Reply to Josh from the comments of the previous post

I started to reply to Jazz pianist/educator Josh Rager comment from the previous post and I just got kind of carried away. He does make some good points and my reply is wildly rambling and not even totally directed in response to his comment. I think this deserves a post of it's own though.

Josh Rager said...
"I totally agree with your advice on juicing the "city" for its inspiration. However I disagree with your prediction that the music business is on the verge of collapse based on a gluttony of young jazz school graduates. Personally I have only observed that institutionalized jazz education has served more to train teachers and audience members than jazz musicians. Degrees are a pretty poor indicator of career success in this field. Jazz education and being a jazz musician will always be separate (but perhaps slightly overlapping) fields."

My reply:

I don't know what city you live in Josh, but in all the major cities that I've spent time in over the last two decades I can say with utter certainty that there are a lot less Jazz rooms today than twenty years ago. Even up here in PDX in the last 10 years since I've been here there has only been a steady decline, no 'cycles' as half-full types like to say. Just a downward trend, it must be a good 75% decline in the last ten years here.

The schools keep churning these kids out every year. Now, I'm not saying that Jazz education is a bad thing, in theory at least, but are the school really preparing these newly minted graduates for the economic realities that they're going to find waiting for them? How about a double major in Jazz performance and catering, or maybe a Jazz comp/barista degree? That would be a bit more realistic.

Since you seem to have found teaching gigs at some of these Jazz schools you probably have a different perspective about the scene than the kids who you are graduating. What would your life be like if you had to survive solely on gigs? It used to be possible to raise a family playing music, not so much these days.

Maybe being a Jazz professor is the only stable Jazz career that there is right now? Just look back thirty years ago. There were tons of touring band gigs out on the road all year long for young players to cut their teeth on. There were house bands in hotels and clubs all across the country that had steady incomes, sometimes for many years at a time.

Who's the biggest employer of musicians in the country (or at least in Las Vegas) now? Probably Circ Soleil! Even Cruise ship musicians are getting the axe right and left.

How much were musicians making for gigs thirty years ago? Same as they do today! Things have changed in a big way over time, and not for the better.

Personally, I am having a great time playing exciting gigs and feel that my teaching is highly rewarding. I'm making more bread with music than I ever did in the past and I haven't had a day gig in years. It is possible to be a professional musician/teacher, but it also doesn't hurt to marry a white-collar wife. :-)

So kids, don't marry a painter, dancer, writer, actor or another musician- unless they also happen to have a teaching gig at a nice Jazz conservatory. Then you just might be able to actually afford to go to a doctor when you need to.

I think that Greg Sinibaldi is right on when he notes that Jazz schools don't teach students to become artists. Shedding won't get you there. You need to actually be able to play and listen to true masters of the art of Jazz night after night in order to learn the ART of Jazz. Those are the opportunities that are getting scarcer as each year passes. Some schools are lucky enough to have masters teaching at them, but players still need a chance to play with bands that are on a high level. Chops are easy to come by these days, but profound musical ideas are usually not nurtured in the woodshed.

The most difficult thing for me about the current situation in my city is that ever though there are some world-class players around, it is really hard to develop a project and keep a band together in order to really work out material over time. I can get younger players to commit to putting in time to rehearse enough to work out difficult shit, but the final result is never as good as using seasoned pros. The guys that I want to work with are too busy hustling their asses off to support families. I can't ask them to rehearse a bunch without some nice paying gigs on the horizon, and even then...

Back in the 70's in a place like NYC you could make your rent by playing just one gig a month. This gave cats the luxury of playing sessions all the time in the thriving loft scene. Now, if you're paying $1,000 for a share in NYC it'll take you 20 gigs at $50 a pop.

All that I ask is that we just be frank with our young students about how much the financial realities of a Jazz career have changed, and are changing. I just don't think that these kids are getting much straight advice about what they're getting themselves into by majoring in Jazz performance and taking on a massive amount of debt to pay for it.

Berklee now costs as much as Harvard. Holy shit! How do you think a Harvard grad's earning power compares to a Berklee grad? WTF is that about?! $40k a year and four years later you can play Countdown changes like a champ, but you now make about $12k a year (if you're lucky). Hey, if you go on and get a doctorate in Jazz (at a good school) to the tune of about $220k all told, then you can make a fairly decent salary and think about maybe retiring one day.

OR...You can go to a two year community college to study nursing and as soon as you graduate get a gig starting at $45k/year and never worry about being out of work again for the rest of your life…AND in two or three years you'll be bumped up to$6k!

I know that if I had kids I would think twice about putting out $160k to send my artistic brat to Berklee.

"You get a FULL RIDE to Berklee like I did or else you're going to be learning to check blood pressure and empty bed pans at the local community college. On your off nights you can play your $50 Ska gigs and try to sneak in some bop licks on your solos."

If I had kids, oh, how they would hate me.

Josh, I don’t think that a glut of Jazz grads are the sole reason for the bleak situation we’re all in right now, but it can’t be helping things much. It's simple supply and demand, the kids are messing up the supply and the old Jazz fans who are taking their dirt naps are messing with the demand. The Jazz audience is aging too fast and even the legions of failed Jazz saxophonist turned Bop loving file clerks can’t replace the old fans fast enough. If degrees are poor indicators of career success then those students in Jazz schools are sure wasting a shitload of cash getting degrees. Even if these failed careers never get off the ground, the graduates certainly still flood the labor pool of working Jazz musicians for a few years (which helps to keep wages low) until the time comes that they have to get real jobs in order to pay off their mountain of debt.

When Jazz schools fail to inform students about the quickly changing realities of the music bussiness it is called Strategic misrepresentation, or good old fashioned lying. Would you pay $120k to get a four year degree in typesetting? How would you feel when you graduated and then realized that typesetting is obsolete? More realistically- if you could only made $50-$75 a night and you could work two or three nights a week as a typesetter if you were lucky? Hey, but you get a couple of free drinks on the job and 20% off the happy hour menu. Am I starting to sound jaded now?

You know that it’s a bad situation if Eastern Europe is starting to look like a better place to make a living as a Jazz musician than here in the States. Kids, you’d better start appreciating goulash and peirogis!

I wouldn't trade careers with anyone though. I still love being a Jazz musician and I have a better attitude and outlook than I ever did when I was younger (though you wouldn't know it from reading this post).

Josh, please just encourage your students to switch majors....to something in the medical field maybe?

Now I just sit back wait for the blogosphere to erupt and look forward to the deluge of comments .


Anonymous said...

A little too over the top for me.
I'm not sure why you have to go so far in your "knocking jazz school" rant. Perhaps you've been teaching a few teenagers recently & have been helping them contemplate their futures.

I'm 45 & remember "the good old days" in a different way. I had a chance to do the road band tour thing a few times, in my 20s, but don't remember "tons" of them. (Maybe a handful)

For a young cat, there were the ships & more wedding gigs than now...a few more hotel gigs, catskills, etc., but compared to the present, it wasn't a like it was some kind of gigging paradise.

It sounds like you're talking more about the "Mad Men" era of the 60s and not the 1980s.
A music school degree was always the ticket to Domino's, unless you put in the time & commitment to really succeed. When was there ever a guarantee for a job or life afterward? Its the Arts, dude, not Med or Nursing School.

Lighten up, man.
"The Good Old Days" werent what they used to be.

ps>> Does you wife have any single, white-collar friends?
can you hook a brother up?

Anonymous said...

The reason for the malaise in the live jazz music scene is largely due to the fact that too much of the music has become formulaic and uninteresting. Many of the musical postings on this site ( for instance Chris Potter's very lengthy treatment of "All the Things You Are" ) are of interest from an academic/ scholastic point of view but are unbelievably tedious if presented to a paying audience in a club.Further the whole head, solo, solo, solo fours with drums head routine has become crushing. As have the interminable repetative chromatic solos that sound precisely the same over every tune. Much of this practice has been encouraged by educators. The only people at the gigs put on by those people are themselves and their accolytes and other musicians trying to talk up a gig.

If paying customers enjoyed the music they would attend it. Much of jazz performance in clubs is just as lazy as lounge bands in the lobbies of hotels. I sense the frustration that you are voicing is a reaction that the vibrancy and social interest that should go with live music has been largely lost. As with contemporary classical music, the audience has voted with its feet.

David Carlos Valdez said...

I do agree with both of you.

To the first poster-
I have in fact been helping talented seniors contemplate their futures and that is exactly what inspired this rant. We're roughly the same age and I think things really started to peter out a few years before either of us had really hit the scene. The 70's were much better than the 80's and the 90's were better than the 00's.

The life of a working musician has never been easy, but I think that young graduates today are facing an even bleaker future than you and I did, which is kind of hard to imagine.

I learned a long time not to hook up my friends with my wife's friends. Out of luck there buddy.

In response to anon #2-

I can't argue with you. The epic Chris Potter All the Things solo is basically unlistenable to anyone but the most hardcore sax nerds on the planet. I felt practically sick to my stomach after listening to it myself.

So many Jazz musicians seem like they're just too lazy to spend the time and energy to really work out interesting material, relying instead on schlocky Real Book non-arrangements. Boring shit.

College educated musicians are also making music that is too complex to be interesting to the general listening audience. "Get out your slide rules to figure out this time signature boys!"

There are a lot of factors to consider here and I'm not saying that I even really understand the trends. I just stayed up way too late last night all jacked up on strong coffee and got carried away writing. :-)

Right now I think that the poor economy is really the biggest boot on the neck of the Jazz musician, not the fact that Jazz is too boring for reasonable folks to be bothered with. When money is tight people just don't go out and party as much. I've talked to some Jazz club owners that say that this year attendance has been down almost 50% from last year!

I'm just frustrated that in just two or three years Portland has lost a majority of it's Jazz venues. In a smaller city like this when even one good club closes, it's a pretty big blow to working musicians. So give me a break for needing to vent a little...

Anonymous said...

Most of what you said revolved around supply and demand, the idea that the supply of players is increasing while the demand for players is decreasing, but there's a few other supply and demand factors going on that you neglected. If Berklee's tuition is increasing every year, that means the demand for attending Berklee is increasing every year. If the demand dropped off, the price would drop to meet it. You seemed to be saying that people attend schools like Berklee so that they can have a career playing music, and that the school (Berklee is just representative here, I think most schools apply to what you're saying) is deluding the students into thinking they will succeed. But I don't think that's always the case.

I've never had a conversation with a teacher or professional musician in which they told me I'm going to be able to make a living playing if I go to a certain school or study with a certain guy. Every single one tells the same story you did. "Gigs are drying up, there's too many players coming out school, you need to make sure you can do a lot of different things if you even want to have a remote possibility of making a living".

Yet, I still went to music school and I'm clearly not the only one who did. I personally took the hedging approach and studied music ed, because I was the kind of kid who did calculations like the one you showed, and realized that a performance degree was a poor investment. I looked at college they way most Americans do, as a trade school.

But colleges aren't just trade schools. They're institutions for the preservation and redistribution of knowledge. Some people just go because they want to learn, even if there is no career waiting for them in the field they study. Maybe they know that someday they're going to have to become nurses and they want to learn as much as they can before they have families and careers to take care of. This applies to people who study philosophy or art history (or even people who get MBA's these days) just as much as to people who study music.

But your case wasn't that people shouldn't go to school just for fun, it was that there's a lie being told to students about their future job prospects. I just don't think the 'strategic misrepresentation' you're talking about exists. I think music schools are pretty up front that you're not going to make a living just by coming here, but you will get an education in the field you've chosen. As long as people are willing to pay, they're willing to teach.

So I would like to see a follow-up post where you talk about what you're actually proposing as a solution to the problem (if it exists). Should society dictate to universities what they should or shouldn't teach based on the job opportunities available? Or more simply, should schools be forced to advertise what their average graduates make, or what jobs their graduates get after school (I think many schools already do make those facts and figures public)? And I'd really like to see evidence of the strategic misrepresentation. I think most professors are pretty straight with their students (and prospective students) about the realities of the music business.

Love the blog, keep up the good work.

David Carlos Valdez said...

I guess only a tard would think that getting a performance degree is a good financial investment. Schools have a financial interest to enroll as many students as they can and a financial interest not to stress how poor the job prospects are for graduates. Maybe they aren't lying, but they do seem to be pretty slow to react to changing economic realities. The fact is that colleges do have a big impact on the greater music scene and the future of music in general.

As a student I was totally prepared to live a life of poverty in order to play the type of music that I loved. I never expected to get rich playing modern Jazz and that didn't affect my career choice one bit. I had no choice, from the time I first heard great live Jazz as a kid my path was set. My parents had been struggling artists themselves, so it was nothing new to me. I still don't really feel like I have any choice but to keep playing Jazz.

I figured that if I took the music ed route that I wouldn't end up with the skills that I needed. I didn't even want to give myself that out. Why learn to play violin and trumpet when I needed to spend every available moment shedding the saxophone?

You're totally right about colleges being crucial to the preservation and advancement of the important elements of true culture. Capitalism has thrown a wrench into the advancement of the arts. The most talented young people are choosing courses of study that will put food on the table rather than following their passions. I don't think that schools should stop teaching the arts simply because artists don't make much money.

Tuitions are up because demand is high. When they are as high as they are right now and the demand for professional musicians is as low as it is, then I do think that it's time to start thinking about a better way to invest $160k in order to become a better Jazz musician.

If you really just want to be a player and you don't get a full ride scholarship to a good school then I would seriously consider a different approach to learning music.

How about taking out loans or putting daddy's money toward studying privately with several world-class teachers? How about hiring the best rhythm section in town to play a session with you once a week? How about hanging out at a major Jazz school a bit while you're doing these things? This way you can still make connections with other good musicians your age and build working relationships for the future. By doing these things you would likely end up learning as much, probably more, and you'd avoid going so far into debt that you end up need to take a day gig just to make your student loan payments.

David Carlos Valdez said...

Do I have any ideas for solutions to any of these problems? Hmmmmm.

How about requiring Jazz performance majors to take more classes on marketing, web design, graphics, digital audio, booking, and management skills? All skills that every modern working musicians need to survive. How about encouraging some more of those guitarists to switch to bass? :-)
What about a required course on avoiding chemical dependency? That class might save a lot a careers from going down the tubes.

I don't really want economics to dictate what students study at school, but I do want schools to better prepare students for a rapidly transforming music scene. More practical career training and better counseling and career guidance maybe?

Schools shouldn't take same the point of view as sea turtle mothers- that 98% of these kids are going to be eaten by sharks or sea lions before they even make it past the breakers, and that's just the circle of life.

No, these students are paying you $160k big ones and by the time they graduate you need to at least give them a fighting chance out there in the cold dark sea.

One thing that these schools have done in the past few decades is to drastically lower the bar for admissions. In the olden days Berklee would make each and every student send in an audition tape. Imagine that! When I was at school and asked a top administrator why they didn't even require a tape he said that it wouldn't be fair to those students who didn't have access to a tape recorder. Ha! With an 84% freshman dropout rate they knew which side that their bread was buttered on- huge shitty freshman classes and very few graduates. These days I think that it is actually harder to get accepted and some kids even get rejected.

So maybe music schools should be more selective about the students they accept? Not as many students=better students=better graduates=better musicians working in clubs=not as many listeners getting turned off to Jazz forever from hearing shitty bands. OK, maybe I'm stretching here.

Do you guys think that the quality of Jazz conservatory students has gone done with the explosion of new four and six year Jazz programs? It seems like it is inevitable for this sort of thing to happen. Do all of these Jazz schools just end up turd polishing?

"Shiny young turd, go out into the world and play some great Jazz!"

David Carlos Valdez said...

I actually do think that the quality of young players that are entering college is greatly improving. They do have access to so much more materials (information, books, MP3s, ect)than I ever did at that age. Then I would have given up my big toe to have the kind of stuff that I've got on my hard drive today.

Anonymous said...

I think anybody that thinks they can just go thru a jazz program, even one like Berklee or UNT, New School, etc., and expect them to teach them & prepare them for everything they need to play and/or survive in the Music World needs a SERIOUS reality check.

All my friends that "made it" were "self-starters", self-teachers. Even though they were attending the Big Jazz school, THEY took the initiative in learning to play WELL & they (we) checked out the "hip" sh@t, organized sessions in guy's pads, did the transcribing, etc.

We were just at the jazz school as a place to hang out & meet guys, interact and learn together. We learned stuff from the teachers & the program, but it was the interacting with fellow students & individual work, independent of school that "did the trick", NOT THE PROGRAM.

If we did just what the teachers said, practiced only what they told us, learned only the tunes they gave us on the handout sheet, we wouldn't have got that far...I think you had similar experiences.

I think that is the problem with the more recent generations, and society in general, where they are so used to getting everything "pre-digested", spoon-fed to them, w/o any responsiblity of personal "discovery" involved. (and the benefits there of)

To simplify: If you go to school, like an egg & sit there, waiting to be taught & molded...god help you!

ppss>> C'mon, your wife's gotta have one friemd out there, who wants a jazz musician?

MonksDream said...

Thanks for sending me this thread by e-mail, David.

I think that one of the major issues that's left out here, is that it is possible to become a great jazz musician without going to an official jazz conservatory.

After completing his medical education, Henderson went back to the Bay area for his medical internship and residency - and the break that thrust him fully into music. It was a week-long gig with Herbie Hancock's Mwandishi band that led to a three-year job. The Mwandishi association lasted from 1970-73 (from Wikipedia.)

Tim Berne, the alto saxophonist, has a liberal arts degree from Lewis & Clark College. Joshua Redman had been accepted to law school before "making it" as a musician. Herbie Hancock has, I believe, a PhD. in Electrical Engineering.

In some ways, is it not a better hedge to go to a place like Indiana University, or Wesleyan (just a couple of examples) that have great music departments, and keep your horizons open by studying other things? If you have the fortitude and talent to become a great jazz musician, and the luck to move forwards in that career, you're not going to suffer some of the problems that are being addressed in this post.

Just my two cents.

MonksDream said...

I was going to add to that last comment. Ask some other questions, like what Jazz conservatory did Charlie Hunter and countless other heavy duty players go to? The answer would be the null set. And how much debt did they incur as a result?

David Carlos Valdez said...

I just had dinner with Charlie Hunter last night as a matter of fact. After dinner I caught his set with his duo+brass project. I was actually thinking exactly about that fact. Charlie is self taught, like so many greats. As I was listening to him play I wondered how much different his quirky playing and composing style would have been had he gone to a Jazz school.

Pere Soto, my partner in musical crime, is also totally self taught. To me the most outstanding thing about his musicality is that he's so original. I think I would have to say the same thing about Charlie, even though it's hard not to be blinded by his insane and breathtaking multitasking.

I would rather hear someone who has developed a unique voice with mediocre technique than a technical monster who just sounds like a bland mixture of the top players on the scene.

It is possible to teach originality in schools, but the teachers need to be original players and they need to design a curriculum that fosters creativity and personality over proficiency and emulation.

Mentoring used to be much more important in the past. Now there isn't such the strong tradition of Jazz apprenticeship. As long as you can find a good mentor I think it is possible to circumvent the institutionalized path of modern Jazz education, with all of it's pitfalls (the primary one being the outrageous price tag).

Unknown said...

Good evening Mr. Valdez, i'm an italian saxophone player from Italy.
I'm 18 years old and I'm attending the secondary high school( last year ), and a conservatory of music where i currently study for the seventh year, the last year before the degree.
Well, in these months I'm wondering how my future will be, if move to another country to study music is a good idea or not.
Reading your posts, I could understand how the situation in your country is not so different from the situation in my country.
I know that my future degree in saxophone will not help me to work, to find a salaried job.
According to me, the situation is not good.
I have some gigs( paid sporadically and badly ) to perform with some combo, with a big band, but these gigs will not be useful to reach my economic self-sufficiency, indeed.
After the degree I think the only way to "survive" will be try to teach in school, in conservatories, wherever.
You know, Berklee, New School and some other good schools are a sort of "dreams" in Italy.
At least, I think NYC, Boston, Manhattan, as a sort of "paradise" for the jazz musicians.
All the musician i met said me: "As soon as you can, move to another country because the things work better there".
After years of self-abnegation and hard studies, I believe my way is music and my question is: How is possible to live in music?

Thank you for the attention, for the nice posts in this nice blog, and sorry for my bad english. Peace.


Sam Birch said...

A though-provoking and honest post.

I think that it has been building for some time but we haven't seen the full stretch of human creativity to deal with the problem of grotesque over subscription to the macho-arts. LOL.

It has been a long-standing cliche. There's the old Jewish curse "May your daughter marry a jazz musician!" and countless others, that are as old as the hills, illustrating the sense of oblivion that jazz music creates for a steady (or even modest) income. Diversity has long been the jazz musicians strongest ally.

As for the scene in Portland, Oregon - It sounds tough. I'm in London and it's pretty tough here. I know people in parts of Europe (Germany, Portugal and Holland) who see a slight economic difference (a bit more of a national subsidy for the arts, better paying gigs) but are faced with the same reality.

Could we see the problems about jazz education in the same light as we see the problems with human society in general? Maybe there are just too many people in the world right now. Maybe we need to look at how we prosper on this planet a bit more if we are to continue indulging in the arts and consuming with impunity. Or, maybe not.

Bach and Mozart both lived a tough life and got too little recognition for their work during their lives. Maybe the situation they were facing was parallel to that which we are faced with today. It seems, competition and adversity is the catalyst which makes the human spirit evolve.

As for the situation facing the torch-bearers of the musical tradition - this is a sad economic reality. I have seen too many great musicians suffer an relatively unsung fate. We owe it to ourselves to celebrate life and music and those that dedicate their lives to the practice and performance of the fine arts. Maybe it is the role of human society that has pushed jazz into its current esoteric niche. If we look into the fine offerings of musical creativity that occurred during the 60's/70's, was this not connected to a spirit of revolution that was a human, social and cultural movement? I wasn't there (I'm 29) but the music and archives are left to prove it. The evidence is undeniable.

We will always see a few brave individuals leading the way forward and speaking out, even at times of stagnation. We will always see this number increase exponentially when the motion of human development moves onward.

I look forward to a new era of human consciousness with great anticipation! The music will be magic!

Incidentally, I studied a Jazz degree. I am now an educator.

Riches and Poverty

"How long will the people remain asleep?

How long will they glorify those who only aquired greatness by luck?

How long will they remain unaware of those who allowed them to see the beauty of their spirit, the symbol of peace and love?

How long will men honour the dead while remaining unaware of those who spend their lives in a circle of poverty, who consume themselves like burning candles in order to light up the road for those who are unaware and lead them to the pathways of light?"

Kahlil Gibran

David Carlos Valdez said...

Thanks for the thoughtful and uplifting reply Sam.

David Carlos Valdez said...

If you did answer yes to the question,"Is it possible to live without playing Jazz?", then you will not regret your choice to pursue Jazz as a career.

It all comes down to that question. If you wouldn't be able to live with yourself if you went into something other than being a Jazz musician then it is a simple choice.

If you must LIVE JAZZ then do try to get the best education possible in the best place for Jazz music- NYC or Boston. Since you have no choice but to play Jazz then you need to give yourself the best opportunities to do that.

Even if you can't afford to go to the top schools you should try to get to NYC any way that you can. Immerse yourself in the scene, go to jam sessions, check out live shows, take lessons with your favorite players, make the hang. Stay there until they kick your ass out of there.

On the other hand if you have to think for a minute or two about the answer to that first question, but still lean towards a Jazz career then maybe you should think about an academic approach. If you can finance going to a top school without putting your entire family in debt, then go all the way and get a doctorate. This way you will be able to get a stable job as an educator. You will also get some more time to work on your craft while you're in school.

Don't do this thing half-assed. If you want to play Jazz then go to NYC and learn from the best. NYC is the Jazz capitol of the world and anywhere outside of that is just a Jazz wasteland. There may be a few small thriving Jazz scenes scattered around, but nowhere even compares to NYC for the density of great Jazz musicians.

You most likely will end up teaching in some capacity. That is true for just about everybody these days. If you can develop other skills that can make you a little money on the side that can't hurt either (I sometimes produce multimedia DVDs for musicians as a sideline).

I always remember something my good friend John Stowell once said when I gave him the details of a modest gig that we were doing together. He said,"We're not in this for the money anyways". Let that be your mantra. If you keep that in mind and really appreciate the fact that you are a creative artist instead of a bean counter, then you'll be fine during feast or famine.

If you want to have a more stable and secure life, great health insurance, and a big house then there is always accounting. You could also marry a nurse. ;-)

Me Me said...

Gah! I wrote something brilliant, moving and witty. Life-changing for all to read. It got lost. Oh well.

Thanks for the wonderful and inspiring posts, anyway! They filled me with joy. Seriously!

Unknown said...

Mr. Valdez, thank you very much for the reply.
I'll think about these informations that start running through my mind since i read the post, but i believe the answer is already in my deep. :)

Thank you.


Adam Beach said...

Speaking to younger CV readers I would say: at 40+, having gone through the wringer of this culture for a couple of decades, I have to say that having that kind of passion for anything, especially with something to do with art, is a priceless blessing. It sounds like a platitude; it's something I'd have to spend allot of time and text describing, so just take my word for it. No MBA or law degree (if you're going into it for the middle class status) can buy you anything like such a true passion.
Most importantly, I would chime in that: yes, "... it's a brutal world out there right now and it's only getting worse." Therefore, I'd say if you [the college-bound Casa Valdez reader] have the opportunity to go to college and you feel the way DV did/does then, by all means, just do it! Learn what you want to learn. We're facing radically changing times. Music is a fundemental human activity/interest. On certain levels its as necessary as food. It's going to last whatever we're going through. Be a part of that change...and all that good new age stuff.

"Practically" speaking, the most a college degree really shows the World of Employment is that you're someone who focused themselves and did what was needed to complete something like a degree. Having a degree beats not having one.

MonksDream said...

These are all really great inspirational posts. I was basically playing devil's advocate but I think that David hit the nail on the head with his last few postings. Good stuff, and it's refreshing to experience the lack of cynicism and unbridled passion in these posts.

Josh Rager said...

Maybe I can jump back in again...
I think we're all reconciling in our own ways the sad truth that live music is just not very important to the public at large. Maybe I can try to explain my distinction between jazz education and being a professional musician in this context.

In my comment I disagreed with the assertion that the jazz music business is in peril as a result of numbers of students graduating from university jazz programs. I guess it is mostly because I don't really view university and the academic music streams as a form of trade school. As another commentator pointed out God help the student who'll try to pay off a degree at Berklee with jazz music as a career choice. At McGill the overwhelming majority of my students, as you've already pointed out, will dable in music professionally before moving on to pursue other more lucrative endeavors. And we both agree that this is a good thing. It's good because they will go on to make up an informed consumer of art and hopefully good music. I don't really feel threatened by their short presence in the "job market" I even encourage them to live the dream as long as possible. Most of the gigs my students play are not professional and I doubt that I'd lose any of my work to them (at least not for a couple of years...I've got to keep practising just in case!) If anything I get a lot of inspiration from hearing what younger players are coming up with as a result of their influences. Here's where perhaps another distinction is useful: Being an artist is not the same as being a success in the music business.

Being an artist requires intense mentoring, participation in a community of like minded musicians, and a lifetime of work mastering the technical aspects of one's instrument and one's own musical language. Success in the music biz requires one to have skills relevant to the needs of contemporary society. When people used to dance to music, they depended on musicians and live music in a way that they do not today. When people stopped dancing to jazz (whether the music changed or the public's entertainment needs changed is still up for debate) then live music began its steady decline. Some "artists" are a success in the biz (Mehldau for example) but I can't really explain why. I also know personally of several world-class musicians who are hard-pressed to earn the money they deserve and must supplement their income with teaching. Conversely I think we could all name a few mediocre players who are absolutely striking it rich in the biz. However as a teacher at the university level I would never steer anyone away from their dreams but rather I let life just kind of work itself out in this regard. It takes an enormous amount of dedication to make a go of it and if a person has that dedication they will do it anyways regardless of what I tell them.

So ultimately I don't really think it's possible to teach this dedication. And I believe that dedication is the key to becoming an artist. So in a way I don't even think it's possible to really "teach" artistry. I think the closest I could come would be to tell students that if they want to work they should start thinking about becoming team players. For me that meant learning how to accompany as well as I could (let's face it, it's what a pianist does %90 of the time to pay the bills) But this decision was a result of my own experience mentoring piano players in Montreal and New York and not so much a result of my classwork in composition, improv, and arranging.

The best argument I give students to finish their degrees are if they love learning and if they want to teach. These are valid reasons for getting a degree neither of which will guarantee any success in the field of performance. But you're right David we as teachers need to impart clearly what a student is and isn't getting as part of their university education.

Jerry Pritchard said...

Music (and all Art) has always been a marginal activity. The Arts are a by-product of the success of the culture in producing enough food, shelter, clothing, water to sustain the large majority of the population and allow a few to have time for the arts. In effect, the arts are derived from the leisure time left over from the vicissitudes of earning a living. (Of course,in less developed societies there is precious little leisure time and and yet arts in still integrated into ordinary daily life and rituals.)

A very small percentage of any society has the ability/opportunity/desire/drive to earn the special status given to a professional musician...who is allowed the "luxury" of using their time to produce art for the masses. If everyone could do it, it wouldn't be special or attractive any longer.

The very success of western culture in garnering enough resources to develop good schools to train a multitude of high level musicians is the very factor that devalues the art in the eyes/ears of the public and, thus, the fine art (including jazz) lose its audience.

The only way I see out of this paradox is to redouble our efforts to train listeners and develop audiences to understand, appreciate and value the intrinsic expressive elements of jazz, to understand the essence of the means of expression and that meaning which is being communicated by the musician.

Adam said...

In response to Jerry:

I wanted to point out, for what its worth, that in fact most non-civilized indigenous people in sustainable tribal societies had plenty of time for art and ritual and music... before western culture's colonization. The music that the enslaved brought to the Americas from Africa which eventually became "Latin" and "Jazz," etc. owes its entire genesis to people who lived this way for thousands and thousands of years.

joesh said...

One small point to add to all of this is the compounded problem of the state and the colleges. In Europe teachers were originally (mostly in jazz schools) musicians who had an excellent reputation in performance, or as teachers in their own right - or both. Now due to the introduction of degrees, diplomas etc many schools, partly due to government funding, require the teachers to have degrees, or the school and it's diplomas are not recognized. Less students, no funding etc.

The end result being players with often little experience but great chops, or just plain uninteresting musicians - by that I mean not original personalities, which I think is important if you follow my meaning.

Of course this is now a one way trip as more and more colleges spring up and employ post grads. I should also add that the false hopes of gold on the streets of NY doesn't help much, adding to that the Banff camps club. These are extra qualifications to get you into various doors, as being a freemason used/is to be. But somehow I suspect none of this will change and we just have to live with it.

The funniest part about all of this is that there are now more and more rock and pop schools with the same system! What happened to the good old fashioned, tried and tested, system of 'garage bands and hanging out for hours with guitars in your best friends house/flat before forming a band and breaking all the rules?!

Keep up the rant, you know it makes sense.