The State of Jazz: A Visit to Brazil
The International Association of Schools of Jazz (IASJ) is a jazz education organization created by saxophonist Dave Liebman in 1990. Every year, dozens of music students and their teachers from all over the world come together in one city to network, learn and make music.
“It was during my travels to so many places, especially in Europe that I realized the obvious: everyone who is learning an art form like jazz is learning the same materials, though it may be presented in different languages,” Liebman says.
“Musicians and teachers in one country didn’t know the musicians and teachers in a neighboring country. It seemed that the time-worn concept of networking would benefit everyone.”
Liebman was not the only musician who recognized this need. Thirteen different schools from Israel to Ireland agreed with Liebman and decided to create the IASJ. The organization just celebrated its 21st year at Souza Lima Conservatory in São Paulo, Brazil. Forty schools were represented, spanning from over 20 countries.
The most noticeable aspect of the IASJ is that, despite the students coming from various cultures and different music education systems, everybody gets along and plays together well.
Guitarist Elvin Rodriguez from the Dominican Republic is studying at Educación Musical, a conservatory in Argentina. He’s soft spoken, but his improvisation could blow the roof off any venue. “I enjoy improvising the most. It’s the best way for me to truly express my sentiments,” he says.
Rodriguez also spoke about his affinity for private lessons. Ironically, his teacher, Ale Demogli from Argentina says that his most popular course is improvisation following private lessons. “Private lessons are beneficial because I teach them a new way to approach the guitar,” Demogli says of his methods, “I teach them to have a more linear approach to playing — like a pianist.”
Rachel Do Nascimento, a vocal student at Souza Lima in São Paulo, and saxophonist Zeke Le Grange from The University of Cape Town in South Africa share Rodriguez’s love for private lessons and improvisation. “I love being able to improvise on the bandstand,” Do Nascimento says, “because it’s the only way I can truly express myself.”
All three musicians have the same goal in mind for when they graduate. “I want to go to the states and get my master’s,” Elvin says, “after that I want to travel with my music as a professional musician.”
Ziv Grinberg, an Israeli composition student studying at the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance and Ariel Tessier at the Paris Conservatory share these same sentiments.
The idealistic view of the students at the IASJ is mirrored by a more realistic, serious approach by the established musicians teaching them. The music industry is not an easy industry to crack, says Michael Küttner of Manheim University of Music and Performing Arts. “The music scene in Cologn [Germany] is becoming very commercial. People have less money and therefore the arts is getting supported less. Even in a culture-forward country like Germany we face these difficulties.”
The overall consensus among professors is that finding a job depends on the students themselves. “The climate in Finland for jazz is always improving,” says Jussi Kannaste of the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki. “The government is funding many grants for touring and composing and young people are into jazz, but it’s up to the students to succeed in music.” He elaborates: “95 percent of graduates will get a teaching job, no problem. But being solely a performer is a different story.”
In the contained environment of the IASJ or a music school, it can be easy to forget that jazz is not mainstream music. Ronan Guilfoyle of the Newpark Music Centre in Ireland says, “there’s a general recognition problem with the music in the eyes of the general public. Jazz doesn’t have the same exposure as other music.”
Ale Demogli agrees, and says that “radio and television don’t focus on jazz. It is much harder for us to get the publicity.” With somewhat limited opportunities, how does a young musician make his way into the jazz industry? By exemplifying what the IASJ is all about: teaching and learning.
Lupa Santiago from Souza Lima says that he splits his time between teaching and playing. “I teach about fifty hours a week but I play at least twice weekly with three different groups,” he says.
Guilfoyle says he splits his time equally between teaching and performing while Küttner teaches more than he plays. No matter the balance, the bottom line is that it seems that in order to succeed as a performer, teaching needs to be part of the equation.
Luckily for students like Tessier and Grinberg, they’re okay with that. “I want to be able to play but I also want to teach. I basically just want to be an artist,” concedes Tessier.
What advice can these established musicians give to the young up and comers? “Be confident with your whole heart and be proactive,” advises Kannaste.
Ronan offered wise words for the young attendees of the meeting: “you should be thinking about a life in this music as opposed to a career in this music. If you are determined and talented enough to have a life in music you will have a career anyway. If you love music, you will make a life from it no matter what.”
It seems like he and Ziv are on the same page. “My life is music. It’s like going to the beach,” he says pensively, “I’m going to be a musician who does what he loves…because this music is the best music that has ever been done.” #