A BRIEF HISTORY OF JAZZ EDUCATION PRIOR TO 1950

INTRODUCTION 

Current narratives on the history and development of jazz education imply that formalized jazz education is an entity beginning sometime after 1950. While this perspective captures the development of the jazz publishing industry, the expansion of collegiate jazz studies programs, and a host of camps, clinics, and other resources that have sprung up in the last sixty five years, it also seems to imply that opportunities for jazz education prior to 1950 were nonexistent. 

From a twenty-first century perspective, this narrative is reinforced anecdotally. Charles Suber’s sentiment that “Recordings were the first jazz textbooks” seems to imply a virtually educational wasteland for interested students in the first half of the twentieth century (Suber 1989, iii). However this perspective does little justice to the vibrant jazz education climate of the first half of the twentieth century. This paper will address the formal, semi-formal and informal education communities during this period, as well as a brief look at printed pedagogical materials used by educators during this time. 
 

PUBLIC SCHOOL JAZZ EDUCATION 
  
One bizarre side effect of segregation was the regular occurrence of first-rate black public school systems. These schools enlisted quality educators, many of whom held advanced degrees (May 2005, 22). In addition to excellent instruction in academic subjects, instruction in music was also done at a high level. Many of these schools offered not only instrumental and vocal training, but also offered courses on music theory and harmony (Berliner 1994, 26). 

While popping up in predominantly urban and middle class/wealthy black communities, these kinds of schools were by no means rare. DuSalle High School in Chicago, Thomas Jefferson High School in Los Angeles, Westinghouse High School in Pittsburgh, Cass Technical High School in Detroit, Crispus Attucks High School in Indianapolis, and Howard High School in Wilmington Delaware all serve as examples of the kind of quality music education available to many urban students during the first half of the twentieth century. 

 Many of these schools were virtual factories for future jazz giants. Walter Dyett at DuSalle High School in Chicago produced students such as Gene Ammons, Johnny Griffin, Eddie Harris, Richard Davis, and Nat “King” Cole. Russell Brown at Crispus Attucks High School produced similar results with the Montgomery Brothers, James Spaulding, David Baker, Freddie Hubbard, and J.J. Johnson[1]. It seems as if each region had educators specializing in developing jazz talent through the public schools. 
    
The curriculum taught at these schools was almost entirely based on western classical music. While it is true that some schools embraced jazz education as a part of music curriculum—such as Manassa High School in Memphis[2]—most schools shied away from including jazz as part of the music program. Indeed, at some schools simply being caught playing jazz could be a suspending offense (May 2005,25). This attitude would relax somewhat; by the end of the 1940s jazz had begun being included in high school curriculums in the form of stage bands (May 2005, 25). 

The degree to which a school would encourage jazz among its students varied from director to director. However, at all of these schools western classical music was the main curriculum focus. The musical skills acquired here included instrumental proficiency, basic harmonic knowledge, but did not extend much into the realm of jazz or improvisation. Still, this background provided a foundation in instrumental proficiency and basic harmony that was easily applicable to jazz. 
 

COLLEGE JAZZ EDUCATION 

Colleges would also be important proving grounds for many aspiring jazz students. While much has been made of North Texas State’s and Schillinger House’s (now Berklee) role in establishing jazz degrees in the late 1940s, all types of colleges played some kind of role in jazz education during this period. This includes state schools such as NTSU, as well as historically black colleges, and prestigious music schools. They all played a part in jazz education to one degree or another. 
In the 1940s, three colleges would be critical in offering institutionalized jazz education. North Texas State College, Schillinger House (now Berklee) and Westlake College.  Unlike other colleges at the time, these schools offered instruction specifically for jazz musicians, rather than the elective based instruction available at other institutions. 

The jazz degree at North Texas State (Now UNT) was founded in 1947. This was the first established bachelor’s degree in jazz studies in the United States. Interestingly, this degree was originally called a “dance band major” because of the unpalatable connotations the word “jazz” held (Hall 2015). Gene Hall based the curriculum at NTSU on his 1942 master’s thesis. Hall proposed a full course of instruction that centered on a “lab band” that performed student compositions. It is this model that endures to this day at UNT. 
  
Lawrence Berk established the Schillinger House of Music in 1945. Schillinger House would become the Berklee School of Music in 1954, and would begin offering bachelor’s degrees in 1996. In this sense, Schillinger House was not a true college during the first half of the twentieth century, however its origins are. 
Berk began the Schillinger House as a means of teaching the principles of composition and harmony of Joseph Schillinger. Berk was only one of a handful of teachers permitted to teach Schillinger’s method. Schillinger’s system of composition translated musical elements such as harmony melody and rhythm to geometric relationships. The link to his pedagogy and his music is yet unclear. Schillinger’s system for composition was not exclusively jazz based; however many of his students were prominent jazz and commercial composers such as Tommy Dorsey, Geroge Gershwin and Benny Goodman (Burk, James M and Wayne J. Schneider 2015). 
  
Westlake College of Music in Los Angeles was an important player in the college jazz education scene in the postwar 1940s. Established in 1945, it offered two and four year degrees in music with curriculum in jazz, although not an official jazz degree. Like Schillinger House, Westlake curriculum embraced the Schillinger system. Westlake was unique, it’s curriculum was designed in part to train future studio musicians. Many of the faculty such as Russ Garcia were also in demand studio composers and would pull students from school for work in the recording studio (Spencer 2013, 60). Westlake was alma mater to some of the greatest talents in jazz, Dexter Gordon, Don Cherry, Bill Holman and Gary Peacock to name a few. The school disbanded in 1961 and for this reason it is not as well recognized today. 
  
While not strictly a college, the black musician training center for black musicians at the Great Lakes Naval Base during the second world war represents another important training center for jazz musicians. During the course of the war, over five thousand musicians would be sent to the Great Lakes Naval Base to train. Len Bowden oversaw their training[3]. Bowden’s curriculum at the Great Lakes Naval Base is widely regarded as the first comprehensive curriculum for jazz studies (Murphy 1994, 34). These musicians would be called on to play not only for military parades and services, but also for dances and social gatherings. As such, Bowden developed a program that trained musicians for their roles in all of these areas. 

Historically Black Colleges (HBCs) also played an important role in training young jazz musicians. Jazz education was present at many of these schools in one form or another since the dawn of the twentieth century[4]. Formal jazz education at these schools was rare, however many offered student run dance and swing bands that would play stock and original arrangements. These ensembles would perform for school dances, university events, and perhaps most importantly, fundraising drives. Ensembles at both Fisk and Alabama State were called upon to help raise money for the university during various budget shortfalls. Fisk and Alabama State are perhaps the two most notable HBCs to field stage bands during this time. At Fisk University, Jimmie Lunceford served as the leader for the Fisk Collegians. At Alabama state, Erskine Hawkins held the same role of the 'Bama State Collegians.  (Hawkins was still in high school when the 'Bama State Collegians was founded, but it would be under his leadership that the band would make the transition to New York and ultimately to the Erskine Hawkins Orchestra). Other important HBCs that fielded stage bands include Tennessee State, Delaware State, Florida A&M, the Tuskegee Institute, and Howard University. In his paper on the subject, Andrew Goodrich cites over thirty such colleges operating some form of jazz ensemble during this time (Goodrich 2001, 54). 

Despite the prevalence of HBC stage bands, the magnitude of their role in jazz education is unclear. For example, Clifford Brown, Benny Golson, Jimmie Blanton, and Cannonball Adderly all attended HBC's and participated in jazz ensembles to one degree or another. However, this is not to say that the musical training revieved at HBCs was the turning point in these musician's careers. Indeed, there is evidence that jazz training at HBCs left much to be desired. 
    
Many HBC jazz bands were not acknowledged by music departments. Since they were largely student run, the quality of instruction was far from uniform. London Branch first voiced these concerns in his 1975 Ph.d. dissertation. According to Branch, HBC jazz ensembles were underfunded, not respected by university faculty and staff, and not able to offer the courses students needed to operate as professional musicians (Branch 1975, 12). Branch identifies this as a problem not limited to the first half of the twentieth century, but as an institutional bias against jazz in favor of eurocentric models, that persists to varying degrees today.  
    
However, Branch's concerns do not take into account the many other factors that contributed to jazz education. Indeed, a college lab band in and of itself would be poor training for life as a professional jazz musician, however, then as it is now, academic training was part of a musician's education, not its entirety. Students at HBCs developed instrumental proficiency, harmonic knowledge, composition and arranging skills and networking skills that they were able to transfer to the study and performance of jazz. But the musicians who went on to earn success in jazz were not only engaged in academic studies, they were also involved in a variety of formal and semi formal activities that helped prepare them for professional life. 

  
INFORMAL AND SEMI FORMAL JAZZ EDUCATION 
  
This is perhaps the most well known element of jazz education during the first half of the twentieth century. William McDaniel writes rather baldly that jazz education began with the first jazz musicians, and relegates most of the ways jazz was taught during this time simply to “the oral tradition” (McDaniel 1993, 119). 
    
This type of learning was and still is important, but we can break it down into a more detailed analysis than McDaniel. In addition to institutional training available at many public schools and colleges, many if not all jazz musicians were involved in a network of musical performance and instruction. This network consisted of study of recordings and live performances, church music, family music making, private instruction, local performances and jam sessions. Most jazz students were involved in some if not all of these activities (Berliner 1994, 24). 

Most jazz and early music education started at home. This could be as simple as playing jazz records in the house or family members singing. Many jazz musicians took lessons from music teachers who went door to door, teaching in the home, Children of professional or amateur musicians often absorbed music that way. Music in the home was often a gateway into other music communities outside the home. 
    
Private instructors served as mentors and role models for many of the young jazz musicians during this period. Private instructors were generally older or more experienced players. This type of instruction was invaluable both in helping develop young players, as well as refining the skills of already established players. For example, Clifford Brown’s study with Robert Lowrey helped Brown develop the basic tools of improvisation. Similarly, Lloyd Reese helped to develop a generation of jazz musicians in the Los Angeles area. Other teachers such as Joeseph Schillinger helped top-level musicians reach new heights in their professional careers. His work with artists such as Gershwin and Glenn Miller led to some of the greatest hits of the era such as Porgy and Bess and Moonlight Serenade (Pease 2015). Other teachers such as Lennie Tristano[5] and Gil Evans attracted a cadre of young professional musicians to instruct in improvisation and harmony. 
    
Private jazz lessons straddle the line between formal and informal. Many other learning opportunities would be strictly informal. Paul Berliner identifies record shops, music stores, nightclubs and even musician’s homes as venues for jazz education (Berliner 1994, 37). Here, learning happened through “the hang”. This provided younger players the opportunity to learn from more experienced players. This could include local members of the community as well as members of various touring bands. 
    
Jam sessions were another vintage of “the hang”. In addition to the networking and learning opportunities available simply through discussion, jam sessions not only gave young musicians a vehicle to work on actually performing music, but also brought together musicians and provided the opportunity for critical discussion and feedback.   Jam sessions were equally important for young musicians as well as experienced ones. It was at jam sessions like the one in Wilmington Delaware were Clifford Brown was able to hone his craft, but it was also at jam sessions like the famous one at Minton’s Playhouse in New York where Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker and others were able to develop bebop. 
    
A slightly more formal brand of jazz education took place in professional groups. Many young players would join touring swing or dance bands. Alex Stewart describes these groups as places where young musicians are able to develop instrumental proficiency, improvising skills, arranging skills as well as the various professional behaviors needed (Stewart 2007, 6). This is done simply from absorbing the music on the bandstand, but also from developing personal relationships with older, more experienced players. This method of development describes the early careers of a host of musicians during this period such as Bix Beiderbeck, Rex Stewart, Duke Ellington, Bud Powell, Charlie Parker and many more. 
  
  
EDUCATIONAL MATERIALS 
  
Published education materials during this period were few and far between. A few materials such as Ben Harney’s 1897 text Rag Time Instructor, Robert Goffin’s 1932 history Aux Frontieres Du Jazz, and Norbert Bleihoff’s 1935 text Modern Arranging and Orchestration highlight the otherwise lack of material available to young musicians in this period. Journalistic publications such as Downbeat and Metronome helped to fill this void. They would routinely interview various musicians, feature education driven columns by writers like Sharon Pease, and Will Hudson, and occasionally publish transcriptions, but this is far from presenting any kind of formal method for instruction (Baker 1981, iii-iv). 
    
Stock arrangements provided insights to many young students. Other young musicians found early inspiration by studying piano rolls and learning music that way. Many private instructors developed their own material for teaching concepts that would be available on a regional level. For example, Clifford Brown’s teacher Robert Lowrey had a method he called “The Classes” that according to his Downbeat interview was designed to help students hear and play chord changes. A host of material for developing classical instrumental proficiency such as the Arban's book for trumpet and Cornet and various counterparts for other instruments was undoubtedly important. 
    
However, the most prolific published material for learning jazz was from records. Transcribing, memorizing and imitating records would be the most readily available jazz resource available to young students. 

  

SUMMARY 

Jazz education during the first half of the twentieth century was a mélange different methodologies and educational environments. Quality music education was available at many public schools. This level of instruction—while classically driven—eased the learning and performance of jazz by promoting instrumental proficiency and jazz literacy. Figures such as Walter Dyett, Russell Brown, and Jimmie Lunceford all represent high school band directors who were able to forge their students into first-rate jazz musicians. 
    
Colleges were also a place to gain musical experience. In addition to the three schools that began offering jazz curriculum at the end of the 1940s—NTSU, Schillinger House (Now Berklee) and Westlake School of Music—many state schools offered performance opportunities playing in student run stage bands. Some of these groups, such as the ‘Bama State Collegians would translate their college music experience into full-blown professional status. 
    
Like public school music education however, most college music departments were driven by classical music. College music students during this period would have to apply lessons learned in classical instruction to jazz on their own. 
    
Similar in nature to colleges was the black musicians training facility at the Great Lakes Naval Station. Led by veteran educator Len Bowden (Tuskegee Institute, Alabama State ect), this program is widely regarded as the first comprehensive jazz education. During World War over five thousand musicians went through that program. Some, like Clark Terry would go on to become leaders in the jazz world. 
    
In spite of the opportunities available at institutions during the first part of the twentieth century, the bulk of actual jazz instruction and learning that occurred happened in semi formal and informal settings. Music in the home as well as in the church would be very important entry point for young players. Private instructors would also play an important role in disseminating jazz knowledge to students of all experience levels. Some teachers such as Lloyd Reese and Robert Lowery would make a name for themselves simply for their role as mentors to young jazz musicians. 
    
The informal meetings of musicians are perhaps the most well known learning experiences in the history of jazz education. Famous ones such as those held at the house of Gil Evans in the mid to late 1940s illustrate the importance of “the hang” in learning music. This kind of social/educational gathering was important for all musicians in all points of their development. 
    
In addition to happening in musician’s homes, record stores, music stores, and nightclubs, these informal sessions also occurred at and during jam sessions. Jam sessions gave musicians a chance to workshop ideas and to informally audition for other players. They were equally important to musicians just starting out in jazz and veterans who were developing new approaches and ideas. 
    
Professional touring groups were also important places of learning. Not only did they learn from playing their parts in performance and rehearsal, but it also set up a kind of informal apprenticeship between young and experienced players. 
    
There was not a significant amount of resources devoted to jazz educational publishing during this period. With a few exceptions, journalistic publications formed the backbone of the written educational materials available. These consisted of interviews with artists, record and concert reviews, and occasional transcriptions. 
    
The most jazz resource during this time was of course records. Listening sessions were common occurrences. Students would transcribe and memorize solos and learn to manipulate their transcribed material in new and interesting ways. 
    
Far from being nonexistent, jazz education during the first half of the twentieth century was vibrant with activity. While not formalized—not standardized—in a single community, the educational network in place represents a finely tuned machine. Today college programs at UNT, USC, MSM, and elsewhere provide a one-stop destination for virtually all jazz education questions and needs. During this period, students would have to look in a variety of places. This does not diminish the quality of instruction, simply the means in which it was obtained. 
  
  
  
BIBLIOGRAPHY 

Baker, David N. 1981. Jazz Pedagogy: A Comprehensive Method for Jazz Education for Teacher and Student. Chicago: Alfred. 

Berliner, Paul. 1994. Thinking in Jazz: The Infinite Art of Jazz Improvisation. Chicago. The University of Chicago Press. 

Branch, London. 1975. Jazz Education at Predominantly Black Colleges. Ph.D. dissertation, Southern Illinois University. 

Burk, James M. and Wayne J. Schneider. "Schillinger, Joseph." Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press, accessed February 17, 2015, http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/subscriber/article/grove/music/24863. 

Evans, David. "Handy, W.C.." Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press, accessed February 17, 2015, http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/subscriber/article/grove/music/12322. 

Hall, Brad and Marjorie Lynn Hall. "Hall, Gene." The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz, 2nd ed.. Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press, accessed February 17, 2015, http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/subscriber/article/grove/music/J584200. 

May, Lissa F. 2005. “Early Musical Development of Selected African American Jazz Musicians in Indianapolis in the 1930s and 1940s”. Journal of Historical Research in Music Education. 27:1. 21-32. 

McDaniel, William T. “The Status of Jazz Education in the 1990s: A Historical Commentary,” International Jazz Archives Journal 1:1. 119. 
  
Murphy, Daniel. 1994. “Jazz Studies in American Schools and Colleges: A Brief History”. Jazz Educators Journal 26. 34-38. 
  
Pease Ted. “The Schillinger/Berklee Connection” Berklee College of Music Website. Accessed February 19, 2015, https://www.berklee.edu/bt/122/connection.html 

Robinson, Bradford J. and Barry Kernfeld. "Lunceford, Jimmie." The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz, 2nd ed.. Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press, accessed February 16, 2015, http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/subscriber/article/grove/music/J276600. 

Robinson, Bradford J. "Tristano, Lennie." Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press, accessed February 19, 2015, http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/subscriber/article/grove/music/28400. 

Spencer, Michael T. 2013. “Jazz Education at the Westlake College of Music, 1945-1961”. Journal of Historical Research in Music Education. 35:1. 50-65. 
  
Stewart, Alex. 2007. Making the Scene: Contemporary New York City Big Band Jazz. Berkley. University of California Press. 

Suber, Charles. 1989 Quoted in David Baker’s Jazz Pedagogy: A Comparative Method of Jazz Education for Teacher and Student. Van Nuys, CA. Alfred. 
  
West, Hollie. 1980. “Clifford Brown Trumpeter’s Training.” Downbeat Magazine. July. 

[1] This is not to say that these schools alone forged these musicians. Rather, these schools played a role in a larger community of music education. 

[2] Jimmie Lunceford taught at Manassa High School in 1927. While there he organized a student group that would eventually become the Jimmie Lunceford Orchestra (Robinson JB and Barry Kernfield 2015). 

[3] Bowden is a sort of giant in the field of jazz education during this time not only because of his work at the Great Lakes Naval Base, but also for his role in establishing jazz bands at southern colleges in Alabama, Tennessee, and Georgia. 

[4] The first college jazz educator could be considered W.C. Handy, who taught music and the techniques that would eventually become jazz at Arkansas Agricultural College from 1900-1902. 

[5] Tristano would found his own school of jazz in 1951, using Lee Konitz Billy Bauer and Sal Mosca as his teaching staff, however as his staff and students became more successful professionally and embarked on their careers, he closed the school to return to private teaching (Robinson 2015).

2 comments

  • tommy stewart

    tommy stewart alabama

    asuMr. Karns,len bowden and fess didnot organize the bama state collegians. Tommy Stewart (conducted the collegians from 1957 to 1961) 256-547-7072) Alabama State never had a jazz department.I wrote a complete history.Call me or send asutrumpet@gmail.com

    asuMr. Karns,len bowden and fess didnot organize the bama state collegians. Tommy Stewart (conducted the collegians from 1957 to 1961) 256-547-7072) Alabama State never had a jazz department.I wrote a complete history.Call me or send asutrumpet@gmail.com

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