again) from Darcy's comment on Ramsey's piece:
Nate Chinen's aforementioned Times piece talks about the fact that the Gordon Goodwin band, never seen on concert tours or mentioned in jazz magazines, are celebrities at these youth jazz festivals. His charts are well written and well played, but are mostly warmed over, more jocular versions of Basie or Herman charts. This level of disconnect, that jazz is something you do at school, rather than something you listen to or talk about with your friends or, God forbid, see in concerts, is what allows this great disconnect between education system and audience to persist. I think historical recreation of great jazz charts is a worthwhile enterprise, especially in school. (I think the J@LC's best contribution to the music world is making original, accurate Ellington charts widely available) But it can't be ALL they do, as is too often the case.
Most jazz teachers that I've met at the high school and junior high are pretty good to very good musicians, and heroically hard-working educators, who are teaching jazz the way they had it taught to them in high school. Which is driving sideways. (I talked some about this on one of my degeneration x posts. Skip to the last third, which starts with "The rise of jazz education...) And I have worked with and know some educators who present a wide variety of music, including commissions (Ned Corman's Commission Project is wonderful, even when I hate some of the product. We need more like it) A couple have even played my music, for which I'm very grateful. But I fear too many students are taught to view jazz as a museum piece, fun to visit for a few hours a week, but not someplace you live.
And I don't think the IAJE does much to combat this problem, and often contributes to it.
I'll pickup on Vijay's piece, and the fallout it's produced- related to this in my head at least- next time...