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THE ARTS: Taking Our Culture Seriously - The Future of Jazz Performance and Jazz Education

Posted by Elwin Green on November 4, 2014 at 11:15 PM

by Kevin Amos

The African American Music Institute (AAMI) was the setting on October 27 for a symposium think tank as part of Jazz Week 2014. The annual Pitt Jazz Seminar brings together educators and musicians to present issues and instruction to students and community members. For the past 44 years this event has brought together a who’s who of Jazz. Homewood as well as the entire Pittsburgh region has been the foundation for many of the Jazz stars we have known and loved. Vocalist Dakota Station from Kedron Street and composer Billy Strayhorn from Susquehanna Street are examples of the many that have contributed to this American-bred genre.

The Jazz seminar was founded in 1971 by Pitt Professor Emeritus of Music Nathan Davis who started this groundbreaking seminar and concert series. Pitts Jazz Studies Director Geri Allen has continued the tradition of bringing this important presentation to many. This Monday event was a crucial discussion on preserving Jazz culture. Dr. James Johnson of AAMI served as host and moderator for the evening.

The participants of the panel were: Joe Jennings, artist emeritus from Spelman College; Ralph Jones, senior lecturer and musical director of the Spelman College Jazz Ensemble; Alphonso Sanders, chair of the Department of Fine Arts, Mississippi Valley State University. It was brought out by the presenters that not enough has been done by Historic Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU’s) to uplift this important genre. Not only have the institutions failed to start Jazz Ensembles on a larger scale but these schools still don’t think Jazz Studies is relevant to be taught in the colleges even though White institutions of higher learning have been teaching Jazz courses since the late 50’s. Not only have HBCU’s failed to focus on Jazz but other musical genres created by us. The presenters also added that the parents of HBCU students. like the schools themselves, often focus on European musical traditions and ignore African-Americans' musical heritage. In the question and answer session Mr. Jennings addressed the ignorance connected with this by referring us to the Franz Fanon book “The Wretched of the Earth”.

In the discussion on Jazz performance it was mentioned that, “Most young audiences really don’t know what Jazz is”. Most are not aware of the creators and innovators record companies and other mass media platforms only expose them to instrumental pop music that gives a false impression of what the music really is. This brings up the ethical dilemma of capital gain versus art when it comes to creating and performing the music. With this going on now at a wider scale, Jazz today continues to lose Black audiences.

Further discussing the performance aspect, it was brought out by Joe Jennings that “We should carefully monitor how this music is interpreted.” Jennings further stated that, ‘Young Black Jazz musicians should reach back to their roots”. “No one should stop developing new ideas but the musicians should not forget the feeling from within and not ignore the spirit of the original innovators.” “You cannot ignore Jazz, the spirit-feel and holy ghost”.

It was also brought out that community organizations such as AAMI play a very important role in educating us all about Jazz and our other musical traditions. With the constant cutback in our elementary and high school music programs it is crucial that these entities take up the supporting role along with parents, broadcasters and community members to educate younger generations. Creating alternative performance spaces is also essential for keeping the music and culture alive. The presentation gave attendees a lot to think about and was a great way to kick off this edition of Jazz Week. And it took place in Homewood!



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