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The "apprentice system" lie...

Discussion in 'Jazz Technique [DB]' started by chicagodoubler, Jun 15, 2014.


  1. chicagodoubler

    chicagodoubler

    Aug 7, 2007
    Chicago, that toddling town
    Endorsing Artist: Lakland, Genz Benz
    I've been having a dialogue recently with other colleagues who are full time professional musicians, primarily in jazz, and this thing keeps coming up. Jazz pedagogy has been saying for years that the "apprentice system" is dead. For context, we're talking about how guys like Miles and Blakey would teach guys the ropes, then send them on their merry way to foster their own careers, and train additional generations.

    The notion is that the only way to learn jazz now is in college, because the old guys aren't teaching the young guys the way they used to on the stand.

    The problem is, this just ISN'T TRUE. Christian McBride dropped out of college his first year. Michael Brecker did the same. Vijay Iyer (not my favorite player, but apparently tons of people love him) has a degree in physics. The list goes on and on.

    In NYC, you've got guys like Johnny O'Neal, who is constantly bringing young blood into his trio. Here in Chicago, we had (RIP) the great Von Freeman doing the same. The big names love to hire energetic young players who prove themselves worthy. In almost any city in America, you can find jazz musicians who know the living, breathing tradition, who would love to teach any hungry, dedicated young player how to play this music... the same way they learned.

    Jazz pedagogy can be a great thing. College is some of the best networking out there. The chance to just play 24 hours a day is very unique. I immensely enjoyed my time in that environment, on both sides of the podium. On the flip side, lying to generations of kids is a terrible disservice to them, the music, and our credibility as educators. The apprentice system ain't what it used to be, but it sure isn't dead. You can learn how to play LIKE a jazz musician in school, but you can only learn how to BE a jazz musician on the stand and in the shed. PERIOD. It's the way this art always has been, and if it's going to survive, it's the way this art always will be.

    End rant.
     
    Last edited: Jun 15, 2014
  2. The apprentice system is, far and way, more common in NYC and Chicago than it is somewhere like Iowa. On the other hand, I think you should definitely consider the ramifications of youtube teachers. It's so easy for a kid anywhere in the world to go online and watch videos from Chris or anyone else and get a virtual lesson free of charge. Is it the same as sitting in at a jam? Probably not, but it's a HUGE leap from where those kids were 10 years ago.

    All that said, the nature of the genre as it currently stands does mean that you really don't run into that many people playing jazz without any kind of experience with jazz in the school system.
     
  3. chicagodoubler

    chicagodoubler

    Aug 7, 2007
    Chicago, that toddling town
    Endorsing Artist: Lakland, Genz Benz
    Jason, funny you mention that...

    One of the bands I "apprenticed with" was based out of Davenport Iowa. :woot:

    When I was in school at IU, I learned as much from playing with and watching the indefatigable (RIP) Claude Sifferlen as I did from any lecture or ensemble. There were other great cats there doing the same, like Oliver Nelson Jr, Melvin Rhyne, etc... If you look around, there are guys everywhere, and they're still playing, and still sharing.

    These opportunities sure aren't what they used to be, but fortunately, the greats trained enough people that the tradition lives on.

    Excellent point about the youtube thing. I would have cut off a toe to watch a Ray Brown masterclass in high school.
     
  4. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    And of course there is the best of both worlds. When I was in school, I had musical mentors as teachers who I watched perform like Luke watching Obiwan or Yoda. Getting to interact with them on a regular basis and with one in particular, to get the chance to play with her (4 hands on the piano) on a regular basis toward the end of school and after graduation was an amazing experience, one that helped form the musician I try to be today... and the teacher I try to be as well. Outside of school, there were a number of great "masters" that I had the privilege of "studying with" by playing with them. One of these, pianist Harry Pickens, I still play with today (although not as much as before), and still learn lessons from even though he isn't trying to "teach".

    As a teacher, I enjoy playing with students and graduates (as long as they "bring it" on the bandstand) and trying to lead by example. School is the time for verbal lessons, assignments, etc. The bandstand is the time to learn by doing and by keeping your eyes and ears wide open. Both have benefits IMO.
     
    Leo Smith and Tom Lane like this.
  5. chicagodoubler

    chicagodoubler

    Aug 7, 2007
    Chicago, that toddling town
    Endorsing Artist: Lakland, Genz Benz
    Well, Chris, of course they both have their place, but we need to start being honest about what that place is. Pedagogy doesn't directly breed careers in jazz performance; it never has. Everyone has to pay dues to run with the big dogs. These days the only careers that are coming out of jazz pedagogy are non-tenure path teaching gigs in the middle of nowhere, and only for guys with PhD's. Now the market has become so saturated that guys with terminal degrees are struggling to get high school teaching gigs. Sigh. They might be better off moving to NYC and starving for their art, just like their idols did, rather than creating an endless cycle of academia which continues to fail to yield great players, or even moderately proficient ones for the most part.

    When schools like IU and Cincinnati were churning out guys who would become great, big name players in the 70's, it was largely because they left school and joined bands like Mancini, and paid their dues for years. Many of those guys dropped out. Some never went at all.

    The apprentice system has largely shifted to the major markets, which is why we see more and more kids going to school closer to these markets, to be closer to a potential career. Also, we find teachers in major markets trending towards career performers who supplement their income through teaching, not the other way around.

    There are some difficult discussions in this area that are as inevitable as they are painful. With the rising cost of college, will kids be able to continue to justify going to what is essentially a trade school, when there is absolutely no job placement program connected to it? What place will conventional pedagogy have in a world where people (including Chris,) are literally giving trade secrets away for free on the internet? Will jazz pedagogy survive in a market where all the good paying jobs are (and have been for decades) in modern, popular music?

    Again, I loved my time in pedagogy, but we need to be honest about its role, its failures, and the future of this music... and we most certainly need to stop lying to impressionable kids about the nature of and necessity of apprenticeship in this art.
     
    Last edited: Jun 17, 2014
  6. MikeCanada

    MikeCanada

    Aug 30, 2011
    Toronto, ON
    While I do agree that high (secondary) school - college/university - career isn't necessarily happening in jazz performance, it is rarely happening in any other field. Often the piece of paper doesn't hurt and it may even be required, but it isn't a "congratulations, you are employable" certificate. There is a big push in Canada for everyone to go to university, and it seems to be happening as much or more in USA as well. While "the economy" is still considered to blame for everything, it has a lot to do with how we are training/educating the next generation, and how they are (not) being employed.

    The apprentice system that used to happen in many fields isn't happening as much. The masters/mentors are often worried about their own well being and job security that once seemed much more stable. It's a difficult market out there, and I know a lot of guys who used to be comfortably established now fighting for gigs to keep a roof over their head. Because of that, there is an aversion to the risk of taking in someone who hasn't proven themselves. If you are fighting to hold down or find work you want a band firing on all cylinders, not one that is trying to encourage along a horn player that isn't quite there yet. The bar has been raised significantly across the board. To draw upon another field. blacksmiths don't take in young boys who haven't swung a hammer before anymore, they take someone who has figured out the basics on their own, either through the aforementioned youtube videos, workshops/summer/weekend programs, or even trade school programs. The expectation is that everyone has knowledge/experience, and often they are on their own or investing heavily in education to get it.

    Schools have become a place to establish a foundation for career training, but students are being told it still is career training. The missing link is that 2-5 years of experience that is expected of people looking for "entry level" positions, which is effectively the expectation that you can hit the ground running. Outside of jazz, it is the idea that your first day of work you come in, have a quick tour of the workplace and do the necessary paperwork, and you are working on something by lunch. What might have been days, weeks, or even months of on the job training in the past is expected to be common knowledge. If you need any more training or education, you take a night course on your own time. In music, you hit the stage and play a full show that night holding your own. Orchestras have a sub list made up of the finalists of the last audition they held (and didn't hire anyone from) which brought in 200+ extremely qualified candidates. Many of those players play with other smaller/lower paying orchestras, and even regional/community orchestras that pay nothing or next to it are holding fairly competitive auditions. You don't find an "apprentice" of one of the orchestra players sitting in for one work on a program, where that was often how a lot of players got their start in an orchestra in days gone by. Established bands/ensembles in other genres usually have a few subs on their list who play a show as an equal, instead of grooming young up and coming players. Most guests I have seen with bands tend to be established players, not guys starting out.

    I don't know what the solution is. Academia has its place, but it is only one piece of the puzzle. The void between education and career needs to be addressed. I would love to have a system where long term planning is valued instead of instant gratification which would help individuals as well as the whole, but "how do I pay rent this month?" has become much more of a reality than "where do I see my career taking me in five years?" There is a disconnect between a formal education and/or an apprentice type program, both of which take time to yield results, and our current culture of everything happens now.
     
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  7. chicagodoubler

    chicagodoubler

    Aug 7, 2007
    Chicago, that toddling town
    Endorsing Artist: Lakland, Genz Benz
    Mike,

    We get kids fresh out of dozens of different colleges showing up for jam sessions in Chicago, expecting to get hired for gigs right on the spot, then painfully discovering a life of walking dogs and teaching middle school clarinet for years instead.

    There is a cultural issue of entitlement, especially with jazz competitions and other "big fish in the small pond" nonsense, rewarding kids from middle school through early adulthood for marginal competency in an art where only the big fish in the ocean manage to eat, at all.

    The reality of the situation is that only the absolute cream of the crop is going to work as a professional in the field AT ALL, but those people get seized up. I've just recently taken a guitar player under my wing because I heard him at a session; he had great vocabulary, he's a nice guy, and a great hang. Also... he knows more genres than jazz, is open to playing anything that makes people happy, and doesn't play over his head for the sake of impressing other musicians. It's been years since I've done this for anyone because all the other recent grads I've heard have been quite honestly *very* mediocre.

    This comes back to my last rant here, about how pedagogy is failing young musicians, particularly double bassists; the majority of grads can't play all 12 major scales and arpeggios in tune one octave, much less two... Plus they can't read, don't know any tunes, and the tunes they DO know are all the WRONG tunes. But they sure can noodle on Giant Steps. SMH.
     
    Groove Doctor likes this.
  8. MikeCanada

    MikeCanada

    Aug 30, 2011
    Toronto, ON
    I completely agree that the system is broken. Some people are starting to see pieces of that, but most are not aware of how deep it goes. Although I aware that kids are where we see this manifest, I would like to take a step back and suggest that they (we) are the products of that failed system, not the cause of it.

    You can read tons of articles, blogs, books etc. on how this generation is entitled and useless and doesn't have their lives together. You can read as many from the other side saying that we are in the worst economy we have ever seen, public/social services and assistance is being gutted and how Boomers have walked over bridges and then burnt them behind them. There is fault and a lot of bad journalism on both sides. For every kindergarten graduation ceremony,participation trophy, music competition where gold, silver, and bronze are levels everyone can be placed into instead of first, second, and third and platinum has been added because sometimes you're just super special enough that a gold doesn't cut it, there has been someone every step of the way telling that kid to "follow their dreams" "be the best you can be" and "reach for the moon". As sickening as it is, entitlement does not occur in a vacuum, it is a result of someone saying "no child left behind" and "of course you can have a pony". We don't fail students in grade three who haven't learned how to multiply and divide, we give them a gold star and tell them "it's ok, everyone uses a calculator now anyway". Vanity isn't a social ill, it is institutionalized to the point that selfie is in the Oxford dictionary.

    The kids that have been raised through that system do not have a distorted view of reality, that has been their reality.

    End rant.

    Now, what do we do about it? How do we fix it? A very healthy dose of actual reality needs to be injected into the system, at every level. Telling a college grad who has done everything they were ever told to do in order to succeed that they are screwed might be a necessary truth, but it does not stop the system from producing more of them every single year. Education and parenting reform needs to happen, but the scary thing is that most new educators and parents now are a product of that system as well. It is failing not only the students, but the society that we expect them to be able to function within as well. What happens to jazz, or molecular biology for that matter in the future when there is no one left to maintain the current standards? Graduates that are not prepared for life outside the insular world of education are a symptom, not the problem.
     
    chicagodoubler likes this.
  9. Ant_C

    Ant_C

    Jul 25, 2012
    Tamarac, FL
    This, alone, freaks me out. Maybe it's because I'm so young right now, but I don't understand how a double bassist can graduate from, or even get into, any university's college of music without being able to play there 12 major scales (2 octaves) in tune. What/how do these guys practice? Have they even looked through Simandl at all?

    I don't why or how an individual is allowed to "scrape by" and go through several years of schooling with absolutely nothing to show for it. It's just completely mind boggling, and it's against everything my mother instilled in me as a child (to just sit there and barely scrape by).

    I'm a young guy (19 in august) and personally reading this stuff is very eye opening. I've notice way to many of my peers having this sense of entitlement in just about every aspect of heir lives, and personally, it sickens me.

    I know too many kids who think that as soon as they leave college there will be a position in a job in their respective field open for them, when in fact they more than likely wont get a job in that particular field because they scraped by and got straight C's/B's in all of there classes. I've been told, close to 100 times, by STEM majors that "going into music is stupid and you'll never get a job in that". Yet these kids don't realize that there fields are completely over-saturated by millions of kids each year who can't find work. It's the same way with the Jazz majors that I know. They think that just because they can solo over 36 choruses of Giant Steps and they have this piece of paper that says their "qualified" , they should get every gig in a 100 mile radius. It's a harsh reality that my graduating class will have to deal with, and some of them are too busy, with their heads in the clouds, to care.

    Personally, this nice dosage of reality doesn't deter me from my goals in life, in fact it makes me want to work harder and do better in every possible way.
     
  10. chicagodoubler

    chicagodoubler

    Aug 7, 2007
    Chicago, that toddling town
    Endorsing Artist: Lakland, Genz Benz
    Mike, you bring up a great point. Teachers who are mediocre players yield students who are mediocre players, and they aren't necessarily to blame for it, because some jerk gave them the job, and told them they had the right to pass on their respective mediocrity to the next generation, and so on. For the most part, jazz pedagogy is a place where those who CAN'T, really SHOULDN'T. It's a disservice to the music. I can't tell you how many times I hear a career pedagogue who can't play a slow blues to save their life.

    Ant- there's an overemphasis on getting jazzers improvising before they have mastered the basics. Simandl should be completely owned before any kid is expected to walk a bass line. Ray, Ron, and Paul were all great bassists first, and great jazz bassists second.

    Young 'uns, spend time in the major markets and get realistic about how high the bar is set. Find the best players within 100 miles and learn everything they have to teach you. Play as many gigs as you can; if you aren't getting hired, go create one. Be humble and fun and funny and nice and work your butts off, and we'll welcome you with open arms. Show a speck of entitlement and we'll make sure you don't work in our markets. Again, it's the same as it ever was.
     
  11. MikeCanada

    MikeCanada

    Aug 30, 2011
    Toronto, ON
    While there are teachers who embody the "those who can't do, teach" metaphor, there are some pretty great players/teachers teaching in systems that are just too far gone. A lot of schools have undergone fairly large expansions lately, because more students means more tuition, which means more money for the education business. Students that would not have made the cut in the past are the middle of the pack now, as the bar keeps getting lower. Because the idea is that everyone needs to go to college/university, there usually is somewhere that will accept just about anyone. I know people who obtained music degrees from schools that I didn't even know had music programs, who still think they are qualified because their piece of paper tells them so. That does not necessarily mean that the faculty was not capable, it often means that college/university has no good reason to call itself a music school. If a competent player can land a gig at a school teaching students stuff they should have learned years before they got there, it's still a gig for that teacher and it is still a step in the right direction for those students. It might mean that when they graduate they will be at a level that does not allow them to make it in the business but plenty of schools are very much aware of this, and it doesn't stop them from cashing cheques year after year.

    Mediocrity is institutionalized now, and plenty of graduates have degrees that in no way qualifies them for the work they seek. Pick any program, and I can guarantee you will find someone who has a degree in it who does not have a related career. A law degree doesn't make you a competent lawyer, it just means you graduated law school. At some point it was understood that getting through such a program resulted in you being qualified, but I would argue that's mostly an illusion now that institutions are hoping to maintain for as long as possible.
     
    chicagodoubler likes this.
  12. I want to share my educational situation with you guys although I think it's a unique case. I just finished undergrad in a town with some great players, some of those who teach at the school I went to. My bass teacher was/is a pianist as well. He's mostly playing piano these days but is a solid bass player. I've had the fortunate experience to be taken under his wing much like an apprenticeship. He would teach me lessons in school and in ensembles and also call me for gigs right away that he played piano on even before I was really ready. It was on the job training as I started to make good money and get my name out while learning a ton by playing alongside my teacher and usually a pro drummer. Now that I've graduated I still play with him often and still learn from it but I also have networked enough to have my eggs in several baskets. He not only taught me music but he told me to go sit in with everyone and get a lesson with everyone and how to get gigs. I see examples all the time of students who are doing great by academic standards in jazz but never play gigs which was a huge deal for me. This is because of the instrument they play and/or the amount of tunes they know and/or being punctual/professional/etc.
     
  13. hdiddy

    hdiddy Official Forum Flunkee Supporting Member

    Mar 16, 2004
    Richmond, CA
    College diploma is now the new high school diploma. I saw this coming when I was in school myself. Doesn't matter regardless of the field. The sad part is that I think most college students aren't getting their moneys worth. Schools and teachers who put the bar low do nobody any favors (cept maybe to pad the school presidents wallet). The students will be in for a hard shock when they hit the real world.

    Anyways, this seems to be veering off into the tangent of the political world.
     
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  14. chicagodoubler

    chicagodoubler

    Aug 7, 2007
    Chicago, that toddling town
    Endorsing Artist: Lakland, Genz Benz
    The bar is set so low in jazz academia that one can skip over it. "We have to get our audience from somewhere" has a different ring to it when said audience is 100k in debt. Also, our audiences aren't growing. The thing has failed systemically. In fact, the nature of musicianship we are delivering through academia is driving people away from the music in droves. Brainy jazz is lame, and has nothing to do with the New Orleans, party music we started out with.

    The model is unsustainable, and has far more to do with the job security of those in the ivory tower than the potential job security of those who pay their salaries.
     
  15. hdiddy

    hdiddy Official Forum Flunkee Supporting Member

    Mar 16, 2004
    Richmond, CA
    I think we're all waiting for that watershed moment when all of these "leeches" get exposed. Jazz is only one domain of many.
     
    Groove Doctor likes this.
  16. Anonymatt

    Anonymatt

    Jan 3, 2009
    Brooklyn, NY
    Well, a lot of people can watch one musician. If you go see a combo, a lot of people watch about five musicians. There are no extra musicians in the dugout. There are no bat boys or first base coaches. Kind of Blue is the only jazz record many "music buffs" own. Guys, I'll bet there is like a 25% overlap of our jazz music collections.

    I mean, there are fewer name jazz players than professional sports players... and the training phase for athletes, the college team, has a limited number of spots on it. How many kids can you jam into the school of music? Like, plenty!

    But music is a wonderful thing that you can enjoy on your own, it spreads joy and inspiration to others, and you can maintain a high level of achievement nearly your entire life. So I guess that's the balance.
     
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  17. Bitterness is so easy in today's world. It is common and takes no thought outside of the same part of the brain used to twist a knife.

    Seeing the brighter side takes courage. Positive thinking is not common because courage is not common.


    I salute you and god bless (I have never said that last bit to anyone before, feel free to take the severity of its use accordingly).

    The rest can feel free to add me to the list of things you have a distaste for. I won't mind, I'll have a lot of company.
     
    moles and Chris Fitzgerald like this.
  18. MikeCanada

    MikeCanada

    Aug 30, 2011
    Toronto, ON
    As previously mentioned, there are some great teachers out there. There are also some institutions that are not lost causes as well. Not all of them, but a number of graduates from jazz programs and many other areas of study do have successful careers. I am guessing there are players without a formal education who believe they are qualified and entitled to work that they are not, and that isn't new either.

    I agree that there is dead weight in the system. There always is and the larger the institution, the more places it can hide. You also get what you pay for and while post secondary education is prohibitively expensive, if you follow the money you might be surprised how little of it goes towards educating. How and why we are creating institutionalized education in fields it traditionally wasn't is also worth considering. As the bachelors degree becomes the new high school diploma and programs like communications, business, and jazz degrees pop up where they never were before, you have to ask yourself what they are filling those programs with and what their value is. An undergraduate degree has become an extension of high school, and there are a lot of required courses that have very little to do with your major. Half of my performance degree required courses didn't involve me touching my instrument, and half of those were not even music courses.

    Students and employers are realizing that while a bachelors degree is almost a universal requirement now, it is rapidly decreasing in value. There needs to be a meaningful discourse between students, employers, and institutions that results in universal reform, because it doesn't seem sustainable for the soon to be default entrance into the workforce to cost what an undergraduate degree does. Regardless to what and how it happens, it will not be a simple fix. It is a much more multifaceted problem than what we have discussed so far. I was told earlier today I have a tendency for verbosity, so I will leave it at that.
     
  19. A like from the man himself, I'm honored.
     
  20. Anonymatt

    Anonymatt

    Jan 3, 2009
    Brooklyn, NY
    There's no messing with a blessing, thanks Lovejoy.

    If I was 18 today and as serious about playing as I am now, I would go to school for music in New York.

    Aside from the other obvious benefits, is going to school simply the best way to get family and loved ones on board with four years in the shed?

    I read about Bill Evans and he said it wasn't until he was about 27 that he really felt like it was coming together for him. That's after school and the army, so that's a lot of maturing. So maybe there's an issue of general maturity and artistic identity that isn't ready to bloom for some young people at 20-22. I know this is beside the point of technical incompetence in students.
     

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