Advice For Jazz Students

How many of you are still reading?

I have noticed a kind of sinking, end of days feeling around music recently (maybe it’s just me, I haven’t been out a lot). As if Johnson was controlling (or not) that as well.

Anyway, as someone who scratches half of their living through this privileged profession of jazz teaching, I thought I would offer some advice.

This morning, I listened to “Cookin'” with the Miles Davis Quintet whilst walking to the college I teach at. There are several reasons why I should listen to this album, and several why I shouldn’t. They are all bogus.

We have lists of classic albums we give out. You have to do something. You have to start somewhere. You have to assume people will respond with that strange inner joy that makes not outwardly responding acceptable in the jazz world. An interior life. But you might not. Your inner life might be somewhere else. That might be problematic if you are studying on a crushingly expensive (and remember, you are only paying half of the real cost, approximately) course.

So that’s the first thing. Do a quick spot check on whether your “interior life” is functioning, and what stimulates it….you will need that more than anything, more than the notes, more than the theory and more than the technique. These are simply landmarks in that life. When you walk around in it, they will make themselves known to you. Education can broaden the range of triggers. I am posting twenty albums that changed my life on Facebook, and not even half are jazz). If asked in a weeks time, maybe they all would be. There are no facts, no musts…..follow your nose.

Transcription. This is a big part of jazz education, and people argue the toss over its worth perpetually. My advice about transcription is this: find something that gives you real goosebumps. What you are transcribing are the goosebumps. You are finding the method of creating them. When you take down the notes, from memory, on paper, whatever your method, what is absorbed are the goosebumps. Remember that all those notes without goosebumps, badly placed, half heartedly conceived, will be flat as a Brexit growth chart, as a Tory pulse, as a….well, you get the idea.

Music is magical, like all the other arts or anything where something is created or experienced that was not there before. Notes contain or don’t contain this magic, but all the stuff that can seem dry, academic, soulless (that’s one I hear a lot, and see even more) is designed to be helpful in achieving that magic….magic that is in the using of them. They won’t, like Picasso’s easel or Stravinsky’s manuscript book, give you anything unless you activate them.

Oh and the last piece of advice is, of course, to be wary and questioning of such things at all times.

Good luck, young musicians from all walks of life….we need you.

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