Chris Donnelly on Attending Jazz Concerts
Posted by Chris Donnelly

Originally posted on Chris Donnelly’s Blog.

I teach privately at the University of Toronto, and usually have between one and four piano students studying with me during the academic year.  My students rarely attend my performances. I can think of one or two instances in my four years teaching at U of T.

Also, In October 2011, my trio Myriad3 performed UofT’s faculty concert.  This was part of the Faculty of Music’s official calendar of events, and Myriad3’s performance was meant to represent the jazz faculty.  We counted two students in the audience.

It’s a valid concern – jazz students not attending jazz concerts.  If you want to learn about performing jazz music, you should learn from the jazz masters and attend their performances.

BUT!

It’s unreasonable to assume that students attending a school for “jazz” or “jazz performance” are solely interested in those things, nor should they be.

A Teaching Paradox

I hold two opposing outlooks when teaching students.

First, I assume they’re studying to become professional jazz pianists. I think this is a sign of a good teacher. Students are expected to achieve the same, high standard I hold for myself.  If they hope to achieve that standard, it’d be wise for them to attend my shows.  It’s very frustrating that my students never hear me perform.

At the same time, I can never assume my students are studying to become professional jazz pianists.  Our gatherings around the piano, jazz music, and performing may only be serving as a launching pad for related or alternate careers. My students are “finding their voice” in a broader sense, one that will inevitably include the piano, jazz music and performing, but may also include other, diverse interests.

Considering this, I can think of three reasons why my students aren’t attending my performances:

  • My students aren’t primarily interested in studying jazz performance.
  • My students don’t know how to teach themselves to be jazz professionals.
  • My performances aren’t appealing enough to attract students.
  • Students Aren’t Primarily Interested in Jazz Performance

    Being a jazz performer may not be part of “finding their voice,” just as “Dixieland music” and “electrical engineering” aren’t part of mine.  Diverse interests and natural inclinations may drive them away from jazz concerts, and towards other activities.

    Then why are they enrolled in a jazz performance program?

    To learn. 

    To explore.

    It’s both reasonable and narrow minded to assume that a jazz education is meant to inspire creative work in jazz performance.  A strong teacher and a strong community can harness both perspectives.

    One of jazz education’s strengths (and music education’s in general) is that it can tolerate a broad range of individuals and interests, yet still be extremely rigorous and disciplined.  Graduates from jazz programs will also go on to careers in sound engineering, journalism, education, jazz theory, composition, medicine, law, film, finance and many others (including performance in multiple, diverse genres, not just jazz). That’s because music education can offer advancement in multiple skills, including communication, leadership, learning, business and problem solving.

    A student’s education in jazz, whether focused on performance or otherwise, will stay with them forever.

    Students Don’t Know How to Teach Themselves

    Maybe they don’t know what it takes to craft a career in jazz performance.  Maybe their education has failed them.

    It may seem logical – “if you want to perform, you should imitate master performers.”  This also may seem logical – “if you want to know something, ask questions.”

    But how do you know what questions to ask?  How do you know specifically what to imitate?

    Students need to be responsible and figure things out for themselves.  But teachers need to be responsible too.

    A good education and good teachers will ingrain good habits into their students.  We’re really good at ingraining II-V-I habits, inspired by the jazz masters.  If attending jazz performances is important to the teacher, ingraining good social habits, inspired by the jazz community, should be on the agenda too.

    My Performances Aren’t Appealing Enough

    In a way, jazz artists are competing with acts like Squarepusher and technology like YouTube.  Jazz fans and jazz students don’t necessarily expect LED lights and extravagant displays, but they do expect to have a good time.  Jazz artists should be striving to make it easier for audiences and fans to connect with them.

    But producing good jazz shows isn’t only up to the artists.  There are many people responsible for making jazz appealing to students.

    As I mentioned, we counted two students at UofT’s jazz faculty concert last year. But we also only counted two faculty members. If faculty members aren’t excited and talking about jazz concerts, it’s unfair to expect students to.
    I haven’t been to any faculty concerts either so I don’t exclude myself from this criticism.  But it supports the idea of needing a strong, supportive community with effective leadership.

    Comments are closed.

    Return to Blog