Wednesday, January 26, 2011

On Jazz Education

Queen Victoria

If you follow this link, you'll find an article I wrote for the McGill Daily on jazz education at McGill University, in the Schulich School of Music.  I had a lot of trouble writing the article because there was so much to say and so much to know and I wanted to make a good, succinct point.  You decide if I've been too vague.  As I was writing, I felt like I might be making too much of an obvious issue.  It's hard to be a musician, and most don't make money only from performing.  There was also the idea that jazz programs might stultify or narrow the range of styles you'll find in jazz.  I don't think that's true, so I didn't really broach the topic.  (Peter Watrous wrote about it almost eleven years ago for JazzTimes, and I don't even know if he was correct then.)

To my knowledge, though, there's not much writing on jazz or jazz programs in Canada.  So if anything, you might learn a little more about McGill's program.  I talked to many wonderful musicians--students and teachers in the McGill jazz program--as I was researching for the article, and they taught me more than I would have learned had I just read up on the subject (which I also did).

Above, you'll see a statue of Queen Victoria.  That statue sits regally in front of McGill's music building.  (Yes, Canada, a part of the Commonwealth, remains a constitutional monarchy.)  I often go through that building to get to the music library, where I have been borrowing jazz CDs for the last four years.  There's quite a collection and I can usually find what I'm looking for.  I also sometimes practice piano in that building.  On the top floor, you'll find a long hallway.  Walk down that hallway and, if you're lucky, you'll find an open door.  Go through that door and you'll find a grand piano. 

I'm not a student in the music school, so I'm not actually supposed to practice there.  You need to swipe a valid ID card to get to the top of the building.  So I have a trick.  I knock on the door, someone usually opens it, and I say sorry, I've forgotten my ID.  It works.  Try it sometime if you ever come through Montreal and are looking for a piano to practice on.

Then there comes the practicing.  For me, it's not really practicing:  it's just messing around, noodling on some blues scales, seeing if I remember the chord changes to "All The Things You Are".  (I usually do!)  I plan to go back sometime to learn "Bye Bye Blackbird," which I have been whistling for about the last month.  (Is it just me, or are the lyrics to that song pretty abstract and hard to understand?)

Even if I don't play well, it's so nice to sit down at an acoustic piano and play a chord and hear the sound radiate out into silence.  I'm not trying to be romantic--I think it's good for you.  So is seeing live music.  As I prepared to write the article, I gained a deeper respect for jazz in Montreal.  I also realized that I knew less about it than I thought. 

I asked Josh Rager, a pianist teaching at McGill, to name some of his favorite local musicians.  Though I recognized most of the names he mentioned--Remi Bolduc, Jeff Johnston, Steve Amirault, Frank Lozano--I felt embarrassed that I had never seen any of them play.  (I had also never seen Josh play, and I bet the musicians he mentioned would put him on their favorites lists.) 

Two weeks ago, after my conversation with Josh, I saw the pianist Steve Amirault and wrote about how much I enjoyed it.  OK.  So now I'm aware.  There's plenty of talent to go around.  This is something I knew, but didn't feel.  A part of my jury-rigged jazz education.

2 comments:

  1. Pithy article, man. I liked that you called New York the jazz hub of the world, as opposed to the hub of the jazz world.

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  2. Thanks, bro. I'm sort of hesitant to talk about a jazz world, so I avoid using that term.

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