As I frequently do, I was searching yesterday for high school jazz band directors with whom I can share some of the jazz educational resources I produce. In my search, I stumbled across something disturbing.
On the about page for the North Carolina chapter of the American School Band Directors Association was their mission statement which read in part:
Maybe this nonsense was exclusive to the North Carolina chapter website, but front and center of the national website for the ASBDA, after giving lip service to jazz is, “ASBDA feels strongly, however, that the latter are of secondary importance to the former and should remain that way in the total band curriculum”.
Thankfully, I am not a public school teacher, so maybe I’m missing something. But why is jazz band to assume secondary importance to concert band?
Now, one could claim that, of course they are advocating for concert band – after all, they are a concert band association. But you can advocate for band without denigrating jazz. In fact, by advocating for band, one should be a proponent of the additional music and instrumental skills gained through learning jazz.
I think if the people in charge of the American School Band Directors Association opened their minds a bit, they might realize that playing and improvising jazz is actually an elevated aspect of musical performance, certainly once students reach a high school level of musical proficiency.
My interpretation of their guidelines is that reading the dots on a page is more important than the ability to hear music at a deeper level and using that heightened perception to spontaneously compose music, i.e. jazz improvisation
Yes, one must learn the fundamentals before improvising jazz, but to explicitly state that school music instructors “not be allowed” to hold jazz at equal footing to concert band is close-minded and further evidence that K-12 education must be wrestled away from state and federal bureaucrats now more than ever.
Thankfully, the deterioration of government education had not reached its current lows back when I was in high school where my Arizona school enjoyed not one, but two full big band ensembles and one full-time jazz instructor to whom I owe a great deal of my musical abilities.
I was by no means an accomplished improviser back then, but I was at least developing the skills to create music spontaneously as apposed to my fellow band students who were hopelessly and forever locked into the dots on the printed page.
Let’s remind our educational overlords that the musical values learned in jazz are not of less importance than those learned in band. In fact, after a certain level of instrumental proficiency, they might be of more importance!