J-S Bach
John Zorn
Outwork
John Cage
Deconstruction
Education










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Of Jazz Education

[1] Besides my work as an academic, as a philosopher of music, I also teach. I give instruction in piano, theory, and combo at the Jazz School of the Rotterdam School of Music (SKVR), a public facility supported by the local government. Students, all amateurs between 16 and 60 years old, become acquainted with jazz music during a four year course, each year at increasing levels of difficulty from K-12. The vast majority of these students has no intention of making a career of music; for them, it is a leisure activity and they do not intend to obtain a degree in music. Each week the students have an instrumental lesson, a theory lesson, and - perhaps most importantly - a combo lesson. Generally, the repertoire is taken from The Realbook or from related 'jazz bibles'. These books contain mainly jazz standards, schematically notated: above a melody line of rhythmically simple notes are a series of chord symbols. This summary information should in the end lead to a well-sounding piece of music. The formula with which most of these standards are usually played is: (intro) - theme - improvisations on the prescribed harmonies - theme - (outro). Often the theme is a standard song in 32-bar form, the A-A-B-A form of so many popular songs, or in the 12-bar blues form. It is played in unison by the sax and/or trumpet player, or sung by a vocalist accompanied by the rhythm-section consisting of bass, drums, piano and/or guitar. In an improvisation, the musician places new melodic lines over the given harmonies of the song or the blues. This is done by embellishing or making slight alterations (paraphrasing), or by creating entirely new melodic lines (chorus-phrase). The solo improvisations are played one after another, generally in a pre-established order. The degree of complexity increases when there are different chords within a theme, when the chords follow each other more rapidly, when more extended (altered) chords are used, when tempos are increased, when greater deviations to the famous and basic II-V-I pattern occur, etc. The entire formula is based mainly on 1940's bebop.
Although improvements are always possible, the Jazz School students are generally very satisfied. During the 2000-01 school year, the Jazz School accommodated eleven combo's (approximately 70 students). Still there is a problem. Or better to say, I, as a teacher at the Jazz School, have a problem. This problem has to do with the narrowing definition of what jazz music is or can be, a reduction of jazz music to the bebop and hard bop styles of the 1940's and 1950's. (Admittedly, there are a few opportunities to teach Latin jazz or jazz-rock at the Jazz School. The Latin jazz (mainly Jobim's bossa nova's) that is played, however, generally has the same structure as the above-mentioned jazz standards. In fact, they already belong to the corpus of jazz standards. Maybe they belong to this corpus because they have the same structure.) What is the consequence of narrowing definition of jazz in jazz education? In my opinion, the student's expectations are confirmed too soon. Along with that, the concentration on making music together, on listening to the other(s) and responding to each other decreases in the long run. In the teachers' search for appropriate songs (not too difficult, not too fast, interesting enough for every member of the combo), (s)he arrives at the more-of-the-same problem, something that undoubtedly has to do with the limited compositional skills of the average bebop musician. As jazz expert Joachim Berendt asserts, a composer of jazz music is often a jazz musician who simply writes 12-bar blues or 32-bar song themes, supplying himself and his players with materials for improvisation. It is not very striking that in terms of harmony and melody, jazz does not offer much of a revolutionary nature (cf. Berendt, 1992, p.161).

[2] What about this personal and local sketch? Why this rudimentary case study? What I write in this section on music education is not all-inclusive. What I try to do is to find some inroads into music (jazz) education and to rethink certain assumptions or conventions. I would like to uncover a space where questions can be asked, where obsolete principles are renounced, where something that goes without saying becomes less obvious. Questions about teaching, about teaching material, about jazz. On this page, I would like to point out some spaces where jazz education can be reconsidered. Just by asking some questions.

[3] Let's consider, for example, the question 'What are you teaching when you are teaching jazz music?' What is jazz music? What have Scott Joplin's ragtimes, just to mention one example, with their functional harmonics, fixed meter and swinging rhythm, but without any improvisation in common with the (total) harmonic liberties and wide arches of rhythmic tension of free jazz? What has the 'free counterpoint', supported by a rhythm still very close to European march music of the New Orleans style, to do with the cross-over of pop and jazz in the songs of Michael Franks; the 1930's Swing era and its development of big bands with the 1990's jazz-dance and rap music of US3?
Jazz is essentially an eclectic form of music. It was a hybrid right from the start; let's say, for the sake of convenience, it is a mixture of, or interaction between Western instrumentation, melody, and harmony and African (or Afro-American) rhythm, phrasing, and production of sound. The distinction between purity and eclecticism simply involves that what may seem pure today came into existence so long ago that we have forgotten how eclectic, how impure it used to be. Especially since the 1980's, jazz unceasingly fragmented and transcended stylistic limits. It exploded categories and ignored delimitations in an incessant process of blending and intermingling with pop and classical music, two equally hybrid terms.

[4] In The Jazz Book. From Ragtime to Fusion and Beyond, Joachim Berendt tries to formulate a definition of jazz. According to Berendt, there are three main aspects of jazz: swing, improvisation, and sound (sonority and phrasing). All these characteristics are important, but their mutual relationships change. This is part of jazz evolution, but makes it very difficult at the same time to define jazz definitively. To mention just a few examples: some recordings by Count Basie's band do not contain a single improvised solo. Yet, no one questions its jazz character. In many free-jazz improvisations, swing recedes. We still call it jazz. The ragtime pianists had swing, but hardly any improvisation and no sonority. The early New Orleans bands did have jazz sonority, but they had more march rhythm than swing. Nevertheless, both ragtime and New Orleans belong to the jazz roots (cf. Berendt, 1992, p.454).
On one hand, Berendt tries to save the borderlines of jazz music by bringing in his three main jazz aspects. On the other hand, he readily admits that the borders between jazz and other music styles are blurred, particularly since the 1980's: 'Free jazz and world music, bebop, minimal music, rock, New Orleans jazz, trash rock, tango, hip-hop ... The message of eighties jazz was, Anything goes' (Berendt, 1992, p.47).
On one hand, his laborious effort to define jazz can be regarded as a classical attempt to demarcate. (This even makes him say things he probably did not want to convey. Before coming to his careful and balanced definition of jazz - jazz as a musical style in which at least one of the parameters swing, improvisation, and sound are at stake - he firmly declares  that 'improvisation is indispensable to jazz' (cf. p.157).) On the desire to demarcate, Derrida writes: 'This permanent requirement - to distinguish between the internal and proper sense and the circumstance of the object being talked about - organizes all philosophical discourses on art ... This requirement presupposes a discourse on the limit between the inside and the outside of the art object' (The Truth In Painting, p.45). The issue here is the difference between the ergon, the work 'itself', and the parergon, that which is outside the work. It seems necessary to know how to define the intrinsic, the framed, and what to exclude as frame and as beyond the frame. And Berendt makes an attempt.
On the other hand, he seems to know that parerga have a thickness (cf. The Truth In Painting, p.60), that they have an internal and an external border, that the boundary between inside and outside is not a clear-cut, narrow line; that this makes it difficult at times to decide whether or not a parergon belongs to the ergon after all. Let's take, as an example, the 'no wave' or 'noise music' (both of which are Berendt's terms) of guitar player, Elliott Sharp. In The Jazz Book, Berendt considers Sharp a jazz musician. But, in general, his 'cyberpunk' and 'industrial noise' give more occasion to observations and interviews in more rock-oriented magazines such as Keyboard and Guitar Player. With respect to 'real jazz' (whatever that may be) - jazz that is on the inside, demarcated by the internal borderline - Sharp's music merges into a general domain of 'other' music. Considered as music with much improvisational and free jazz elements to it, however, it merges into the domain of jazz music. Sharp's music is then separated from the outside, from the 'other' music. Could his work be an example of 'parergonal music'? It is written in and on the margins of jazz music. (N)either inside (n)or outside jazz. It is not a matter of decision here. 'Deconstruction must neither reframe nor dream of the pure and simple absence of the frame' (The Truth In Painting, p.73).

[5] Before I come to the question of what these difficulties in defining jazz music can mean for jazz education, I first want to pay attention to some opinions about jazz education in general. Advocates and opponents. Musician and Professor of Music George Lewis, for instance, writes in favor of jazz education in schools if it is done in the right way; that is, if creative development is guaranteed above the learning of clichés (cf. Zorn, p.91ff). Berendt states that jazz schools, conservatories, and courses are important because they further the knowledge of jazz and they help young musicians to build a vocabulary (cf. Berendt, 1992, p.51). But Berendt also has his doubts: 'Today's young musician is besieged by hundreds of books containing transcriptions, exercises in improvisation, studies in scales, theories of harmony, analyses of chords, examples of patterns, etc. The situation was strikingly different in earlier decades. What bebop innovators used to learn largely orally and intuitively, spending night after night at clubs and listening to records over and over, many of today's young musicians acquire rationally - and that's how it sounds: docile and diligent, very accurate and technically brilliant, but with little feeling and expression ... Making jazz an academic pursuit seems to promote the very thing people originally wanted to avoid: an institutionalization of facelessness' (Berendt, 1992, p.50-1). Composer and professor Christopher Small agrees with him: 'The fact that there are now ... formal courses of training for jazz musicians may signal the end of jazz as a living force; an art that is truly living resists its codification, the establishment of canons of taste and of practice, that schools, by their nature, impose' (Small, p.198). Lewis notes that many jazz musicians often express ambivalence as to whether schools are the right environment for studying jazz. They fear and even hate the process called 'academicization' (cf. Zorn, p.80). These musicians warn against the overuse of now widely available compilations of precomposed jazz patterns, or 'licks' - a practice that can be deemed to be a direct product of the academicization process. The main complaint is that so-called 'riff books' amount to approved lists of melodies that musicians often feel obliged to reproduce, often verbatim, as part of an ersatz improvisation. And indeed, Lewis writes, 'many of these riff books do bear formidably erudite titles ('Structures for Jazz'), which announce a somewhat suspect strategy of classicization and canonization' (Zorn, p.82). As drummer Marvin 'Smitty' Smith very expressively says: '[The jazz education institutions] formulate everything. Like, you play lick number 37 combined with licks number 152, 338, and 1012 and you have a perfect phrase for the first four bars of 'All The Things You Are'' (Berendt, 1992, p.51). And although Berendt starts to say how important jazz clinics, master classes, courses, workshops, and conservatories are, he concludes that (1) the decisive part, i.e. swing, cannot be taught and (2) they cannot impart someone how to live jazz (cf. Berendt, 1992, p.51 and p.193). Lewis' critical comments are also directed at the many jam sessions, which, though still important as forums for the maintenance of tradition, often degenerate into sites for the exchange of canonized 'clichés'. Perhaps the symbol of this reification of traditional forms, used by both students and professional musicians, is The Realbook, which serves a very important canonizing function in the world of jazz pedagogy (cf. Zorn, p.88-9).
Between the advocates and opponents of jazz education stand people, such as saxophonist Eddie Harris, who maintain that intimate, nearly automatic familiarity with 'clichés' is not negative by definition. However, it should be regarded not as an end in of itself, but as a legacy of common practice. It should be used as a springboard for the creation of a more personal approach. Harris writes about the complex interaction among the conceptions of literature, orature, tradition, canonization, personality and innovation, the interaction between clichés and creativity (cf. Zorn, p.82-3).

[6] How can I combine my description of the Rotterdam Jazz School with these critical remarks on both jazz education and the attempt to define jazz? What role could deconstruction play here? And what should we do with Small's 'accusation' that 'the standardization of teaching is no more than a sign of the standardization of musical practice throughout the world of western music' (Small, p.197)? Is standardization possible? Justifiable? Berendt, in particular, shows that every attempt to fix jazz music must fail because the term 'jazz' is too heterogeneous; it is at all times open to extension, inclusion, transgressing its own borders. When Derrida states that deconstruction is always already going on, not only in (philosophical) texts, but also in non-discursive institutions, - 'Deconstruction is not a discursive or theoretical matter, but rather a practico-political one; and it is always produced in structures which are called institutional', Derrida writes in The Post Card - could he mean that the institution jazz is always already under deconstruction, deconstructed from the inside and not from some external critique or analysis? Berendt's struggle to define jazz makes clear that the signifier 'jazz' never arrives at a stable signified, a stable meaning, and it will never be definitively clear where jazz ends and 'non-jazz' begins. This is an excess in the interior of the concept of 'jazz'. Not an accidental excess, but one that is constitutive of it. It is constitutive of a word or a concept that it is iterable, repeatable at another time, another place, another context, i.e., cut off from its 'original' referent or signified. Therefore, an absolute embedding, a clear and stable center, is impossible to guarantee. Each repetition is also a displacement that leads to different meanings.

[7] If the concept of 'jazz' is an unstable one, it has consequences for jazz education, as well. What connects my personal experiences at the Jazz School with the objections of the authors and musicians cited above, is the narrowing of the concept of jazz and its practical consequences. Teaching jazz music often means teaching the jazz forms that were current and valid in the 1940's and 1950's. Starting from this idea, the possibility of reverting to the jazz bible, The Realbook, in order to teach the jazz classics presents itself and, following naturally from this, to attend to typical jazz-patterns, scales, and licks. A desire for safety, clarity, stability, predictability, univocality. Standardization (definitions) required for accountability, 'measurability'.
According to Gregory Ulmer, the central concern for an education that takes notice of post-structuralist ideas like deconstruction is 'how to deconstruct the function of imitation in the pedagogic effect' (Ulmer, p.174). Approvingly, he refers to several modern social analyses that describe education as a device of power and control whose chief purpose it is to reproduce fixed values. Deconstruction of imitation, however, does not imply abandoning imitation altogether (if that is at all possible). Far more prudent, far more subtle, Derrida asks how to reconcile the respect and the transgression of institutional limits. Granted, there is nothing in Derrida's writings about jazz and jazz education. Yet, he unfolds a space which makes possible such a writing where one is not simply writing one's own text but writing on 'his'. Repetition and transformation. Elaborating on his writings, writing at first in the margins of his texts, will gradually assume a text of its own that expresses new thoughts. My experiences while writing this text. Perhaps a natural way of learning to play jazz music. In learning jazz, one begins by copying (perhaps by being forced to copy). The student repeats, often without understanding, in order to enter into the practice. Once (s)he is well on his way, understanding can dawn. Deconstruction questions the limits of this initiation, for example, by asking how the creativity (perhaps even autonomy) of the learner relates to such an initiation. It is a plea in favor of invention, not without concepts, but by going each time beyond the concept, without any guarantee or certainty. It is about risks; that is, it both traces and invokes risks - where things do not go according to a preconceived plan. It is about questioning such concepts as functional harmonies (II-V-I patterns) and tonality, fixed meters and beats, conventional musical structures, conventional ways of playing instruments, successive solo's; in short, jazz and jazz education in the narrow sense. It opens a space for free tonality, arches of rhythmic tension and pulses, an infinite exploration of musical structures and the use of instruments, collective improvisations and complex interplay of different notated patterns so that one can barely tell which one of the musicians is leading at any given moment. This manner of thinking questions the borders among jazz, rock and classical music, which is not to say a submersion into nothingness or indifference, but into an affirmative openness toward the other. On one hand, this type of jazz (education) remains in touch with jazz as defined in the narrow sense; on the other hand, jazz is used as a starting point, or even as merely one component among others.

[8] An efficient and rigorous deconstruction must, at the same time, develop a critique concerning the actual institution of jazz (pedagogy) and engage in a positive, affirmative, and provocative transformation of jazz education. This, by no definition, means that current jazz education (the Jazz School at the SKVR) must be replaced or abandoned altogether; I do not advocate disposing of such jazz bibles as The Realbook but rather, learning to read them in a creative and responsive way. For this, students also need to be introduced to what is outside the dominant paradigm. Although new ways of teaching jazz music must be explored, I think that jazz and jazz education continually replace and transform themselves. Not a return of contemporary jazz (education) to its 'roots', but a move in other directions. That is why the struggle is never simply for or against jazz education, but between certain forces and their solicitations and implications, within and outside of the academic institutions. It is in this sense that deconstruction has radical institutional implications. Because deconstruction is never 'concerned only with signified content, but with the conditions and assumptions of discourse especially, with frameworks of enquiry, it engages the institutional structures governing our practices, competencies, performances' (Culler, p.156).