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Jazz: The Mentorship Model for Aspiring Younger Musicians Has Changed

Veteran trumpeter Terence Blanchard leading younger bandmates in a performance.

One of the great things about jazz is that it bridges generations. Because it relies on interactive improvisation and live performance, and thus can’t be completely taught in a classroom or with a book, aspiring younger musicians seek the direct guidance of older, wiser ones. And more experienced musicians have plenty of reasons to take fresh talent under their wings, like gaining new bandmates with fresh skill sets, or helping future torch-bearers to thrive.

Such mentorship has changed a lot in the last half century. Collegiate and even post-graduate jazz education has become a huge engine of talent cultivation. Meanwhile, performing opportunities have greatly diminished. So the previous model of mentorship, where promising musicians learn “on the job” by joining the bands of established musicians, is becoming less common. But as Nate Chinen’s recent New York Times articleexplains, plenty of “apprentices” are still “availing themselves of counsel” — they’re just taking different paths to it.

… Like so much else involving jazz’s training arc, the apprenticeship model has been formalized and made accessible for a fee.

It’s easy to find fault with that shift, as many have over the years. But the current situation isn’t quite so clear-cut. Apprenticeship lurks outside the academy, for those resourceful enough to find it. Many prominent jazz artists still make a point of featuring younger talent in their bands, and many of the best up-and-comers seek out their elders as a matter of course. At the same time jazz is better fostered in institutions than it was in the era when [Wynton] Marsalis dropped out of Juilliard. The result is a hybrid reality that has recently produced a wave of sophisticated young improvisers with well-formed ideas about composition, band cohesion and their relationship to an aesthetic continuum.

A key word here is “hybrid”: Young musicians are leveraging their conservatory training and connections into bandstand experience…

Read full story at: NPR

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