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Article TitleJazz program desperately needed in music department
Author(s)Krisi McGee
SourceThe Manitou Messenger (1916-2014),  No. 3,  Vol.103, October  06, 1989, page(s): 5
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Place of PublicationNorthfield, United States
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Jazz program desperately needed in music department

Author: Krisi McGee

If you were asked to Identify the only form of art purely rooted in American culture, what would you reply? Jazz music is the only correct response. Jazz, as a musical genre, is purely American in that its roots can be traced to the great Black American musicians of the beginning of this century.

These musicians created Jazz to symbolize and personify the oppression of their race. Musical innovators like Scott Joplin introduced Ragtime to the cafes and dance-halls of New-Orleans. The "Blues" arose out of the South and became standardized by Jazz greats like Louis Armstrong. Female Jazz vocalists like Bessie Smith popularized Jazz with their soulful performances of popular blues arrangements. The Swing era brought artists like Duke Ellington, Count Basie and Benny Goodman. Charlie Parker turned the Jazz Tradition around with be-bop and his unique style of playing "out" (of the chord).

The list of Jazz musicians who introduced Jazz to American culture is endless. A few names: Jelly-Roll, Satchmo, Bessie Smith, Count Basie, the Duke, Benny Goodman, Bird, Dizzie, Train, Coleman, Cecil Taylor, Ella Fitagerald, Carmen McCray, Miles Davis, and countless other forgotten "wiggy cats." These American artists developed Jazz into an important, influential medium distinct from any other musical genre. The significant composers of the 20th century, including Stravinsky, Ravel, Milhaud, Bartok, Schoenberg, Satie and Gershwin all used different musical devices in certain works to imitate Jazz.

As a music student at St. Olaf College, I have found that all of these contemporary composers are studied and presented as the most important musicians of this century. These contemporary artists, like Ravel and Stravinsky, used Jazz as inspiration for new forms and styles of music. However, the music curriculum at St. Olaf is unaware of the tremendous influence of Jazz. The assets of including some form of Jazz instruction either in Jazz theory, Jazz improvisation, or a survey of American Jazz are completely disregarded by the Music Department.

Any Ole who wishes to study the history of Jazz (the only pure, established form of American Ait) can not do so at St. Olaf College. Theory of Jazz courses are not offered as electives for composition majors. Moreover, composition majors who wish to integrate Jazz into their pieces or even arrange Jazz charts do not have adequate background to do so.

At the very least, music majors at St. Olaf are expected to develop a basic understanding of the most important musical genres.

Isn't Jazz one of the most important musical genres for American culture? The majority of music majors at St. Olaf believe Jazz to be a free-formed style of music which is completely spontaneous. On the contrary, Jazz improvisation is a very theoretical process which involves a knowledge of chord progressions, Jazz patterns, and an ability to transpose melodies and interact with the other musicians. The spontaneity of and creativity of Jazz comes from the musician's interpretations of the chords and his ability to vary his playing.

It is clear that the skills and knowledge acquired by a good Jazz musician or aesthetician greatly enhance his/her musical capabilities. Several other prestigious Liberal Arts institutions have recognized the importance and necessity of providing basic Jazz instruction for their students. Within the last five years, Yale University has placed high priorities on developing a quality Jazz program.

Closer to home is Carleton College, whose Jazz curriculum heavily outweighs St. Olaf's. Carleton offers two full credit history of Jazz courses. They offer, for composition and theory students, a course entitled "Jazz Orchestration and Arranging." In terms of organizations, Carleton provides Jazz improvisation sessions for both beginners and advanced students. Finally, Carleton has one full time Jazz Instructor and Director for the Jazz ensembles, and full-time professors who teach Jazz history courses.

Currently at St. Olaf, there are no vocal Jazz ensembles. The Jazz ensembles meet twice a week for one hour. The department employs one part-time professor of Jazz piano. However, when comparing the Jazz ensembles of both Carleton and St. Olaf, St. Olaf's is better. St. Olaf that has good instrumentalists and also the potential to have a "kickin'" Jazz program. Unfortunately, most of the good Jazz musicians become disillusioned and quit the ensembles or transfer to other universities. If St. Olaf did have a strong Jazz program more ethnically and racially diversified students would be wiling to come here.

It seems ironic that an institution such as St. Olaf with high aspirations, and goals of diversification has not implemented a formal Jazz program. The emphasis on sacred and choral music and the disregard of other important musical genres, mainly Jazz, perpetuates St. Olaf's image as a homogeneous, conservative, and conformists institution. Jazz is still not recognized as a legitimate musical genre, which influences all forms of contemporary music. In fact, Jazz is the only "legitimate" form of American music.

Characteristically, St. Olaf is ten years behind in realizing the mainstream elements of music education. When are the most important American musicians going to be recognized and respected in an academic setting. At St. Olaf, there still exists a kind of "slavery" of music, where Jazz continues to be the music of the oppressed and disrespected. In the real world of music, whether as a professional player or as a music teacher, Jazz will continue to be the most important and influential musical medium of this century.

Krisi McGee is a senior music and French major.

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