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Wouter Turkenburg: Jazz Education in the New Millennium

Victor L. Schermer By

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AAJ: So the institutional period does not consist of a specific type of jazz, but borrows from and incorporates all of them, and allows for a lot of freedom in how musicians approach the music even within a particular format like bebop. So, moving forward in time, what happens now, in the digital age? We have millions of internet downloads, and even software-generated music. A Hollywood composer can write movie music for a large orchestra, and a computer will make an audio version for the film director to hear. A jazz musician can give an on line lesson to someone half-way around the world. I would assume digitalization and the internet have had a huge impact on all music in the New Millennium. So how do you see the digital phase evolving?

WT: In the institutional period, the future of jazz was in the past. For example, in the 1990s, there were so many re-issues of Thelonious Monk, Miles, Ellington, and so on, with alternate takes, stories about the recording sessions, and so on. People wanted to listen to the standards. You knew what you wanted, you heard it in the past, and you got it all in a neat package. But in the New Millennium, it gets harder and harder to put things in tidy and familiar categories. Just as Bach didn't know that he was playing "baroque" music -that concept came a hundred years after his death -with the internet, it's like a big wave of everything coming at us. We've just been through the first wave of it. It's like a big tsunami! It will change everything. Somewhere in the early 2000s, we see the launch of the I-phone, Facebook, YouTube, I-Tunes. Our whole lives are becoming digitalized. My newer students never use pen and paper anymore. They come to classes with their I-phones, tablets, and laptops! They're all digitalized. No more taking the time to write things down like you're going to have to remember it!

AAJ: What you're saying is that in the digital phase, everything in jazz will change, but it isn't clear yet in what way it will change.

WT: Yes, we have to wait and see what will happen. But there's one thing I see that has really changed in the last ten years. Until recently, the music schools and universities were the ultimate source of information about jazz and its history. The school libraries had the recordings, manuscripts, books, and so on. The professors had the experience, the memories, the skills, the knowledge. Now, the students have all that on their computers, and they bring that to the schools and say, what do we do with all this stuff? So the problem for the student and young musician is not how and where to get the information, but how to not be overwhelmed by everything they have at their fingertips. They have to find a direction, a path they can follow. They want to know what NOT to do, and what is the best possible step for them to take. That's a complete reversal from the past, when they came to school seeking teachers and mentors to acquire skills and knowledge that they already knew they wanted from listening and playing.

AAJ: How do you approach that problem of helping them make best use of what you call the tsunami of information and experience readily at hand?

WT: That is the main educational question in this digital period. It comes down to a dialogue. It used to be that you taught them a method, as they still often do in classical music training. Now, I tell my students that the only certainty is change. So I say to them that learning jazz is playing all of the music. I say, you don't know what you'll be playing five years from now, but if you really learn jazz, you can play any music you get turned on to. For example, my bass teacher Tony Overwater, who is in a band of pianist Rembrandt Frerichs, an alumni of my school, has formed a jazz band that is playing a combination of Arabic and jazz music! They're going on a tour of the five main cities in Iraq! They're filling halls of a couple of thousand people! While he was in school himself, he was completely into the music of Charles Mingus, David Murray, and those guys. He had to learn an entirely new style of playing. Rembrandt Frerichs studied mostly bebop, but now he's doing concerts where he improvises baroque music! So you don't know what you will end up playing in the future, but you have to be prepared for the unexpected. Pianist Wolfert Brederode and a few other alumni from my school are recording contemporary original music for the boundary-pushing ECM label, and touring the world. They couldn't have conceived of playing this new music a few years ago.

Instead of expecting to keep playing the music they're learning, the student musicians have to learn to use what they're studying and playing as tools they can apply to many other kinds of music.


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