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PITTSBURGH JAZZ

 

From Blakey to Brown, Como to Costa, Eckstine to Eldridge, Galbraith to Garner, Harris to Hines, Horne to Hyman, Jamal to Jefferson, Kelly to Klook; Mancini to Marmarosa, May to Mitchell, Negri to Nestico, Parlan to Ponder, Reed to Ruther, Strayhorn to Sullivan, Turk to Turrentine, Wade to Williams… the forthcoming publication Treasury of Pittsburgh Jazz Connections by Dr. Nelson Harrison and Dr. Ralph Proctor, Jr. will document the legacy of one of the world’s greatest jazz capitals.

 

Do you want to know who Dizzy Gillespie  idolized? Did you ever wonder who inspired Kenny Clarke and Art Blakey? Who was the pianist that mentored Monk, Bud Powell, Tad Dameron, Elmo Hope, Sarah Vaughan and Mel Torme? Who was Art Tatum’s idol and Nat Cole’s mentor? What musical quartet pioneered the concept adopted later by the Modern Jazz Quartet? Were you ever curious to know who taught saxophone to Stanley Turrentine or who taught piano to Ahmad Jamal? What community music school trained Robert McFerrin, Sr. for his history-making debut with the Metropolitan Opera? What virtually unknown pianist was a significant influence on young John Coltrane, Shirley Scott, McCoy Tyner, Bobby Timmons and Ray Bryant when he moved to Philadelphia from Pittsburgh in the 1940s?  Would you be surprised to know that Erroll Garner attended classes at the Julliard School of Music in New York and was at the top of his class in writing and arranging proficiency?

 

Some answers  can be gleaned from the postings on the Pittsburgh Jazz Network.

 

For almost 100 years the Pittsburgh region has been a metacenter of jazz originality that is second to no other in the history of jazz.  One of the best kept secrets in jazz folklore, the Pittsburgh Jazz Legacy has heretofore remained mythical.  We have dubbed it “the greatest story never told” since it has not been represented in writing before now in such a way as to be accessible to anyone seeking to know more about it.  When it was happening, little did we know how priceless the memories would become when the times were gone.

 

Today jazz is still king in Pittsburgh, with events, performances and activities happening all the time. The Pittsburgh Jazz Network is dedicated to celebrating and showcasing the places, artists and fans that carry on the legacy of Pittsburgh's jazz heritage.

 

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Duke Ellington is first African-American and the first musician to solo on U.S. circulating coin

    MARY LOU WILLIAMS     

            INTERVIEW

       In Her Own Words

MISCOMMUNICATION X10... JAZZ EDUCATION AS SEEN BY THE REAL WORLD GUY. Part 1.

I just endured the most surreal music education dialog of my entire life and am having a difficult time wrapping arms around it. While describing said discourse I will avoid all names or direct reference to the thread itself, because in all candor, I've grown weary of the head spinning logic that accompanied it.

First... a little background. Every so often, I converse with a first tier big city instrumentalist, who once performed with an iconic jazz figure. He is a very sincere, no nonsense "real world performance first" guy, who cares enough about jazz legacy to sponsor a separate FB place mostly focusing on a musical instrument other than one I play myself. I agree with most of what he says about music, and occasionally join up with him to fight ideological battles deemed mutually important... and although I have never viewed his place in jazz history as prominently as he believes it to be, he's enough of a man that you afford benefit of the doubt, even when no agreement is present. He's also conversed with me privately on numerous occasions, while insisting our dialog remain direct (an important thing to remember when apprising events to be described later).

With that said, he also has this totemic problem with jazz education... and when I say that I don't just mean a little... I mean big... very big. Moreover, he is prone to assumptive conjecture about what goes on in classrooms, when in truth his anecdotal experiences are limited to where he attended school and a handful of other places that after he's finished talking about them sound like Turkish prisons (at least from the perspective of logic).

Two years ago, he complained that old New York IAJE conventions were unfair because real guys like him had to pay to enter, while lesser educators got in free... then added that no one had ever asked him to perform while (in his view) lesser musicians (educators) passed unhindered.

Of course, as all who have attended know... everyone pays to get into jazz education conventions and no one is paid to perform... no one. Every single attraction either comes on their own, or a music based consortium sponsors them. Well... I immediately corrected him the first time he said that and was rebuffed as if I had said nothing. While discussing those New York events, many educators probably remember how scores of real world guys filled the bars next to venues, retelling old war stories and making cracks about us, while passing along embittered and rumored information, devoid of much of anything factual... which leads to this very obvious question.

If these real world guys are so contemptuous of jazz education, why do they hang around our conventions and complain?

One word...

...MONEY.

Out of no fault of their own, real world jazz musicians suffer the slings and arrows of a changing society bereft of anything resembling viable appreciation of music. So they become bitter, point fingers, then search out weak links to establish their own money trails... not of dollars, euros or pounds... but of nickels and dimes, while (in their minds) they very incorrectly believe all music educators to be of a certain stereotype, that if understood in that stereotypical manner rights all their previous injustices, by placing money they think already belongs to them, squarely in THEIR own pockets.

Hey... makes sense right? "Times are bad... so I will now teach," oblivious to how the teaching is in of itself an entirely different profession, deserving the same respect and skill-set required to be a good performer. Besides, the incredible disrespect of jazz educators is already there, based mostly on the same rumor and innuendo that made the IAJE admission story possible.

"Hey... did you hear about how these ignorant teachers get $100,000 a year to do everything wrong?"... then the misguided real world guy SELECTS, and incessantly REPEATS a nonsensical factoid that may or may not have occurred ... while if it did, was so rare as to negate any claim that musicians mostly "known as educators" are a detriment to the very art form they saved... almost by themselves.

Those who read my stuff have often seen incessant repetition of a factoid reporting how 90% of all the world's jazz comes from a school, while real world guys run from that iron clad statistic as if it were the plague...

... meaning...

... the first reasonable statement these people should make isn't... "Look what you incompetent, dirty educators did to my art?"

Instead it should be... "Thank you educators who in an imperfect situation created (virtually from thin air) the resources that give me a profession to complain about, considering my solution was to stand in a corner and sulk."

And isn't it also interesting how so many real world guys will sell out at the drop of a hat, then gather with their tragically hip pals to crack jokes about the very people who do that. Now, with that said, I don't speak of this one guy in question (who is deemed reputable albeit in my estimation misguided) but we might very well recall the famous blog post of a Seattle jazz pianist, who a few years back rendered an hysterical marginalization of jazz educators, when I very clearly recall this same guy sucking up like a vacuum cleaner to any educator willing to assist his regional arts association initiatives, while that claim is no rumor, but first hand knowledge.

Additionally, while these same folks lump together jazz educators as a mutually exclusive entity of wanton incompetence... is it OK for me to mention the very obvious fact that most jazz educators of any real status play their butts off, while only the smallest percentage of real world guys don't suck? But see, to even admit that any number of educators can play (or for that matter have proven themselves in name situations) negates the real world guy's ability to harness...

... the money.

And when that happens, even the well intentioned will resort back to the rumor mill... regardless of original sincerity.

Finally before getting into the gritty of what happened on that thread, let's get it out for all to see (while understanding how my upcoming caps are not shouting so much as pointing out how some refuse to accept reasonable comments when they have already decided their wrong is a right).

So here goes...

IT IS ABSOLUTELY POSSIBLE TO BE A GREAT PERFORMER AND EDUCATOR, WHILE THE GREATEST JAZZ EDUCATORS ARE INDEED THIS WAY. IN FACT, IF YOU LEARN TO TEACH WITH THE ZEAL YOU USE TO PLAY, THEN YOU WILL BE THE BEST OF THE BEST. BUT NO, YOUR ABILITY TO PLAY OR WHO YOU PLAYED WITH DOES NOT ALWAYS MEAN YOU WILL EVEN REMOTELY SUCCEED AS AN EDUCATOR FOR THE LONG TERM.

See, there really are people out there who believe their mere appearance at a master class negates a full year of what went down before they arrived. Yes, students are thrilled when the master graces their stage, while I firsthand recall how Louie Bellson and Clark Terry used to teach on the highest possible level. And yes, the modeling they bring forth is the best possible education... and yes...it's just like the bandstand of old... EXCEPT...

...That bandstand used to be an ongoing (sometimes every day) routine, where student progress was judged over a long period of time.

So, are you telling me your one day show up is the same as that?... ie: the same as YOUR masters who of their recollection stated they performed these tasks with the same students over an extended period?

Hmmmm?

Are you willing to do that?

I think we all know the answer.

True Story... Back in 2009, the US State Department wanted to extend a trade related olive branch to Serbia exactly 10 years following the Milosevic inspired NATO bombings. It is customary for American initiatives of this classification to be preceded by cultural exchange, via an arts or sporting event. For Belgrade it was decided there would be a one month implementation of the Serbian Academy of Music's first jazz ensembles, to be followed by a visit from Vice President Biden... in other words the new school big band was to serve as a scaled down version of the 1972 ping pong team in China. Surprisingly, I was called to do this, and they made it the requirement of a preexisting Fulbright Specialist Grant. Of course I asked why they didn't hire this or that guy... and they very bluntly replied how those same real world guys, want ridiculous money, then screw around and essentially do nothing, leave a big mess in the aftermath then blame everybody else for what didn't happen. They told me they were sick of it. Well... five years later there is a full jazz emphasis at that academy, while a vocal cadre of real world guys insist nothing of jazz importance ever comes from Europe, while simultaneously griping they should have received that gig instead of me (although they never even took the trouble to apply for the initial grant)... again...

... it's about the money.

Truth be known, there are a large number of real world educators (musicians labeled performers first) who are wonderful, but they don't constitute the majority... not even close. Most want to mess around, talk a bit, play a bit, skip classes, ignore grading, steer clear of students in their spare time, while marginalizing the worker bee who gave him the process to acquire...

... the money...

... mostly because he's too busy determining if you're cool enough or rich enough (more on that later).

See, no one is saying that a person can learn more from a formal education in of itself. The issue is what the professional does with that experience in the form of an education model. If you can't create a processing mechanism to convey that information to a third party, it's just another war story session passing as something relevant. But see, too many self titled real world performers refuse to even think in such terms... mostly because they incorrectly believe that educational processing is beneath their status as "real world" guys. and they take that status very seriously... especially if they hold a New York or New Orleans designation, while even those are stratified within the individual communities. In other words, it comes down to who they think is coolest.

"I played with this guy so love me." "Well I played with guys a lot more hip than your guy so I win."

These same people will then use that diagram to follow through with any manner of discussion (via Internet or in person) and surround themselves with who they perceived to be the cool guys, who then in turn pass on the notion that coolness in of itself negates any kind of actual factoid passed on by the jazz nerd they just crammed into a middle school locker. See, to them status is everything... because to negate that would mean less...

...money.

Oh yeah, remember that coolness determination?

If the jazz nerd (educator) calls them on their gimmick, they try to pin a defensiveness label, then engage in remarkable degrees of passive aggressive behavior... while deeming you too unsophisticated to know what they're doing to acquire that same...

...money.

Therefore, even if they are proven wrong to birds of every tree, the persistent real world guy just won't accept it... to where even the sincere ones go so far as to self indoctrinate themselves into believing they were right. We know these people very well in other professions. They're the ones who stick their heads into the hoods of cars, second guessing the mechanic they hired to fix their own vehicle... while riddling the poor guy with suggestions he already considered 10 years before his antagonists even knew such car parts existed.

Quite frankly, past the kids taking selfies with you, that nonsense is a waste of my time. I've founded jazz education in something like a half dozen different countries, and if you think those teaching models are going to be the identical processing of an anecdotal exclusive road musician, then I've got some desert swamp land to sell you. Bottom line...Nowadays, again and again, you have to devise new ways to get the job done. That's just the way it is, while we continue to honor the opportunity.

Oh yeah... Message to some of you (not all of course) who were so nice to want to stage clinics in China?

Well, when you described a walk on the Great Wall, a show in Beijing (800 miles away) then a 45 minute master class and concert at my place, followed by the following night's anchor gig at the JZ Club in Shanghai ...

... followed by your wanting me to pay for all that...well...except for Shanghai...

Then... well... erm...uhhhhhhh... I'm pretty sure I knew what you were doing...

... which accounts for why you never heard from me again.

Next Time Part 2: The actual thread, it's inference, misunderstandings, coolness factors, naiveté, passive aggressiveness that would make a super model blush, and yes (you knew it was coming) Lincoln Center.

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