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Wouter Turkenburg: Jazz Education in the New Millennium

Victor L. Schermer By

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AAJ: When did you start that band?

WT: 1981 to 1982.

AAJ: So you've been playing and teaching jazz ever since then?

WT: Yes, and then in 1985, there was a management vacancy in the Royal Conservatory of Music in The Hague, and several guys from that band were studying there, and they asked me to apply to be head of the jazz department. I was the last person the professors would have considered for the position, but they ended up selecting me. So I've been Head of the Jazz Department at the Conservatory ever since.

As I was being considered for the position, I attended a festival in Nice, France where Michael Brecker was playing. After his performance, I went up to him and asked him about the EWI (Electronic Wind Instrument) he was playing. I asked him, "How many octaves does it have?" He said, "Are you a musician?" "Well, yes." So he explained to me all about it, and I invited him to come and do some workshops for the jazz department, which he said would be great. So I told the department I could get Michael Brecker to visit us, and I think that helped me get the job! Eventually, he did come, and for three days he worked intensively with the students. He was great!

Historical, Institutional, and Digital Periods in the Evolution of Jazz

AAJ: I think a good way to get into a conversation about jazz education would be to discuss your theory that the history of jazz can be divided into three phases: historical, institutional, and digital. Could you tell us a bit about those phases, and how they are related to both music and the educational process?

WT: That came out of my master's thesis. As James Lincoln Collier, the author of The Making of Jazz (Dell, 1979) has noted, between 1900 and 1977, there were several distinct periods of jazz that developed in layers, like the annual rings of a tree. That is what I call the "historical period." During that time, there were specific styles that changed every few years. I would call them New Orleans Style, Swing, Bebop, Hard Bop, Cool Jazz, Free Jazz, and Rock Jazz.Each one made the previous one seem "old school," although they all continued to have an influence.

After about 1977 on, you find that the musicians start to move more freely among the styles and use all of them. For example, with big bands, Maria Schneider takes a whole new look about composing for big bands. She and Jim McNeely come from what I call the Bob Brookmeyer school, but they are what I call "Neo Swing" or "new style." It incorporates all of the past, but it's something different to be taken on its own merit. It has bebop in it, but it's not the kind of bebop that, say, pianist Barry Harris plays. And Benny Green's "bebop" is not the same as Harris.'

The reason I call that period "institutional" is because you have the jazz schools, the festivals, the record labels, and the commercial and non-profit institutions dominating jazz. All approaches to jazz become acceptable, and jazz becomes "institutionalized" as a business and a musical genre.

AAJ: So during that institutional or "neo" period that started in the late 1970s, jazz music became eclectic and shaped by large commercial enterprises and, increasingly, schools of jazz.

WT: Yes. It also became more possible for a musician to get a jazz bachelors or masters degree, as it is called in Europe. And musicians started becoming professors at jazz schools because they knew so much. So, while in the historical period, you would be kicked out of school if you played jazz, now you can become a professor of jazz! You also have much more jazz research. And you have the International Association of Schools of Jazz (IASJ). You have many teachers, books, research studies. Jazz has become institutionalized.

Someone like Wynton Marsalis was praised and blamed for his downplaying new developments beyond Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, and other icons of jazz history. In the institutional period, with the exception of guys like Marsalis, the music of the historical period mostly became the source to be taken further rather than adhered to as the way to play. You could revamp any style of jazz to the way you would like to play it now. So when I helped plan festivals, we looked for a mixture of styles, like New Orleans, some bebop, and we'd make some room for free jazz. During the institutional period, the festivals attracted a lot of people by including many different styles.

The Digital Age and Jazz

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