Benjamin Franklin on Jazz Education

AAJ Staff By

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Little known to America's preeminent historians, Benjamin Franklin invented a time machine, which has allowed him to travel to the modern world and view the current "jazz scenes of America's greatest cities. Until recently, this time travel invention, which was contemporary with the author of Poor Richard's Almanac's greatest scientific discoveries, was kept secret by the most clandestine faction of the United States government. As I suspect that you are an enlightened audience, eager to be regaled by the pragmatic wisdom of this well-known printer, I will no longer delay my sharing of the fruits of Mr. Franklin's poignant counsel:

Be Frugal: Do Not Get A Jazz Degree

As I built my now celebrated life through the trade of printing and frugal habits, I have little understanding why any young man or woman of great capability and industry would endeavor to perform a musical instrument with the goal of making a viable career out of pleasing the few and far between jazz aficionados whose financial support of America's most native and sophisticated vernacular music appears to be dwindling. Jazz has little social impact on the quotidian apparatuses of our modern world. As founder of the University of Pennsylvania and many other fine educational institutions, I am surprised to discover the standardized testing rigmarole and escalating costs of a university education, which excludes some of America's brightest minds. I always believed that college should be affordable for the middling people as well as the lower classes.

Over and above that, I am astonished that young people today, from all over the world, pursue college degrees in jazz. From one vantage point, I can understand the initial attraction to getting a jazz degree—I have always had a great desire for innovation and pragmatic science, which, of course, led to my career as a writer and my subsequent well known scientific discoveries. I cannot think of any other music in the world which exemplifies the sacred American values of innovation, aesthetic excellence and social and political independence. However, I cannot fathom why any young person, with the exception of those students with extraordinary financial means, would invest their borrowed money on a jazz degree that yields so little financial return. Now, my argument is not that the world's youth should not play the modern music we call 'jazz.'

My argument is that students should not get a jazz degree as it has very little economic return in today's market place. Love of jazz is not appropriate capital for sustaining yourself. It would be better if young jazz musicians were innovative and pragmatic about their economic futures and invested their money in more useful academic areas, which complements their craft and shows the possibility of tangible growth. Furthermore, young students must never borrow money from the wanton sisters whose last names end with Mae, or any other loan company, governmental or private, in order to pay for a jazz degree. For most young music students, the pellucid antithesis to frugality would be to get a degree in jazz music, which would eventually lead to being saddled with large loan debt.

Equally astonishing is the lack of racial diversity in most major American conservatories and universities, both in the student body and faculty, which may have led to a kind of collegial and professional inbreeding among white males who dominate the jazz programs. Will our future international jazz venues be filled with musicians who 'cut their teeth' on institutional jazz programs? Or perhaps the spiritual and cultural offspring of our musical progenitors instinctually realize that the heart and soul of jazz lies far outside the collegiate chambers of our most illustrious ivory towers.

Jazz Apprenticeship

As one of the most successful printers of my time, I know the value of apprenticeship. At what would be considered a tender age today, I was sent away to live with my older brother James to learn the trade of printing. As my brother's apprentice, I was subjected to spontaneous beatings and humiliation, which is why I eventually escaped his violent tutelage, finally settling in Philadelphia. Before I fled, I learned the valuable trade of printing and my skills as writer and publisher were in its nascent stages. What young jazz musicians need now, and more than ever before, is jazz apprenticeship with 'elder statesmen,' outside of the context of the four walls of the collegiate corporate empire and its connected political machine. Apprenticeship is a wise and frugal way to learn this great music. Young jazz musicians must seek out wiser and older musicians who will teach them the trade of being a jazz musician as well as the fundamentals of their respective instrument in relation to the tradition, while encouraging individuality in the entire process. As the founder of America's first fire department and lending library, I know the value of giving back to society for the common good of all men and women. The elder jazz griots must make it their duty to reach out to younger musicians and pass down their valuable craft without compensatory motivations, since compensatory motivations leads to perfunctory teaching. Global society can only benefit from this aesthetic bequeathing and in this way, the young musicians of this world can grow in an organic way without sounding like a product or 'schooled.'

Be Industrious

In my Plan for Moral Conduct, I wrote down a set of resolutions that I would endeavor to follow. For example, I resolved to "apply myself industriously to whatever business I had in hand and I didn't "divert my mind from my business by any foolish project of growing rich. I also stated, "Industry and patience are the surest means of plenty. Let me therefore advise all young jazz musicians to practice their craft with the utmost conviction for practicing is the only way you will improve as a musician. Additionally, young jazz musicians would be wise to demonstrate industriousness to their bandleaders and audiences. Young jazz musicians must always arrive punctually to rehearsals and performance engagements. The value of publicly demonstrating industriousness to your neighbors, colleagues, and musical constituents cannot be overstated. Professionalism, as a subset of high work standards, will increase your revenue stream, making you a happier musician!


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