High school "jazz bands"

Discussion in 'Miscellaneous [DB]' started by Peter McFerrin, Nov 14, 2002.

  1. One of the things I've noticed in my brief time playing jazz is that a lot of guys who say they played jazz in high school usually played in big bands where walking basslines, piano and guitar accompaniment, solos, and even drum fills were all written out, and improvisation was disdained in favor of winning competitions judged by panels of marching band directors.

    Why do so many schools engage in this charade, even ones that can afford to do better? I went to an extremely well-funded state-run boarding school and our award-winning jazz program did the same crap. (I wasn't playing music at the time I went there, but that's beside the point.)
  2. Aaron


    Jun 2, 2001
    Bellingham, WA
    My school is a little different. It depends on which tune we are playing. Personally, i write out all the chords for all of the charts (because written basslines are CRAP!) A lot of the time, the guitar, bass, and piano just get chord charts. The drummers i've played with never read the music. No one in the bands i've been in played a written solo (i don't think there have been any written out.)

    My school also has a combo, which just reads lead sheets.

    It may not be jazz, but at lease there are opportunities for improvisation.
  3. Fishface


    Jul 26, 2002
    Denver, Colorado
    Because they are judged by a panel of marching band directors, who judged groups on how good they did in reproducing a written piece.

    And, being that it is a lot more time consuming to teach people how to improvise, their time is better spent (in their opinion) in teaching people how to play what's written.

    This is sad, but that's what is going to happen when their is competition going on. It causes the teacher to want to get the band to sound their best in favor of teaching students to stand on their on 2 musical feet.

    (Did I just say the same thing twice?)
  4. I've always believed that the reason that high schools offer extracurricular activities is to, for lack of a better term, "better" their students. (The football and wrestling teams keep a lot of them out of the juvie home, too.)

    Teaching students to hold to the script where real life calls for them to think on their feet kinda runs counter to that, right?
  5. 5stringDNA


    Oct 10, 2002
    Englewood, CO
    My highschool wasn't really in any position to compete in a jazz band comtest, but they still did pretty much all written stuff. I think a big part of it may be that many students are too incompetant to improvise well or don't stay in the chords. I also think plenty of "conductors" are uptight and don't want the students to make them look "unprofessional". :rolleyes: My perspective on the whole thing- have a more true jazz band (lay down teh chord progression, tempo, and whatnot and then let them experiment with it in practice until they are comfy with it), and also have a "B" band if there is such a thing..where the arrangements are popular jazz tunes and such are written out with the occasional chance for a reahearsed "improv" solo that is either already there or something the student came up with. I think this would give both levels of players a chance at having fun makin' muzik as well as keep the jazz spirit alive and wow the audience. peace.
  6. Fishface


    Jul 26, 2002
    Denver, Colorado
    That's what I think. But it is the path of least resistance.

    I have 3 girls. My oldest is 13 & plays both flute & sax. Also some g**tar and piano. I have had to help her in learning music theory and how to inprovise. The schools just wont do it. Also, she has worked with a small jazz combo where the goal of the director has been to teach the how to improvise.

    Whe, obviously has a distinct advantage over the other kids in the school band that doesn't have those resources. (And it shows) ;)

    But learning how to think on their feet is definately real-world teaching.
  7. Fishface


    Jul 26, 2002
    Denver, Colorado
    Oh (by the way):

    Happy Birthday, you smug bastard!
  8. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY

    The real reason for the phenomenon you describe is more likely a practical one....the folks who teach music in High Schools for the most part graduated from college with music education degrees. If my university teaching experience is any indication, precious few of these folks are jazz improvisors by nature. So when they are asked to put together a "jazz band", they do the best they can with what they know and what they've got at hand.

    At the University here I sometimes sit on the adjudicating panel for some of these "competitions", and after the judging the adjudicators split up and go work with different groups to try to give a fresh perspective. The bottom line is that much of the time, the ensemble directors are just doing what they know and honestly don't know that much about improvisation in the first place, certainly not enough to teach it in most cases. It's a shame, but from my experience, I'd have to say that it's not from a lack of effort on the part of the teachers - more often, they are simply cast as "jacks of all musical trades", and "jazz band" simply gets put on them as one of their "trades".
  9. OK, I can hang with that. And, although being a high school music teacher/band director would be a much more stable gig than being a full-time jazz musician if one were so inclined, it doesn't quite have the appeal--look at Cannonball Adderley.

    I think that, for a high school with a decent-sized budget and within 30 miles of a major city, it shouldn't be unreasonable to retain someone with a degree in jazz performance to coach improvisers a couple of days a week. Of course, if it came down to that or new midriff-baring uniforms for the cheerleading squad, I guess good jazz would lose out... :(
  10. mje


    Aug 1, 2002
    Southeast Michigan
    Reading this I think I was pretty lucky to have the high school jazz band experience I did. Our band leader was a trumpet player who co-led a big band that regularly gigged around town (Detroit). He knew how to make a band swing, and a lot of the members went on to music careers. I think one of my best high school memories was standing up and taking a guitar solo on Mercy, Mercy before an audience of college students!