Monday, April 18, 2011

A couple of posts on Josh Rager's blog - one recent guest post from Toronto pianist Chris Donnelly, and an older one from Josh himself - have sparked my thought process. I want to specifically focus on the issue of students not showing up to teachers' gigs. As an educator myself now, and not long ago a student, I see both sides of this.

Chris and Josh, noting the absence and potential lack of interest of students at gigs by local musicians, is a sentiment echoed by many other players and teachers through the years. I agree with them that having local role models is vital - I owe a lot of the musician I've become to the time I spent hanging out at The Rex in Toronto as an impressionable teenager. I also agree with the idea, proffered in so many "why is jazz dying?" articles, that clubs and concert venues have become prohibitive to students, either through age restrictions, ticket prices and cover charges, or by drink minimums and the like. I was lucky - when I was growing up in Toronto, The Rex and Top O' the Senator were licensed as restaurants, not bars, which meant minors were allowed. I still have fond memories of being served iced tea in a pint glass at the Rex. The Senator even had student half-price Wednesdays. There seem to be two possible responses to Chris and Josh's questions:

1) the general lack of respect and recognition at a local level
2) a sense of reciprocity.


It's clear that priority, among audiences and presenters, will go to foreign artists (be it from out-of-town, out-of-province, or out-of-country) above the locals. If audiences ignore local artists, then clubs and festivals aren't necessarily wrong to bump locals down the ladder. But the regularity of certain artists at certain clubs can work to their detriment as well. The public can procrastinate without fearing too much repercussion - why go this month when I can see him next month? If enough people think that same way, we have empty rooms. The local scene absolutely has to be nurtured. I wish I had the definitive answer about how to do that. There's been so much written throughout the blogosphere about innovative arts presentation methods and how to get warm bodies in the door. Every city needs its equivalent of Search & Restore, and often I think it needs to come from the musicians ourselves. As important as blogs, radio, and (what little) print media (is left) are, we as musicians do more than anyone else to present and represent ourselves. We get to identify our own sense of collective and community and then spread those ideas and identities to the city, and the world.


What if we flip the equation and ask where are the teachers at the student gigs? Where is the support for young players outside of the classroom? I think for the most part, we tend to play for our peers - students go to fellow students' concerts, and the teachers hang out with each other as well. As much as that's lamentable, it's also understandable and normal. Perhaps there's more give-and-take, and more cross-generational mingling, than I'm seeing.

I definitely remember the initiative my classmates had in putting on recitals and booking gigs; even at the McGill combo nights at Upstairs I don't remember seeing profs that weren't adjudicating. At jam sessions, the students are often put together in one group, often later in the night, instead of being cajoled and educated on the spot by older players; by role models. I don't think that's effective for many reasons - primarily for the reason Josh mentioned in his recap of the John Patitucci clinic, that younger players should take every opportunity to play with the more experienced, and that a bunch of students scuffling together doesn't make for great music. And I wouldn't be surprised if, in part, the lack of student attendance at gigs is fuelled by the lack of support from their teachers (either perceived or real) and/or being shafted by one too many jam session hosts. My private instructors were generous with their involvement in my own music-making, and were honest if they couldn't make one of my recitals or gigs. I try to be as supportive and up-front with my own students.

There's likely other factors, the same factors that drive students to seek out their international idols versus their local mentors. Montreal is a far smaller city compared to New York, and to hang out at sessions and shows in either city means something very different. I love trading insights with fellow Montreal musicians after various concerts in town, but there's also a certain amount of perceived glamour and gravitas when you can rub elbows with [insert more famous jazz player] at [insert more famous jazz club]. Also, if we're dealing with a generation of students who have not checked out Thelonious Monk or "Carolina Shout," and choose instead to soak up every gesture of the under-40 jazz generation (Rosenwinkel, Monder, Mehldau, Glasper), then the more straightahead-leaning musician/educators are likely to be on the other side of a generation, tradition, and taste gap.

Yes, it's been a while since I've been at a jazz show myself. I realize that my show-going habits (when I'm not working myself) have leaned towards out-of-towners and non-jazz music. And we need to be honest about the fact that life just gets in the way of going to all the shows we would love to see, if we had all the time in the world and a couple of clones to fill in our places. Life gets in the way for students as well as professional musicians and teachers. None of this is to justify the behaviour of people who ignore their most valuable resources. If anything, it's to work towards rectifying it.

1 comment:

Josh Rager said...

Great post David. I think Chris and I have been trying really hard to get students to think about what it means to be a part of a community and the value that can have for one's musical upbringing. I think you raise a really good point that teachers also have a responsibility to foster a sense of community by getting getting behind those students who are working hard and playing well.