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Stretch Movement

The State of Jazz Education

By Published: January 7, 2012
Around that time, the NYU Jazz program had begun hiring amazing faculty such as Chris Potter
Chris Potter
Chris Potter
b.1971
reeds
, Joe Lovano
Joe Lovano
Joe Lovano
b.1952
saxophone
, Jean-Michel Pilc, Dafnis Prieto, Richard Bona
Richard Bona
Richard Bona
b.1967
bass, electric
, John Scofield
John Scofield
John Scofield
b.1951
guitar
, Andy Milne
Andy Milne
Andy Milne

piano
, and a litany of other great musicians. Fred believed the student talent level was low at NYU and the presence of my brother and I could help raise the bar. The catch was that there were no scholarships available. The price tag for NYU at that time was around $40,000/year. After explaining to Fred that we didn't want any more debt, he replied with the idea we could join the faculty. We agreed to attend NYU under the idea that joining the faculty would immediately help us start to pay back past student loans and, with the teaching experience on our résumés, we would have a brighter future and a greater chance of success.

However, that's not what happened. Neither of us got a single student until our second semester out of four total semesters for the program, and when we did finally start teaching, we had so few classes and students that we barely made enough to pay our rent let alone pay back our previous student loans. NYU was not an entirely bad experience. Musically, things were pretty good and I would go on to tour and perform with many of the musicians I studied with. I was one of the lucky ones, and this was not the case for the majority. Though I can be heard as part of the NYU big band on recordings, I was never paid to record because it was a "wonderful opportunity."

This idea of continuing to work for free was starting to get old. As far as I'm concerned, "wonderful opportunity" is a euphemism for "free labor." The day I graduated, my student ID stopped working electronically at NYU. The opportunity to teach was rescinded and that was the last time I would have health care. I was no longer a student; I had an educational debt valued at close to $150,000. Without the scholarships I had received, the price tag would have been closer to $250,000. No jazz degree is worth that much money. After having toured with all these wonderful musicians, playing in the best clubs in New York City and various parts of the world, I was bussing tables for two years, working 36 hours/week for around $300. I only finally stopped that job last summer.

I am sharing these stories as a warning. I want my children and future generations of Americans to have the opportunity to learn and chase their dreams, but as a community of adult Americans, we need to change the way students are being used for profit. Education is a business, and it seems to be the only one thriving in the current economy. All the knowledge in the world is useless if the educated are completely impoverished. I believe that education should be priced in relationship to expected income.

The education problem isn't limited to simply jazz education; the student loan crisis crosses all professional fields. Most people I know around my age have no credit and are racked with debt from college. However, in the midst of a recession The New School, like most colleges, will raise its tuition next fall. The tuition to go to New School alone, which is priced similarly to other music conservatories, is now approaching $40,000/year. At this rate, if a student goes to study jazz at a top school, they are looking to pay $160,000 in tuition for a Bachelor's degree that will do nothing to guarantee even a low standard of living. Even the few musicians that become very successful will not be able to make the extra $24,000 a year it would take to pay off that debt. Education costs continue to rise even in this economically difficult time. We cannot pass this problem off on future generations. Something needs to change now.

Stretch as a genre, music style, and movement will take time and patience to develop. As part of the Stretch Movement, the musicians that I associate with will dedicate ourselves to starting a Stretch University, which will offer an alternative to the educational system currently in place. I am dedicated to teaching through online universities, and we are currently formulating the blueprint for a Stretch University. As part of the Stretch Movement, I want to establish an online degree program where music students can learn from us in a financially healthy way. I can't in good conscious have a student pay so much to learn from me.


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