New impetus of jazz teaching


New impetus of jazz teachingThe first schools with a focus dedicated to jazz were born in Italy around the mid-seventies; this data gives us the measure of how relatively recent the phenomenon of jazz teaching is in our country. The United States is no exception, in fact, it is only between the 1980s and 1990s that American universities and colleges witnessed an explosion of courses dedicated to jazz studies. In the decades preceding these periods it was unthinkable for a young person to undertake a career as a jazz musician through school, let alone studying at home on texts specifically dedicated to the study of jazz notation, harmony and improvisation. It wasn't a problem of access to certain scholastic facilities or financial availability, there simply wasn't yet an academic circuit responsible for training in the jazz field.

The passion for jazz, the essential driving force for dedicating oneself to a low-paid "profession" devoid of unrealistic aims of prestige and fame, had to be indulged with attentive and assiduous listening to the few records in circulation by the great masters of African-American music . In addition to this, militancy in village bands, on the occasion of festivals and anniversaries, presented itself for the aspiring musician as an essential pedagogical experience in order to define his own individuality with respect to the specific roles of others. The next step was the slow, yet difficult, creation of a network of knowledge aimed at allowing access to continuous "work" opportunities in sufficiently suitable spaces. And this is where the fundamental role played by jam session. A true school of life, this extemporaneous situation gave the aspiring musician the opportunity to feel the pulse of the "real" world beyond solitary home performances, to measure himself and measure the accumulated technical gap; during a jam session, to grow and optimize one's qualities it was necessary to constantly listen to the other person, to their way of playing and not playing, to express and interpret the idea contained in a song in real time. However, we must add, for clarity, that not all aspiring jazz musicians had the opportunity, or the fortune, to be able to undertake a path of this type; often the social or economic conditions did not allow the young musician to have enough money to purchase the necessary equipment to play in public or to cover the expenses necessary for a possible move to other cities. In other cases, the purely character aspect proved, in the long term, to be a brake on the artistic growth of the young musician.

The change of horizons regarding jazz teaching in Italy occurred with the foundation, in the mid-seventies, of the Scuola Popolare di Musica di Testaccio in Rome. Open to all without distinction of social affiliation or theoretical preparation, the "Testaccio School" was characterized by semi-free courses in jazz improvisation and experimental composition, study of traditional instruments, history of music and ethnomusicology lessons, held by a collective self-managed group of musicians formed, among others, by Bruno Tommaso, Enrico Pieranunzi, Maurizio Giammarco, Tommaso Vittorini, Martin Joseph, Giancarlo Schiaffini, Michele Jannaccone, Eugenio Colombo, Roberto Gatto, Paolo Damiani.

In the same period, Mario Ciampà had the idea of ​​opening a music school within the Saint Louis jazz club, of which he owned. The afternoon courses are held by the same musicians who usually perform in the evening in the Roman venue. In 1996 Ciampà decided to definitively close the part relating to the Saint Louis jazz club to concentrate full time on his teaching activity.

With the direction of Stefano Mastruzzi,, starting from 1998, Saint Louis will establish itself as one of the most important music schools in Europe for the quality of its teaching and its transversal vision open to new contexts, initiatives and musical genres. Also in this case, among the teachers present in the educational programs and seminars organized annually we find excellent jazz musicians with years of experience behind them: Enrico Pieranunzi, Bruno Tommaso, Roberto Gatto, Amedeo Tommasi, Massimo Urbani, Marcello Rosa, Maurizio Giammarco, Rosario Giuliani, Umberto Fiorentino, Enrico Rava, Eddy Palermo and many others.

With the spread of music schools in Rome and Italy, the figure of the instrumentalist-teacher and the student-musician is taking shape, more based on technique applied to the instrument, on virtuosity, and less, in some ways, on instinctive invention in milieu art of the "street", of alternative spaces and of improvisation free from clichés learned by heart. By virtue of this, starting from the 1980s, the figure of the conservatory-graduated musician who lends himself to jazz for his vocation takes shape and, despite the choice made, does not give up maintaining a direct link with classical concert situations (in previous years there had been a few exceptions, including Enrico Pieranunzi and Amedeo Tommasi). It is a novelty, the result in some way of overcoming the closure of the academic world to the teaching of jazz (except for the brief experience, in the two-year period 1971/72, of the jazz course entrusted to Giorgio Gaslini at the Santa Cecilia Conservatory in Rome), in tune with the renewed needs of contemporary jazz musicians to have a wider range of compositional and performance options available to use with a view to greater professional continuity and hoped-for economic stability. We perceive in this character of the instrumentalist a continuity with the crystallization of the formulas and codes of jazz, in particular borrowed from be-bop, in the wake of the handed down form of classical music, adopted in the various jazz teaching programs and workshops. If the standardization of jazz forms has given rise to a modeling of contents to the detriment of originality, conversely when these have been integrated with alternative and innovative methodologies of theoretical and practical teaching there has been a greater growth of students in terms of skills at the service of creative impulse.

Ultimately, it must be noted how both educational and pre-educational approaches have been able, in different contexts and periods, to give rise to a pleiad of high-level jazz musicians capable of facing the challenges of the present and the future, often integrating between They. The various collaborations between different generations, with educational backgrounds in most cases opposite, leads us to a positive response on the validity of jazz education as an essential foundation of contemporary jazz.

Paolo Marra


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