Report from the NEA Jazz Symposium: The Future of Jazz

On October 17, the spotlight was on jazz at the Langston Hughes Auditorium in New York City, as the National Endowment for the Arts hosted a symposium on “the future of jazz.” A panel, including two NEA Jazz Masters, younger jazz performers (including one middle-school student), and individuals from institutions supporting jazz discussed issues including audience development, leveraging media, and difficulties in making a living as a jazz artist.

And they discussed jazz education. Some of that discussion occurred in the context of education as audience development, but the experts present seemed united in their conviction that jazz education is important because of the way it benefits students.

According to Dr. Willie Hill, chair of the MENC Society for Jazz Education, “We need to point out to all music educators the ways that jazz education helps meet our goals for our students. Then, we need to help all those teachers hone their skills at bringing the knowledge, skill, and joy of this music into the lives of more young people. And when we look to the future of jazz as an integral part of music education, we find that jazz serves both our goals as teachers and the goals of our bosses – the principals, the school boards, and the wider community.

“For example,” Hill continued, “there are increasing calls at the policy level for American schools to help students develop their imaginations. We can safely say that most music study does that. And I think that everyone will agree that jazz educators, with our core activities in improvisation, really deliver on the development of imagination.”

The Society for Jazz Education is embarking on the development of new tools for music educators. These will appear in My Music Class, where MENC members can already find charts supplied by the U.S. Army Field Band and other jazz lessons.

The symposium launched the 2009 NEA Jazz Master Celebration, taking place in partnership with Jazz at Lincoln Center. The new NEA Jazz Masters honorees are George Benson, Jimmy Cobb, Lee Konitz, Toots Thielemans, Snooky Young, and Rudy Van Gelder.
–compiled by Elizabeth Lasko, October 22, 2008. © MENC: The National Association for Music Education