Jazz Education: You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby!

Let’s start the school year with a little historical perspective…

We take for granted today that jazz education has a place alongside band, strings, and chorus programs. This has not always been the case. As recently as 1964, the year the Beatles kicked off the British Invasion, it was still open to question whether or not jazz ought to be taught in America’s schools and universities.

In his article in the June-July 1964 Music Educators Journal, Harry Allen Feldman, an instrumental music teacher in New York City high schools, put forth the proposition that it most certainly did not:

“One of the most disturbing aspects of the campaign for the recognition of jazz as an authentic art form has been the alacrity with which so many teachers in both public and private schools have responded to the propaganda and so unhesitatingly boarded the jazz band wagon…The result has been the introduction of courses in the study of jazz and instruction in the so-called techniques of jazz performance…Training a group of student instrumentalists to perform trite and transient music in emulation of some of the more pretentious professionals seen and heard on recordings, radio, and television is not a particularly good example of a worthwhile educational project…Training a boy to blow a horn no longer insures that he will not blow a safe. It may well blow him into delinquency, for who can deny the close association between jazz and delinquency?”

His was not the only opinion on the subject, however.

Adapted from “Jazz: A Place in Music Education?” by Harry Allen Feldman, originally published in the June-July 1964 issue of Music Educators Journal (read the entire article — MENC member log-in required)

—Nick Webb, August 11, 2010 © National Association for Music Education