Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Jazz 101: Educating the Community

I admit I have become a jazz junkie, not just in terms of listening to the music but reading all things jazz and looking for opportunities to become jazz literate. Last spring, the MacPhail Center for Music and Minneapolis Public Library offered a six-session overview of the history of jazz ("Looking at Jazz"), which drew 100+ to most of the sessions. The "students" ranged from middle schoolers to seniors. For the fall semester, MacPhail announced "Jazz 101," a 12-week course on understanding jazz in an historical context, taught by acclaimed trumpeter Kelly Rossum--who not coincidentally was the curator of the Looking at Jazz series. Seven of us, ranging in age from 30-something to 60-something, sit in old fashioned wooden school desks in a small classroom at MacPhail, trading ideas and challenges to those ideas with each other and with Kelly. Six of us know each other fairly well and in fact plotted to register for the class to ensure it would not be canceled. But our common agenda really is to learn as much as we can from a master teacher who lives and breathes jazz 24/7, both as a performer and as a committed educator. We arrive early like eager 7th graders discovering astronomy or biology, and we leave an hour later, all too soon...so like the adults we really are, we take our questions and our arguments down the street for another hour of coffee or beer. This is better than college--the "homework" involves reading about our passion and listening to the music; there are no midterms or final exams; we aren't competing for grades. The only real stress is trying to remember all that we hear. Now I eagerly await my next live jazz outing--can I identify the form of the tune? Can I differentiate jagged rhythms from polyrhythms? Do I notice the different sounds between the ride and crash cymbals? Cool! Jazz education should mean more than including jazz in our public schools, establishing summer jazz camps and funding scholarships to Berklee-although of course these are essential programs. But to keep music (and jazz) in our schools and to encourage our students to follow their dreams, our communities must understand, appreciate, and support jazz as part of our culture. That means not only introducing young children to jazz, but encouraging adults of all ages, and particuarly those not already involved in music, to learn about and hopefully enjoy jazz as an informed audience. When our communities are filled with voters and advocates who are at least familiar with jazz, then the future of this music will be secure.