Here's a sort of cheery note for the new year, from the pianist, educator and philosopher, Kenny Werner, whose book, Effortless Mastery, is considered essential reading by many jazz teachers.
“There has been a silent question creeping into the consciousness of musicians, and particularly music educators. It is the question that must not be asked, something akin to 'he who must not be named.' The question is: More and more young people are flocking to music schools to become professional musicians — more than at any point in history. There are more prodigies and virtuosos than ever before, but fewer places to play. What’s up with that? I have a new theory, perhaps one we can rally around. More and more young people will pour into music universities around the world until one day everyone on earth will look around and suddenly realize that everyone they see is a musician. At that point, we will have fulfilled the ancient prophecy of heaven on earth.”
This tongue-in-cheek prophecy, from an article in a recent edition of Downbeat, coincides with something I've wondered about as dozens of us journey joyfully to and from jazz camp every August and otherwise seek to make ourselves into jazz musicians. Some of us will, through the camp experience and other attempts to improve, move on to play jazz fairly well in public. Others of us will move on to play jazz in public, although maybe we shouldn't. The rest of us will keep grinding away, perhaps happy just to play in our homes.
This brings us to a point related to Kenny Werner's: Are we producing too many amateur jazz musicians?
(As an aside, I fairly recently retired from a profession, journalism, which has a similar situation: The journalism schools are cranking out graduates every year to fill fewer and fewer jobs in news. Many of them go into political work. I don’t know what the jazz equivalent of political work is, and I’m not sure I want to.)
Are we producing too many amateur jazz musicians? As an amateur jazz musician, I fear that some audiences might say yes, after suffering through performances put on by groups hired by undiscriminating club owners. Some professional musicians might say yes too, if the amateurs are taking work away by playing for below-scale wages.
Those points can be debated at length. But there is an up-side, which is that anything that gets more people learning about jazz can't be bad, especially if it produces larger audiences for live and recorded jazz.
That's my cheery theory. If jazz education doesn't always produce skilled musicians, at least it produce skilled audiences, people who love and appreciate the music, who will buy it and venture out to see it.
So that’s a small version of Kenny Werner’s heaven on earth. Except — where are the audiences? If all these skilled audience members are being produced, why aren’t they showing up, except at festival time? Why aren’t they buying CDs and downloads? Why aren’t professional jazz musicians as rich as they deserve to be?
I’m as guilty as the next guy of somehow managing not to attend performances by my friends. Maybe we should make it a new year’s resolution to get out more. We could resolve to be more like Alrick and Roberta Huebener, who never miss anything, as far as I can figure out. Or the Ottawa’s jazz singer community, which always seems to turn out in force whenever one of their number is performing.
For the rest of us, heaven on earth is still a slight distance away.
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Jam session reminder
The revised version of the Sunday jam session is just days away. Have a look here to get more details. With a new location, Festival House, 450 Churchill Avenue, and a new approach, the Sunday jam should be really interesting. While it is aimed at creating a comfort level for less experienced players, it is open to all. See you there, at 2 p.m.
And not far away is the first Thursday jam session of the New Year. That would be Thursday, Jan. 15, 8 p.m. at the Carleton Tavern. The host band is Room to Groove, featuring
Jean Bergeron — piano
Emmanuel Buckshi - Bass
Robert Murray —- drums
Edwin Gans — alto saxophone
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About this blog
Tune Up won't be a calendar of events — Ottawa Jazz Happenings takes care of that. But it will discuss events and issues of interest to the JazzWorks community. Journalist, author, trumpet player and a jazz camper since 1999, Charley Gordon is a former vice-president of JazzWorks.