Jazz As A Liberal Arts Education

For conservatory-trained jazz musicians, it’s a scary job market out there. Saxophonist Dave Liebman, an NEA Jazz Master and veteran statesman, paints a bleak picture:

In the current world of jazz education, the situation vis a vis graduating more and more of the most equipped musicians in history (every year more so) in stark contrast to the scarcity of paid performance and recording opportunities has assumed epic disproportion. To deny this would be like ignoring global warming. Serious educators are and should be concerned.

While some public conversations suggest addressing this crisis with more music business classes, or harsher financial reality checks upon entering school, or more holistic teaching methods — all of which are good ideas — Liebman points out one other thing: Jazz school prepares students to be citizens as well as musicians. In an AllAboutJazz essay, he lists how activities like soloing, learning a standard repertoire and entertaining correspond with other critical life skills.

Such a viewpoint isn’t new — think of how often “playing jazz” has been publicly equated to “participating in a democratic society” — but it isn’t as often seen as a defense for jazz education. In other articles posted to his website, Liebman more directly argues that a jazz education, though unlikely to result in a full-time performance career, provides exposure to a lot more than technical knowledge. “Playing jazz combines several qualities: instinct, honesty, confidence, experience, trust, imagination and a positive attitude,” he writes in an essay called “Why Jazz Education?” “No matter what walk of life one enters in the future these are qualities that will serve any human being well.”

So, jazz school graduates: What do you make of those assertions? Would your education have been worth it even if you never play a gig again? [AllAboutJazz: “Jazz Education In The Century Of Change: Beyond The Music”]

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