5 Questions for the Jazz Mentor

Ron Kearns is a wearer of many hats. In addition to leading his own group, the Ron Kearns Quintet, he’s a composer, and an adjudicator and clinician for Vandoren of Paris and Heritage Festivals. He also produces recordings for other jazz artists, and, if this weren’t enough, he spent 30 years teaching instrumental music and jazz in the Baltimore City and Montgomery County school systems. He’s also been a member of MENC for more than 20 years.

Please join us in welcoming Ron as the MENC Jazz Mentor for March 2009.
What should jazz educators hope their students take away from the time spent under their tutelage?

One of the things I always hoped was for my students to have a life long appreciation for jazz and jazz performers. Having to work at the art made them sensitive to the time it takes to become proficient as a professional.

What are the toughest challenges facing jazz educators today, in your opinion?

After the loss of IAJE*, finding support and a national network of assistance is number one. Program cuts (financial) and lack of outside resources is number two. Some teachers feel isolated and don’t know where to go for help.

You’re both a professional working musician and an educator. How do your experiences playing gigs affect your teaching and vice-versa?

My experiences as a performer give me practical experience. When I spoke to my students about the importance of developing your skills to a high level they knew I “practiced what I preached.” As a teacher, I was more aware of some of the frustrations faced by professional musicians and could tell my students first hand what to expect “on the bandstand.”

What is your proudest moment as a jazz educator?

One of my proudest moments was watching a student who was too bashful to attempt an improvised solo in rehearsals stand up and take a beautiful solo on a major performance. My students knew that whenever they said they were ready I’d give them a chance to play. He chose a major venue to take a chance and succeeded beyond my expectations.

What are you listening to these days?

I’m doing a lot of listening to old Blue Note recordings. Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue was my inspiration and I still listen to it. Dexter Gordon is my current “model” player and I’m listening to and playing a lot of his music. Basically, I love bebop and hard bop.

Got a question about jazz or teaching jazz? Then march on over to the Jazz forum this month to post it, and take advantage of this exciting benefit made available exclusively to MENC members.

*View MENC’s response to the dissolution of IAJE. http://www.menc.org/news/view/jazz-in-the-works

—Nick Webb, March 2, 2009, © National Association for Music Education (www.menc.org)