What Makes a Great Jazz Educator? Part 2

Communication.

As with most things in the profession, mixing it up with your fellow educators and picking their brains for ideas about how to better teach your budding jazz students is a must.

Which brings us to the second point on former Missouri MEA Jazz Vice-President Chris Becker’s checklist:

Ask the people who play well, teach well, or rehearse well how they do it.

“Asking other jazz educators for help is essential to becoming a great jazz educator,” says Becker. “Contact with other jazz educators begins at concerts, festivals, clinics and workshops, and interaction can begin with something as simple as borrowing suggestions for tunes from a colleague’s program. A phone call or email to your colleague with a few questions about the value and/or challenges of a tune he or she has performed is a great way to begin learning what works well. If you’re ambitious, call the composer of the tune and ask what suggestions they might have. And if you want to be really brave, invite the composer to come to clinic your students and perform with them!

“Even if it doesn’t work out, the connections you’ve established by reaching out and the suggestions you gained will serve you very well. As is so often the case when you work with an accomplished teacher, performer, or composer, a new tune or recording or technique will be mentioned. Those fresh and insightful ideas create the perfect opportunity for you to investigate further, and bring something of value back to your students.

“Great jazz educators are able to point their students in the right direction and help them answer the questions, especially the ones the teacher cannot deal with comfortably. The willingness to pick up the phone, attend a clinic, or simply reach out to learn where to learn are great qualities in any educator, but especially so for a jazz educator. We can do our best to inspire and guide, but ultimately jazz students must seek their own paths and find their own voices!”

Adapted from “What Makes a Great Jazz Educator?” by Chris Becker, originally published in Spring 2010 Missouri School Music Magazine

Chris Becker is Director of Bands at Parkway South High School in Manchester, MO and Director of the Jazz Band at Washington University in St. Louis.

—Nick Webb, June 9, 2011, © National Association for Music Education (www.menc.org)