According to recent Nielsen data, sales of jazz music dipped below classical, essentially solidifying it as the bottom feeder in the music genre commercial success pool. There’s a lot of speculation regarding the reasons behind this continuing and disturbing trend. Theories include jazz purists’ inability to embrace the evolution of the genre, the marginalization of jazz crossover artists who infuse elements of pop, rock, funk into their music, and the suffering artist syndrome where the musician rationalizes that commercial success is invariably inversely proportional to artistic integrity, and therefore uses meager sales as confirmation of distinction.
Here’s another theory. How many Olympic sprinters go straight from the crib to the track without learning to crawl, stumble, and walk first? Obviously, those interim steps helps prepare the runner for their ultimate achievements. But they also provide a foundation that comes with it an appreciation for the talents and dedication of the world-class sprinter.
In my interview with Dave Wish, CEO/Founder of the Music Education non-profit Little Kids Rock (audio below), Dave discusses how children who learn even the most basic fundamentals of playing guitar (a few basic chords for instance) will never again listen to music the same way. As Dave says, “Just because I read Dr. Seuss to a child doesn’t mean I’ve confined them to a lifetime of reading rhyming books. It teaches them a love of literature at an early age.”
Exposing the wonder of music participation to children in great numbers virtually ensures a healthy pool of future candidates from which a consumer base with an appreciation for higher levels of accomplishment will emerge. As we continue to gut music education programs, we lower the baseline of music awareness, erode the pool of likely appreciators, and drive the masses of music consumers to the most primitive levels of melodic and harmonic sophistication.
In my own experience as a guitarist, it was only after I realized the limitations of the minor pentatonic scale when venturing outside of the basic 3-chords structures of rock/blues guitar that I came to explore the theory of music with greater harmonic variety. Had I never played an instrument and reached that level of frustration that prompted me to delve deeper, it’s not likely that I would have developed such a level of appreciation for the virtuosos I admire like Dave Frishberg, Joe Pass, Donald Fagen, and the like. While I’m sure that there are devout fans of jazz who never picked up an instrument or glanced at music notation, it’s safe to say that a lion’s share of jazz aficionados are those who appreciate the mastery of the artist through their own journey of musical expression. As Dave says…