Why does the mugshot of Dana Gioia on the "Welcome" page creep me out as much as it does?
No matter. Down to brass tacks. Let's look at the curriculum. Hmm, it appears to be nearly identical to the Ken Burns jazz documentary! And, for that matter to just about every other "history" of jazz ever written, from the perspective of the guardians of culture. (for a very telling snapshot, check out this Lesson Objective from Lesson 1, from the Teacher's Guide: "Students will identify the major early New Orleans jazz musicians, name the various roles they played (e.g., entertainer, teacher, transmitter of cultural tradition), and be able to describe their activities and achievements." Entertainer, teacher, transmitter of cultural tradition. Man, does that have Marsalis sauce all over it or what?)
But you all know what I'm most interested in. Once you get past the King Oliver, the Louis worship, the Bix and Benny and even Parker and Diz, golly, how will this National Endowment for the Arts/Jazz At Lincoln Center/Verizon Wireless curriculum make sense of all that Crazy Experimental Freedom?
Let's go to Lesson 4, "From the New Frontier to the New Millenium," and look at the list of Major Artists. Betty Carter. Ornette Coleman. John Coltrane. Wayne Shorter...hey, hang on a second kids! We missed one! How could we have skipped Wynton Marsalis?? And the perspicacious wisdom of his quote: “Jazz is an art form,” trumpeter Wynton Marsalis has said, “that gives us a painless way of understanding ourselves.” I have a painless way of understanding how Marsalis could be listed as a Major Artist with the likes of Betty Carter, Ornette Coleman, John Coltrane and Wayne Shorter...it involves scrolling down to the bottom of the page and being reminded that the educational materials have been Produced by Jazz at Lincoln Center. As the Verizon Wireless guy would say, "Can you hear me now?"
Check out these "Jazz Lesson Objectives" provided for teachers:
- Students will understand how jazz reflected the political and racial turbulence of the 1960s.
- Students will learn about trends in jazz during the 1960s and 1970s, including free jazz, fusion, and neo-mainstream.
- Students will learn how jazz earned its place as a significant American art form that today enjoys the support of government programs, private conservatories, and major cultural institutions.
"Well, sonny boy, read page 4 of the essay that goes with lesson 4, "From the New Frontier to the New Millenium," of the National Endowment for the Arts/Jazz at Lincoln Center/Verizon Wireless Jazz In The Schools Curriculum."
"Well teacher, it says:
"It turned out that, while the commercial vitality of mainstream jazz was fading during the free jazz and fusion eras, a younger generation of jazz musicians was being quietly cultivated not in urban lofts or in experimental ensembles but in colleges, universities, and music conservatories. By the early 1980s, the ranks of the “neo-mainstream” movement, as this new direction in jazz came to be called, were being filled in large part by talented young musicians who had undergone a rigorous program of instruction encompassing the entire history of mainstream jazz. In 1983 and 1984—after paying his dues as a sideman with the veteran drummer Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers and the pianist Herbie Hancock—a young trumpeter from New Orleans, Wynton Marsalis, won two Grammy Awards, in both the jazz and classical categories. He was a convincing spokesman for jazz, and his music balanced inventiveness with tradition, group interaction with personal expression. The publicity he earned helped launch the careers of a score of likeminded performers—Terence Blanchard, Nicholas Peyton, Geri Allen, Cyrus Chestnutt, James Carter, and Joshua Redman, among others—whom the press collectively dubbed the Young Lions."
"That's right, sonny boy....but, keep reading, it gets better."
"For the many critics and fans who had been fearing the demise of jazz, the music of the neo-mainstream movement was a welcome revival of the music’s core values. Others worried, however, that jazz was now in danger of being confined to a narrow orthodoxy that would blunt the music’s cutting edge. Their concerns would soon prove to be unwarranted, however. During the 1990s, as musicians such as Don Byron, Cassandra Wilson, Dave Douglas, Brad Meldhau, and Jason Moran—whose styles variously incorporate the full spectrum of American and world musics, from country blues to Baltic folk songs to hip-hop—joined the fray, it became clear that contemporary jazz was a big tent that could accommodate a huge variety of aesthetic approaches."
(our courageous student begins to ask what "being confined to a narrow orthodoxy that would blunt the music's cutting edge" really means, but decides against it...and reads on):
"Meanwhile, having already secured a prominent place in the academic arena, jazz began receiving recognition and support both from the government and from private foundations. In 1982 the National Endowment for the Arts created the NEA Jazz Masters program to honor individuals who have contributed to the advancement of jazz; as of 2006 more than 80 artists had received awards. In 1986, four years after the death of the brilliant pianist and composer Thelonious Monk, his family established the Thelonious Monk Institute for Jazz, which quickly became a potent force both for jazz education and for the recognition of aspiring young jazz musicians (its annual jazz competition has become the preeminent event of its kind in the world). And in 1987, Lincoln Center, New York City’s premier arts complex, added jazz programming to its lineup; less than 10 years later, Jazz at Lincoln Center, with Wynton Marsalis at its helm, took its place alongside the Metropolitan Opera and the New York Philharmonic as a full-fledged constituent, introducing a full concert season, a permanent jazz orchestra, and a broad range of educational programs that reach audiences of all ages.
When, in 1997, Marsalis’s epic oratorio Blood on the Fields became the first jazz composition to win the Pulitzer Prize, the vital role of jazz in American culture in the coming millennium seemed assured. It’s true that jazz was no longer the nation’s dominant form of popular music as it had been during the heyday of the Swing Era, but in fact jazz had in some ways transcended the popular realm and had become a form of expression equal in stature to classical music, fine art, and literature.""But teacher," says our courageous student, "I still don't understand how jazz earned its place as a significant American art form that today enjoys the support of government programs, private conservatories, and major cultural institutions?"
"Well, sonny boy, if you ask to ask, you'll never know...."