Jazz Workshops in the 21st Century, the New Mentorship Process

Every time I see a teaching artist talk about music I learn something new. Every time I look at a contemporary book or blog post explaining creative music work I find something I’ve never seen before. Not that I always agree. Yes, agreement about practicing scales and chords and patterns and rhythms is easy. But it’s in the fundamental conception of the creative process and how to address it that things get interesting. That’s where new jazz workshops around the globe are taking the lead in passing on this tradition in a way that used to be covered by working mentorships and touring.

The conversation in these workshops is often about lineage and tradition, about learning vocabulary and repertoire, how to practice, what to practice. And talk usually returns to the most elusive and perennial theme in jazz and creative music: ‘finding your voice.’ You could say the central question here is: How do I teach you to be you?
Young musicians are coming up better educated and more informed, with more opportunities for exposure to music than ever before. More professional artists are involved in workshopping, and you could say meeting artists in that context is slowly replacing the old mentorship model of touring, recording, and graduating to being a bandleader. Like not or not, the industry no longer provides those kinds of jobs in music. Musicians are learning another way.
I recently ran into Dave Liebman on an airplane and he confirmed this. He’s one of the most engaged artist educators out there. Without hesitation he said that the young musicians he encounters are coming up exposed to all kinds of music and modes of playing. And they have the materials to practice. There are more jazz programs at the high school and university level than there ever were, and the programs I’ve seen have evolved into a cross between a conservatory approach, a creative seminar, and some serious training about getting gigs and doing them well enough to make a career path.
A lot this is provided by independent, non curricular workshops around the globe. I have been fortunate to be involved with the workshop at the Banff Centre for the Arts in Banff, Alberta, Canada for the past 10 years. It’s a three week workshop that takes place in May/June at an arts campus situated in the Canadian Rockies. I stepped into the directorship in the shoes of previous directors Kenny Werner, Hugh Fraser, Steve Coleman, Dave Holland, Oscar Peterson, and Phil Nimmons.

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