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Article by Dean McNeill

JAZZ ADVOCACY: How can we support the overall growth of jazz music in our country?

There are many ways in which the growth of jazz music can and should be supported in Canada. Providing adequate teacher training in jazz-specific courses at the post secondary level is one important way to sustain and develop jazz music, over the long term, in Canada in the twenty-first century.

Teaching student teachers the basics of jazz pedagogy has a number of positive ramifications. In addition to benefiting the student teacher and subsequently their own students, such teacher training will indirectly effect the entire jazz industry over time.

As with the vast majority of other arts forms, students often get 'hooked' on jazz while they are in Jr. High and/or Senior High School. A select few will take the plunge and become full time professional musicians. Just as importantly however, others will support the music throughout their adult years by attending live jazz concerts and jazz festivals, buying jazz CDs, becoming music educators, sending their own kids to summer jazz camps, playing in community jazz groups, and so on. Other than the professional jazz musicians themselves, secondary music educators are the most influential group of individuals we have in regards to the proliferation of jazz in Canada. Furthermore, secondary music educators are often the ones who ultimately decide whether or not to even have a jazz component contained within their respective school music programs.

One could also argue that in many parts of Canada, there is an expectation that secondary educators provide some sort of a jazz experience to their students via either a jazz band, jazz combo, jazz choir or perhaps even a credited jazz improvisation course. If this has is in fact become the case, we must then examine why jazz-specific education is not mandatory for music education majors in the majority of the post secondary educational institutions in Canada?

If, for example, Canadian music education degree granting programs included in their curriculum (as a minimum) a required three-credit jazz pedagogy course, jazz, in all its many facets, would slowly but surely make significant and lasting strides forward. If this course of action were undertaken, within a few years one could foresee more people buying jazz records, attending live jazz concerts, taking improvisation lessons, playing in community jazz bands, commissioning original jazz compositions or arrangements, hiring jazz clinicians, hiring guest jazz artists to perform with their band, requesting more jazz be played on the radio, hiring jazz musicians to play at weddings (again the list goes on and on). In short, as students graduate from high school and move into the 'real world', they take with them, their sense of musical aesthetics which they began to develop as a young person. Their views regarding the value of (all) the arts, will ultimately effect the arts.

Is this view perhaps too altruistic? Let me take a moment to cite the following authorities:

When speaking informally with John MeGettigan, a high school music educator in Saskatoon a few years ago, Wynton Marsalis said that it is the high school music educator, not the international performing artists, who will have the most significant and long-lasting impact on a student's aesthetic musical experience in jazz. (John MeGettigan, 2001)

Furthermore, Dr. Ron McCurdy, past president of the International Association of Jazz Education, wrote in his January 2002 I.A.J.E. report:

"In many institutions, it is possible for students to receive a degree in music education having never taken any classes that address jazz pedagogy or participated in an instrumental or vocal jazz ensemble. Upon accepting a first job, neophyte educators find themselves standing in front of a jazz ensemble wondering what to do! This in my opinion, is one of the biggest challenges jazz education faces, teacher training." (Jazz Educator's Journal, January, 2002, Page A14)

Making a jazz pedagogy course required for all undergraduate music education majors would not begin to address all the challenges jazz music faces in our country. As a teacher of a university jazz pedagogy course myself, I will be the first to admit as well that I am often dissatisfied with materials which must be over-generalized and/or totally omitted from the course due to time and resource constraints. I do feel however that music education students graduating with such a course as part of their degree have at least some idea regarding the importance of jazz education and a sense of the broad framework required in order to teach some jazz content in the secondary system. In essence, such a course of study can, at the very least, serve to create jazz advocates who can subsequently lay down the groundwork they need in order to teach themselves and their students the basics about jazz. Such fundamentals include the study of running jazz ensembles (jazz combos, big bands and/or jazz choirs) and teaching jazz improvisation, jazz history, jazz theory (and basic jazz piano), and jazz ear training.

Jazz education in Canada is disadvantaged in a unique way when compared to our American counterparts. We, as Canadians, do not align ourselves patriotically behind jazz (or is it the other way around?) as is often the case with our American neighbors. This is perhaps best exemplified by the commonly held phrase in the United States "Jazz, America's art form". In a sense, making jazz a patriotic symbol has at times led certain communities and administrative organizations at the high school, university, municipal and federal governmental levels to support jazz within the United States. As this music is not celebrated patriotically in the same way in Canada (few would argue that jazz itself is uniquely Canadian), the job of advocacy falls yet more strongly on the shoulders of our music educators. My hope is that the collective 'we' can do even more to support up and coming music educators by preparing them as much as possible with the skills they need in order to become somewhat fluent in jazz while they are still in school.

As an aside, I know first hand a number of outstanding secondary music educators who had little to no jazz specific training while at university. These individuals have often gone on to do a great job with their kids and have developed some very strong high school jazz programs. However, I know of no one in this same category who would not agree that a university jazz pedagogy course or two would have helped them out along the way a great deal. In particular, such teacher training would have been beneficial in helping them start a jazz component within their school based music program.

Is jazz worthy of inclusion in secondary music education system? If so, can/should we insist educators are provided with the tools they need to be successful at their job - especially where/when jazz is an expectation in a given region of our country? Perhaps more to the point, who needs to insist that this happens in our universities? I certainly do not have the answers to these questions. I.A.J.E. Canada can you help us in this regard?

Finally let me fully acknowledge that there are numerous, valid reasons pertaining to why adding yet another class to a music education undergraduate degree is not as easy to implement as one might think. After having worked inside one of these post secondary educational institutions for a while, I now understand that university students and faculty alike are already heavily burdened with courses. Students also have internships, loans, and maximum credit limits to consider, and so on. Furthermore it is not uncommon for many professors from a variety of the disciplines within music and/or education to vie for a bigger and bigger piece of each student's time and energy. This is done more often with the very best of intentions in mind for the students.

I would invite our members to respond to this article within the public forum provided by our I.A.J.E. Canada Bulletin and to explore unique and creative ways to challenge their respective regional post-secondary institution(s) to include a required jazz course or two in their respective undergraduate music education programs. I feel confident in stating that virtually any Canadian post-secondary institution would find that there is no shortage of expert advice and support from both I.A.J.E. Canada and I.A.J.E regarding the development of jazz specific offerings at the post secondary level. I am certain many members of both groups would be willing to pass on course outlines, listening lists, general advice, advocacy, articles, encouragement and much more, if and when interest in the growth of jazz pedagogy at the post secondary level is expressed.

Dean McNeill is the past Secretary/Treasurer of Jazz Canada (named changed to I.A.J.A.- Canada in 2002) and Head of the Department of Music at the University of Saskatchewan. Canadian trumpeter/composer Dean McNeill holds degrees in jazz studies from the University of North Texas (Masters), McGill University (Undergraduate), and Grant McEwan College (Music Diploma). Currently he plays with the Metro Jazz Ensemble, The Saskatchewan Brass Quintet, and the Saskatoon Symphony. His trumpet teachers include, Bill Dimmer (Edmonton Symphony), Kevin Dean (McGill University), Real Mathew (McGill University), Garry Guthman (British Columbia), and Keith Johnson (University of North Texas).

 

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