Jazz teaching is cool for cats

January 15, 1999

The "fierce debate" "raging" over whether jazz can be taught (THES, "Hot and bothered over all that jazz", December 25) is ancient history.

Any people still arguing over it are being ignored by those of us too busy getting on with it and listening to the fine young players that are the result of jazz education over the past 30 years.

To ask whether jazz can be taught begs the question: can any art can be taught? The truth is, of course, that one does not teach art, one teaches artists to teach themselves, hence the diversity.

Read any biography of a famous jazz musician and they will talk about their mentors and role models. Jazz education is old as jazz, but it is only since the end of the second world war that it has been formalised.

Of course education has always been a curate's egg and the debate we have in jazz education is mainly about methodology (how to improve it, not whether it can be done).

Many of the hidden implications in the article are long-dead stereotypes: n That classical music education consisted solely of learning the three Bs (Bach, Beethoven and Brahms) and jazz education consisted only of learning early Duke Ellington * That jazz teachers spend all of their time teaching theory * That jazz musicians are careless about their music * That Associated Board examiners are concerned only with wrong notes * That AB examiners are classically trained musicians.

But it was unfortunate that Dorothy Cooper should have had a bad experience at an AB presentation. The event she attended was one of a kind and the entire Jazz Advisory Panel (of which I am a member) was as worried by it as she was. If she had attended the presentations given by the members of the panel she would have got a different impression.

I am delighted jazz has been accepted into the national musical psyche through AB. The board has spent a great deal of time and money developing these examinations. The philosophy behind them is to encourage and help entrants and give them a marker against which to judge themselves. A laudable aim in my view.

On a personal note I am proud of being a "revivalist", but in a career over 50 years long I hope I have done something else of note.

Eddie Harvey Head of jazz studiesLondon College of Music

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