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Jazz Education: The Next Generation, Part 2

Jazz Education: The Next Generation, Part 2
Karl Ackermann By

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We let them know, as they go through our program that talent is only the first ingredient along the way to professional viability... —Pete Malinverni, Head of Jazz Studies, SUNY Purchase
Part 1 of Jazz Education: The Next Generation explored how the early days of music and—specifically—jazz music was approached through various channels of formal education. The long, arduous process of creating an accepting environment for jazz education necessitated moving the art form from a vaudevillian status through a firewall of academic elitism and prejudice to a proper mainstream reception. The irony is that whether one ascribes the "Golden Age" of jazz to the eras of Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington or Thelonius Monk, they were all within the extended period of time in which the wider body of academic institutions shunned the acceptance of jazz.

While jazz education has come a long way in the last forty years, there remains a curious otherworldly perception that, while breaching the stereotypes of the past, those typecasts have often been replaced with new hyperbole. Such was the case with the Academy Award winning movie Whiplash (Sony Classics, 2014). The picture's writer/director Damien Chazelle claims to have based the fictionalized account of a New York conservatory jazz program on his own, apparently nightmarish, experiences in a Princeton, New Jersey High School jazz program. The mass market success of Chazelle's picture should have been welcome exposure to the world of jazz education but its highly unrealistic, grossly sensationalized depiction of a sadistic, abusive environment makes for poor recruiting collateral.

So what remains lacking, in thinking about jazz education, seems to be a now long-established link to the professionalism that dominates the art. Antiquarians and casual players aside, the professional jazz class extends beyond leaders and session musicians. They are engineers, agents, promoters, producers, managers, authors and educators with a passion for their calling that is rarely surpassed in other careers. Yet the economics are more than challenging in a niche market, making a well-rounded, holistic education more of a necessity.

Practice, Pragmatism and Purchase

In the second part of this series, we focus will be on two schools that have made jazz education a cornerstone of their institutions. The State University of New York (SUNY) at Purchase and Toronto's Humber College; two institutions that are taking responsibility not just for music education but also for preparing students for managing their careers beyond the music.

Saxophonist Gerry Malkin recalls that when he arrived as a student at SUNY Purchase, his first classroom was in a double-wide trailer. A lot has changed. The university system in New York was established in 1948—one of the last states to do so—but the number of colleges and universities grew quickly over the next two decades. SUNY was ground-breaking in its progressive attitude. In 1953, SUNY took the unprecedented step of banning national fraternities and sororities that discriminated based on race or religion, from all of its campuses. The move was an impetus for similar actions from colleges across the country. Under former Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller, a further expansion took place in 1967 with the new Purchase campus representing "the cultural gem of the SUNY system," in his words. This early description has been borne out as the school has been ranked ninth in U.S. News & World Report's 2016 listing of top public liberal arts colleges, and a Princeton Review 2015 list of The Best 379 Colleges. Purchase's School of the Arts accounts for nearly half of all the school's students and administers the Conservatory of Music among its various Arts programs. Along with offering curriculums to conservatory students, Purchase allows Liberal Arts students to select many of the fine arts classes as well.

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