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Current Trends in Jazz Education

A Roundtable Discussion with Noted Collegiate Educators

Chris Washburne
Chris Vadala
Martin Mueller from The New School

The field of jazz education is a relatively new one at colleges and universities. And, despite its roots in swing and bebop traditions, the music itself is ever evolving and therefore forces academic institutions to adapt on a regular basis. We wanted to get a sense of the significant trends in the jazz education field, and so we simply asked about a dozen noted educators a series of questions. Their responses, while not always in consensus, speak plenty for both the field and the individual institutions.

How has the economic downturn affected the quality and quantity of applications to your program?

Todd Coolman (Director of Jazz Studies, Purchase College/SUNY)

It is difficult to measure. Both the quality and quantity of applications to our program have increased steadily over the past several years. It is likely due to the growing reputation and quality of our program, but economics could be playing a role as our tuition is quite low as compared to other metro NYC jazz programs.

Dr. Wayne E. Goins (Director of Jazz, Professor of Music, Kansas State University)

It has had a positive affect on my jazz program. Since our school is relatively less expensive, the quality of students we attract has risen. Kansas State is still one of the best kept secrets in the country. Our jazz program has gotten stronger every year. The economic downturn helped us because it made people look at us in a way that they hadn’t taken before, and they liked what they saw.

Martin Mueller (Executive Director, The New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music)

We’ve obviously been monitoring this carefully and thus far at The New School we are resilient in spite of the tough economic times. In fact, through these last two annual cycles we exceeded our new student goals and both the quality and quantity of applicants was higher than previous years. This year we did have more appeals for financial aid and scholarship, and we felt a more strident tone in general with students and parents about affordability.

David Roitstein (Jazz Program Director, California Institute of the Arts)

The quality and quantity of applications to our program has been consistently high. For the past few years, we have had a waiting list of very creative, accomplished musicians on all instruments. Our program is small, so we can only accept a few applicants each year. But we get the feeling that many students are following through and making the choices that they need to for their own creativity and growth in spite of the economy.

Dr. David Schroeder (Director of Jazz Studies, NYU Steinhardt)

The quality of our students has not been affected by the downturn, but attracting top students has become more difficult with the rising costs of studying in NYC, like other major metropolitan schools.

Chris Vadala (Director of Jazz Studies/Professor of Saxophone, University of Maryland School of Music)

The quality varies but seems to be pretty consistent. The quantity is down in certain areas (trombone and bass) presently, but it goes in cycles.

Chris Washburne (Associate Professor of Ethnomusicology, Founding Director of the Louis Armstrong Jazz Performance Program, Columbia University)

There has been an increase in quantity and quality of applications to our program throughout the last two years. I do not believe that has anything to do with the economic downturn, though. We are a new program, founded only seven years ago and we have been experiencing an increase of applicants since the inception of the program. However, I have found that more of the applicants are requesting financial assistance

Paul Wertico (Assistant Professor and Head of Jazz And Contemporary Music Studies at Chicago College of Performing Arts at Roosevelt University)

The quality of our students continues to be high and seems to get higher every year. As far as the economy affecting the quantity of our applications, there are the occasional times when a current and/or prospective student’s parents lose their jobs, or fall on some type of hard times, and thus they’re not able to afford the tuition and housing fees.

We’ve also seen some families commit to the school, and then when they sit down late in the summer and do the math, they realize that can’t make it work financially. There is also the hope that the school will just “make it work”, but our resources are limited as well.

What other effects has the economic climate had on your program?

Todd Coolman

As a state university in a state where the legislature is dysfunctional, the economic climate has an overall negative effect of the State University as a whole.

Dr. Wayne E. Goins

There is a significant decrease in scholarship money because of the sharp drop in investment returns.

Martin Mueller

It’s certainly made us work harder and smarter financially and in our efforts in a very competitive jazz education marketplace. Among other actions, it has prompted necessary institutional steps including freezing salaries for all non-union employees and reducing all school budgets 5% to create a contingency fund for any revenue shortfall. Fundraising has also been much more challenging. But at the end of the day, even in tough economic times quality schools will thrive and survive. At The New School, we increased our scholarship budgets in response to student need, and we’ve still moved strongly ahead with new programs and faculty hires. On a more global level, tough economic times just sharpens the question we educators ask ourselves year after year, wondering where the tipping point will be in the cost of higher education, especially in the arts. I also think that the increasing costs of education and the current economic climate are contributing factors in the current shift of higher ed music training and preparation from purely craft to more practical, vocationally oriented learning outcomes.

David Roitstein

Very little impact on the overall program so far – we have been extremely fortunate. We have seen some of our students whose families have lost jobs, or have had more trouble than usual funding their education, but most of them have qualified for sufficient financial aid.

Dr. David Schroeder

We still continue to attract students both nationally and internationally, but due to the economic climate is has certainly become more difficult for students to manage the tuition and cost of living in NYC. Our undergrad numbers are slightly lower this year, but our grad numbers are up. This is likely do to the fact that grad students can complete their degree within 3 semesters and are more focused of obtaining specific information and opportunities from living and studying in NYC.

Chris Vadala

We’re seeing the need for scholarship money and tuition increase, especially out-of-state.

Chris Washburne

We have had a 25% decrease in our budget over the last two years and this has had a large impact on a growing program. We have had to become more creative in stretching the funds that we do have and limiting our visiting artist program.

Paul Wertico

With the current musical climate being what it is, I’m sure some parents, as well as some students, question the validity of entering a career in music. However, I also see many parents that are totally supportive of their child’s passion, and they seem to understand that in today’s world there is no stability in any profession. So the questions become, “Why not pursue a lifelong dream, even if it’s seemingly not as secure and stable as working for a corporation?” and “Why not do what makes you happy?”

Our enrollment office also gets the question “Is my child going to be employed when they graduate? How will you help them get a job?” Our answer is always that college is a starting point and so much depends on the student. Working with the amazing faculty in our jazz program connects our students to the next level of music, and does open doors, like when I or other faculty members recommend students for various outside-the-school professional projects, or when I include one of our students to actually be a member of my own band- those are some valuable real world experiences that come as a direct benefit of going to our school! The other answer we tell parents is that the skills that make great musicians make great employees in just about any industry- discipline, focus, ability to perform in front of a crowd, the ability to think creatively. All of these skills are developed in the arts and are an asset to so many environments.

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