Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Is that what they teach you in school these days?

I'm sure many of you have read by now that the International Association of Jazz Educators (IAJE) has effectively gone belly up, filing for Chapter 7 Bankruptcy protection. Darcy has a recap of the coverage, and Ryshpen followed up with a post that caught a lot of what I wanted to say. Last year I wrote a post called “Is the IAJE bad for jazz?” I guess we're going to find out. A few thoughts:

The letter former IAJE president sent out explaining the organization's moves this month describe a “perfect storm...” He forgets bad management, which several blogs pick up on. I would ask two more questions. Everyone seems to agree that the Toronto convention this year was “underattended”. Compared to what? If they were using their New York numbers (which is my nagging suspicion), of course they were! Having the conference in New York made it a must attend, because it boosted all of the programming across the city in the week around the festival. At both NYC conferences I was around there was amazing music well beyond the festival itself, in clubs and concert venues, because everyone knew that there would be so many people there to hear music, which created a positive feedback loop. I remember going to hear Matt Wilson at Detour on a festival week, and it was mobbed, and seemingly every hot player under 30 was sitting in. Only New York, or even a city near it (Philly, Hartford, maybe Boston) could make that happen. To expect any such scene to just spring up in Toronto, or most other cities (and I'm not knocking Toronto).

I think the festival has suffered as well from the lack of label support for artists. Darcy mentions all the acts he's seen at conferences- I remember Diana Krall's breakout performance in Atlanta. (I'm not saying I loved it, but I remember it. She brought the house down.) Part of the reason that happened is because I'm sure Impulse (her label at the time) was helping underwrite that gig and its promotion. Many of the evening showcases, and I'm sure smaller shows as well, were working in much the same way. And/or, the labels would use the festival to shop for new talent. Now that there are no labels per say, the conference automatically loses some of its momentum. (I've only heard about one musician at this last conference who had third party support to get their band up there, unless you count fundraising drives.) And while I didn't read the IAJE's glossy religiously, I've not seen any acknowledgement of this reality in the jazz ed community, save maybe in the occasional panel discussion. Like many institutions, the IAJE didn't see the ground shifting under it until the ground was all gone.

The good news is there are a lot more options for jazz education, both in terms of organizations and philosophies, than there were before the IAJE began this rapid ascent, and now even quicker downfall. While the North Texas model lives on at some universities, the music I hear coming from young conservatory players (and in Boston, you here a lot) is certainly more diverse and more interesting than it was 10 years ago. Not just students leaving NEC or Berklee, but folks when they first get to town. And you have more left of center organizations like SIM and Banff promoting new and interesting ways of thinking about jazz.

For some time I've liked the idea, which David and Darcy have been talking about, of trying to move a jazz ed convention to more resemble SXSW. I hope that the regional leadership (if these “regional conferences” come to pass) will really explore this model. Off the top of my head, why not try it next year in Hartford? You have a strong jazz school (Hartt) as a base, proximity to New York, a lot of great players and schools in a 200 mile radius, and a city that, needing any shot in the arm it can get, would probably be really helpful in putting it together. Name if after Jackie MacLean, the late godfather of the Hartford scene, and see what happens. Just a thought.

No comments: