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I Wanna Rock!

Mike Lawson • Perspective • June 20, 2017

Remember when jazz music being taught in your school was unthinkable?

Heresy? Something you could never even comprehend proposing as part of your music program to your administration because it wasn’t serious music and had negative societal connotations? No? Me either. I’m not that old. There are very few readers of SBO who have been around long enough to recall when teaching jazz was scandalous. I am, however, old enough to recall my jazz band director informing me that my guitar amp must be broken when I introduced a little overdrive to my tone during our rehearsal of “Night Train” and “Take the A Train.” And I recall how it was not exactly encouraged that I spend my time outside of the jazz program playing what is now called “classic rock” if I wanted to be a serious swing/jazz guitarist. My young and unlearned mind at the time didn’t get why my band director seemed to dismiss my love of music in general. It was one that found me buying recordings of performances of Beethoven and Mozart as a kid, right along with buying the Beatles, Bowie, the Kinks and yes, I’ll admit it, Kiss albums. Hey, it was the 70’s, don’t judge me! Didn’t he know that Les Paul played with Fred Waring as the Les Paul Trio, then transformed into Rhubarb Red the next day to play country music? He did not. But I digress…

In 1938, there were many traditionalists who thought it brought great shame to Carnegie Hall for Benny Goodman to be allowed to bring jazz into that venerable cultural institution. The King of Swing, at Carnegie Hall planning to play extended improvised jam sessions? Oh, the horror! The shame! This will provide a level of validity to music listened to by shaking, dancing, jiving, debauched young people!

When jazz music became a bona fide part of school music band programs, it produced great controversy. We don’t even have to discuss the parental objections, and complaints to school administrations. But this objection was not done solely by parents, administrations, or classical, marching and concert band directors not too keen on the concept of this kind of popular music of its day edging its way into their school band rooms, but by jazz musicians themselves, wondering how it was you could possibly include something based on freeform improvisations into the confines of a classroom environment. They wondered how this would affect the feel of the music, the soul, if you will. Well, more than a half century and then some later, it is kind of hard to imagine a school program that does not include a jazz music program of some kind.

I am writing this from New York City, atop the 31st floor of a Hilton Garden Inn, where I was invited by Worldstrides, to attend an event featuring popular music played by students involved in the new Modern Band concept championed and created by David Wish’s Little Kids Rock. The concert event will be held at Carnegie Hall. Yeah, that’s right. Carnegie Hall. These days, Carnegie Hall is host to a myriad of musical genre performances. It’s no longer scandalous for big band music to be performed there, nor is it shocking that kids are there playing pop music through an educational program. Time is changing. That cliché is, of course, true for the world of music education.

And speaking of clichés, a rising tide lifts all boats. We want every student to develop a lifelong love of making music. Pop music education curriculum is not necessarily for everyone. It’s not necessarily for directors firmly rooted in traditional concert band music, or marching music, who don’t have the hours in the day or days in the school year to possibly add another kind of music program to their workload. Nor perhaps for directors fortunate enough to be running large music programs encompassing everything awesome about traditional instrumental programs, which, a few generations later, now include jazz. It is, however, for band directors who have room in their program to open it up to the other 80% of students who will never have interest in jazz, or classical, or concert or marching programs. All roads lead to Rome, another tried and true cliché. If our Rome is, in this analogy, a place that instills a lifelong love of making music, then classical, concert and marching band music, jazz, and now pop music like rock, blues, country, folk, hiphop, reggae, R&B, bluegrass, Americana, world music, and every other blessed musical sound under the sun must be our roads. Some will take the one less traveled, some will choose the autobahn, but we all want to get to that same place.

I still love classical music. I still thrill at comping chords behind big band swing. I still marvel at watching an awesome marching band do their thing on the field or in a parade. I find DCI performances riveting and inspirational. Yet, I still wanna rock. And, that’s okay. Right?

 

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