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Teasing the Korean

Jazz Police, University Jazz Program Nightmare Stories

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Posted (edited)

Testing the waters to see if there is any interest in this topic among musicians. If you were there, you know precisely what I'm talking about. 

If so, I would suggest that we leave the names of the universities/professors/students anonymous, to protect the guilty. 

As I wrote in another thread, I had a scholarship to a highly regarded university jazz program and left. I literally could not listen to jazz for years, and nearly sold all of my jazz LPs. 

Luckily, I held onto the LPs, but I simply had to get rid of that Smithsonian jazz box set we were required to buy. It was giving off bad vibes. 

My entry points back into jazz were the Nat King Cole Trio, and my Dad's copy of "TV Action Jazz" by Mundell Lowe. 

I was cured, all right!

________________________________________

Like George Bernard Shaw, I often spice up my conversation with quotes from my own works. 

In this spirit, I share this post of mine from another thread:

Since this is a jazz list - and in recognition of Lou's passing - I will tell a personal story that has to do with Lou Reed and jazz:

In the early 1980s, I was a freshman majoring in jazz at a university that, at the time, had a reputation for being one of the best universities for jazz in the U.S.

As a part of my music scholarship, I had to work two hours a week at a desk dispensing keys to practice rooms. I chose a Saturday or Sunday morning slot, probably 10am to noon. I would typically bring my boom box with me. This was not only for listening to music, but - more importantly - to drown out the cacophony of 50 simultaneous readings of 50 different Charlie Parker Omnibook solos creeping through the cracks of 50 practice rooms.

One morning only a couple of weeks into the semester, I brought a cassette with "The Velvet Underground and Nico" on one side and "White Light/White Heat" on the other. A student I knew stumbled through the front doors. He was an older student - a junior or senior - who had been assigned something of a leadership role in the freshman/sophomore ensemble in which I was enrolled. He comes to the desk to get a practice room key, and he stops and listens for a minute. He asks, "What is this shit?" I reply, "The Velvet Underground." He listens for a few more seconds, then he says, "Man, you shouldn't be listening to one-chord crap like this, you need to be listening to Wynton Kelly and Red Garland, so you can get that swing feel, not this shit! Why are you listening to this?!?" I just looked at him.

This kind of got the semester off to a bad start for me, and became emblematic of everything I hated about the university jazz experience. I ended up leaving and majoring in English at a different university. It was probably four or five years before I could ever listen to a jazz record again, it was that bad.

Thank you, Lou Reed.

Edited by Teasing the Korean

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See, instead of a university practice room, you shoulda been down in the hood hanging out in a pool hall with that Lou Reed stuff, then you'd have that story to tell.

We too often allow the wrong people to feel important at all the wrong times. We all need to be humbled and wizened, but you can't let just any dickhead in search of a degree do it. You gotta defend yourself at all times and at any cost.

Off The Pigs! 

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Is there not a big irony here?  I believe Lou Reed was a huge jazz fan.  He was particularly enthused by Ornette Coleman, and Coleman even appeared on a Reed record.   

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30 minutes ago, Milestones said:

Is there not a big irony here?  I believe Lou Reed was a huge jazz fan.  He was particularly enthused by Ornette Coleman, and Coleman even appeared on a Reed record.   

IIRC he was using 3 bass players the last time I saw him.  An idea I thought he stole from Ornette. 

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I'm the product of a university jazz program, and I even have the BA in music performance degree to prove it! :D

I joke, but I actually had a really great college experience overall. Yes, there was some of the usual "limited thinking" that was pretty messed up. But ultimately, I now have a great fondness for those years, because there were many great teachers in the department, and SO many playing opportunities. And we were lucky to have some incredible visiting musicians too... James Williams, Clark Terry, Milt Hinton, Hal Galper, Dave Holland, to name a few.

Having said all that, I totally get the whole "university jazz education" thing. At that point I was starting to get into free jazz big time, which was a tough sell at first due to the very straight ahead nature of the program. But I started a group of folks who wanted to play free, and it did eventually win some people over, which felt like at least a small victory.

Anyway... enough reminiscing... to the point of this thread, I do have a story that comes to mind. Not exactly a nightmare, but it has bothered me for years.

I was in a combo that was playing for a visiting trumpet player, who was giving us feedback. After the tune was over, he pointed to me and said "the bass player's solo was the best, does anyone know why?" While feeling pleased that my clearly brilliant solo was being praised (;)), I was further curious as to what the answer to his question was. Nobody answered, so he said: "Because he played all the right notes! He followed the changes!" Ugh. Even then, as a young know-nothing, I knew there was something deeply flawed in that answer, and it upsets me to this day because it represents what I don't like in jazz: playing "by the rules."

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Posted (edited)

well, my experience with academia is nothing but bad - the comments to an NEH proposal I wrote, reviewed by academics, referred to me disparagingly as a "hobbyist" because I had no PHD; last year I started attending some events hosted by the Yale Black Students Music Archives group, all of which appeared, in their promotion, to be public. Finally Daphne Brooks, a PHD fool who was running the program, asked me to leave. It was odd, because I never made a single comment but she knows me from some conferences etc and I have a feeling she was worried because I knew so much more about the subject than she did (I had attended one of her previous lectures in which some academic was speaking on gospel music and made such a bizarre and obvious mistake that I HAD to say something, though of course it did no good). At the various EMP Pop Conferences I attended the academics treated me like I was some kind of leper, so I stopped attending. My experience, when it comes to the history and cultural side of the music, is that academics tend to have an authoritarian mentality, meaning they do not believe in free speech or in academic freedom if it contradicts their own beliefs.

Edited by AllenLowe

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3 hours ago, Teasing the Korean said:

I ended up leaving and majoring in English at a different university.

Funny — that's my story too. Two years as a jazz studies major, and then off to a different state and different program. That said, my own music school experience was positive overall. I learned that I couldn't really improvise, but I also learned that I was a competent classical musician. (Not a particularly encouraging revelation in a jazz studies program. Plus, repertoire for classical saxophone? Not so much.) My roommate at the time was legally blind and had perfect pitch. You could play a nine-note chord, and he'd (almost instantly) tell you all the notes and what inversion. That freaked me out. Was I supposed to be able to do this too? I started taking creative writing classes.

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2 hours ago, Milestones said:

Is there not a big irony here?  I believe Lou Reed was a huge jazz fan.  He was particularly enthused by Ornette Coleman, and Coleman even appeared on a Reed record.   

Yes, when he was an undergrad at Syracuse University he hosted a radio show called "Excursions on a Wobbly Rail," title nicked from Cecil Taylor, of course.  Not aware of an Ornette collaboration, but Don Cherry played and recorded with him in the mid-to-late 1970s.  

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Ornette is on one cut from Reed's "The Raven," from 2003, which resulted from Reed's earlier work with theater director Robert Wilson, called POEtry.

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2 hours ago, webbcity said:

Anyway... enough reminiscing... to the point of this thread, I do have a story that comes to mind. Not exactly a nightmare, but it has bothered me for years.

I was in a combo that was playing for a visiting trumpet player, who was giving us feedback. After the tune was over, he pointed to me and said "the bass player's solo was the best, does anyone know why?" While feeling pleased that my clearly brilliant solo was being praised (;)), I was further curious as to what the answer to his question was. Nobody answered, so he said: "Because he played all the right notes! He followed the changes!" Ugh. Even then, as a young know-nothing, I knew there was something deeply flawed in that answer, and it upsets me to this day because it represents what I don't like in jazz: playing "by the rules."

similar story, first year in a Lab Banc at NT and I'm in the "jazz tenor" chair. We're reading down some really dumb chart, just a really basic blues in Bb, and I started my 2nd chorus by playing "Giant Steps" more or less verbatim, for levity, but also because I had done this before on my own time and knew there were just enough common tones along the way that it didn't sound totally wrong...a bit jarring, maybe, and that was the point. But not totally wrong.

But I guess the director didn't hear it that way, because the band was stopped immediately and I received a rather searing dressing down about all sorts of things, including(but not limited to) the importances of:

  • taking life seriously and not being a joker
  • of always playing the changes correctly (because that's the only way to show that you really know what you're doing),
  • recognizing the significance - the HONOR - of being in an NTSU Lab Band
  • respecting the aspirations of my fellow band members at all times (which is good advice, really, just not appropriate to the immediate situation)
  • ALWAYS bringing a positive and serious disposition to EVERY aspect of EVERY performance for the rest of my life (again, not bad advice overall)

So, you know, I kinda listened and said, ok, but dude, it fits, it fits if you want it to fit, doesn't it?

JUST...NEVER DO THAT AGAIN IN MY BAND

so...fuck the police.

There are other tales to tell, but they are not worth telling, because after that first encounter, the pigs had me marked, and vice-versa.

 

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2 hours ago, AllenLowe said:

well, my experience with academia is nothing but bad - the comments to an NEH proposal I wrote, reviewed by academics, referred to me disparagingly as a "hobbyist" because I had no PHD; last year I started attending some events hosted by the Yale Black Students Music Archives group, all of which appeared, in their promotion, to be public. Finally Daphne Brooks, a PHD fool who was running the program, asked me to leave. It was odd, because I never made a single comment but she knows me from some conferences etc and I have a feeling she was worried because I knew so much more about the subject than she did (I had attended one of her previous lectures in which some academic was speaking on gospel music and made such a bizarre and obvious mistake that I HAD to say something, though of course it did no good). At the various EMP Pop Conferences I attended the academics treated me like I was some kind of leper, so I stopped attending. My experience, when it comes to the history and cultural side of the music, is that academics tend to have an authoritarian mentality, meaning they do not believe in free speech or in academic freedom if it contradicts their own beliefs.

It's interesting Allen, because I think of you as a true jazz academic in the BEST sense of the word, if that makes sense-- your knowledge is deep and untouchable from what I've seen. I would think people would absolutely want to have you on board, to learn from you and exchange ideas. I know that's pretty naive, but I guess it's the way I wish things were in academia. When I look at it again I can see the truth in your last sentence: "they do not believe in free speech or in academic freedom if it contradicts their own beliefs." I do recall finding this to be true in my own limited experience, at certain moments, even though my college experience was largely positive. 

1 hour ago, JSngry said:

similar story, first year in a Lab Banc at NT and I'm in the "jazz tenor" chair. We're reading down some really dumb chart, just a really basic blues in Bb, and I started my 2nd chorus by playing "Giant Steps" more or less verbatim, for levity, but also because I had done this before on my own time and knew there were just enough common tones along the way that it didn't sound totally wrong...a bit jarring, maybe, and that was the point. But not totally wrong.

But I guess the director didn't hear it that way, because the band was stopped immediately and I received a rather searing dressing down about all sorts of things, including(but not limited to) the importances of:

  • taking life seriously and not being a joker
  • of always playing the changes correctly (because that's the only way to show that you really know what you're doing),
  • recognizing the significance - the HONOR - of being in an NTSU Lab Band
  • respecting the aspirations of my fellow band members at all times (which is good advice, really, just not appropriate to the immediate situation)
  • ALWAYS bringing a positive and serious disposition to EVERY aspect of EVERY performance for the rest of my life (again, not bad advice overall)

So, you know, I kinda listened and said, ok, but dude, it fits, it fits if you want it to fit, doesn't it?

JUST...NEVER DO THAT AGAIN IN MY BAND

so...fuck the police.

There are other tales to tell, but they are not worth telling, because after that first encounter, the pigs had me marked, and vice-versa.

Unreal. Yeah... what a terrible attitude for a jazz band director to bring to a music that is meant to be expressive, spontaneous, you know... CREATIVE. I will never understand that mentality.

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In retrospect, I get that there's all kinds of fine lines being walked, not the least of which is the sheer terror of career survival in a brand-world that is all about product.

But still, there were better ways/angles from which to steer the conversation into one of esthetics and THEN pivot to, hey, you know, I get it, but this is not the place for it, this is not what we do here, ok?

Then again, I was, like, 19 and the director couldn't have been over...26 or so, young married guy trying to keep a gig and get his career thing together. Neither one of us probably knew shit about where the other was coming from, to be honest. He ended up being a nice enough guy and we had a good band, fun to play in, just not that, not there, Fair enough. I'd be lying if i said it didn't leave a bruise or two, but c'est la vie, right? Life will always bruise you, that's just how it works.

But that's all hindsight now, so...fuck the police anyway! :g

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3 hours ago, JSngry said:

taking life seriously and not being a joker

  •  
  • ALWAYS bringing a positive and serious disposition to EVERY aspect of EVERY performance for the rest of my life (again, not bad advice overall)

Can't you be positive without being serious?  Most great jazzers used humour at times. 

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I got into jazz at a young age, and when I was in Jr.High and HS, I was militant about jazz being recognized as a serious art. I had no plans to go to college, because the few schools that had jazz programs were too expensive, and I had to pay every cent myself. I wound up going to a Community college where I caused a major scene by playing "Jitterbug Waltz" for my recital instead of a 'classical' piece. My classical teacher yelled out from the back of the room, "NO, I DIDN"T GIVE HIM PERMISSION TO PLAY THAT!", and everyone was freaking out. I didn't give a schlitz and just played it till the end.

When I got my AA in music, I transferred to a SUNY school that was completely classical, because I started to get interested in classical composition, and wanted to write extended pieces for jazz ensemble (which is all I do today) like early Geo. Russell, and others. I was learning jazz on the stand, anyway.

When I got my Masters at a CUNY school, they also didn't have a jazz program, but I played in the jazz ensemble, and attended a joke of a clinic given by a well-known jazz musician who wrote some jive book on jazz performance.

As I hear the stories here, and from my friends about schools like NEC, N.Texas, Bezerklee, and a few others, I'm glad I didn't go to a 'Jazz' school, and taught music my own way, in a NYC public HS., until Bloomberg destroyed the education system in NY. At least I got a pension, TDA and benefits out of the deal.

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Posted (edited)

Great stories so far, thanks all!

One thing that really set me off on the wrong path with with my university experience was this: Considering this school's stature, they did an absolutely awful job assessing skill levels of incoming freshmen.

Like a lot of kids, I was way ahead in some areas, roughly where I should have been in others, and behind in still others - reading in particular. Because I was not fully vetted, I was enrolled in 2 classes I sleepwalked through and another I really struggled with.

The ensemble groupings seemed random. Maybe that was deliberate - learn to play with people who were much better and much worse than you - but it seldom if ever led to anything satisfying. 

There was no discussion of music on a macro level: what is the structure of the tune, the contours of the melody, what is the vibe we're going for, what is the group sound we're seeking, why we even like jazz in the first place. It was all about solos fitting over changes and whether the 8th notes "swung" sufficiently - and the faculty got that concept entirely wrong. 

Edited by Teasing the Korean

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Posted (edited)

For one of my classes, I had to compose and arrange a tune for the ensemble. I wrote a tune that was deliberately designed to have a 1950s gumshoe sound. This was intended as an homage to my beloved "TV Action Jazz!" by Mundell Lowe, which my Dad owned and which I'd loved since I was a kid. 

It was my first arrangement, and it sounded pretty good. The professor made a small suggestion - actually, a good suggestion - but then added, "Careful, you don't want this to sound like a Shorty Rogers tune."

At this time (early 80s), west coast jazz was not in vogue at all, and my only exposure to Rogers had occurred via the Monkees, in particular the "Wichita Train Whistle" album with Mike Nesmith. 

Whenever the jazz faculty dismissed an artist, that was usually a good indication that the artist was worth investigating, so I added Shorty Rogers to my list of verboten jazz artists to one day explore. (Sun Ra was another they liked to laugh about.)

I did not check out Rogers after I left, because I could not listen to jazz for 4 or 5 years afterwards.

Many years later, when I started dating the future Mrs. Korean, we were driving in her car with her tape of the "Short Stops" collection, which includes Shorty's first two (excellent) RCA albums and the incredible "Wild One" soundtrack EP. I thought about that professor and wondered if he had ever heard this music. This was jazz that you could actually imagine someone getting laid to, something that jazz had not been able to accomplish for at least 15 years at that point (smooth jazz aside).

The jazz police failed once again.

Edited by Teasing the Korean

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17 minutes ago, Teasing the Korean said:

Many years later, when I started dating the future Mrs. Korean, we were driving in her car with her tape of the "Short Stops" collection, which includes Shorty's first two (excellent) RCA albums and the incredible "Wild One" soundtrack EP.

Who, then, was teasing whom?

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Posted (edited)

A woman wearing a short skirt and thigh-highs combined with Kenyon Hopkins and the "Wild One" EP is a pretty potent cocktail! For all the stoopid things I'd done in my life, I knew better than to #$%@ up this relationship.

Edited by Teasing the Korean

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Can you imagine people with slightly 'eccentric' styles like Pee Wee Russell, Monk, Jimmy Giuffre, Jim Hall, Sonny Sharrock, Elvin Jones, Gato Barbieri, Don Joseph, Tony Fruscella, etc..going to 'Jazz School'?

Pee Wee Russell- "Student fails to show any improvement in technical ability in the time he's spent in this institution". Grade-F

Thelonious Monk- "Student constantly violates laws of harmony in his piano voicings, i.e. maj7ths and min7ths in same chord, major 3rgs and minor 3rds in same chord, etc..".Grade-F

Jimmy Giuffre- "Student fails to use negotiate register break in his solos, highest note played in his solos usually Bb." Grade-F

Jim Hall and Paul Desmond- Students fail to make sufficient use of double time in their playing." Grades-F

Sonny Sharrock- "Student refuses to use any notes in his solos. Only uses bottleneck and distortion at ear-splitting volumes." Grade-F-

Elvin Jones- "Student unable to play with other students, who complain they can't find 'One', when he plays in ensembles." Grade F

Gato Barbieri- "Student fails to produce 'clean' tone out of his tenor saxophone".Grade-F

Don Joseph and Tony Fruscella- "Students fail to use high register in any of their solos. Latter student fails to play at a volume above mp. Both have significant alcohol issues." Grades-F-

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I've often said that Thelonious Monk wouldn't make the cut for the competition established in his name!

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2 hours ago, Teasing the Korean said:

I've often said that Thelonious Monk wouldn't make the cut for the competition established in his name!

Hey, I did project for arranging class, write a basic hed-solo-head chart for sax section of the tune of your choice. My choice as "Played Twice" and  I used Monk's exact voicing.Recorded it (one unmistakeably good thing about the "lab band" environment was that it was understood that if you were doing projects for arranging class, you would have bands/players at your disposal, no questions asked except which band you could get) and took it in.

The instructor's first response was, "Jesus Jim, why do you like UGLY music so much?"

This guy was a huge Gene Perling devotee, as was I (with the Hi-Los's anyway), but TBH, he totally closed my ears and heart to all Singers Unlimited for decades upon decades, because, you know, who need that, that's for those type people, not for me. And you know, a hardened heart is not good for you any more than is a hard head.

Lesson finally learned - you can't define your own sense of beauty by somebody else's sense of ugly.

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21 minutes ago, JSngry said:

Hey, I did project for arranging class, write a basic hed-solo-head chart for sax section of the tune of your choice. My choice as "Played Twice" and  I used Monk's exact voicing.Recorded it (one unmistakeably good thing about the "lab band" environment was that it was understood that if you were doing projects for arranging class, you would have bands/players at your disposal, no questions asked except which band you could get) and took it in.

The instructor's first response was, "Jesus Jim, why do you like UGLY music so much?"

This guy was a huge Gene Perling devotee, as was I (with the Hi-Los's anyway), but TBH, he totally closed my ears and heart to all Singers Unlimited for decades upon decades, because, you know, who need that, that's for those type people, not for me. And you know, a hardened heart is not good for you any more than is a hard head.

Lesson finally learned - you can't define your own sense of beauty by somebody else's sense of ugly.

Or as Monk would say, ugly beauty!

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I always wonder how much true it is to define strength by the things you feel threatened by. Seems like that's a falsity of deceipt.

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You guys are making me glad I have next to no musical education and play strictly for my own amusement!  Law school wasn't bad compared to this (actual lawyering is another matter, but I got the heck away from that as soon as I could).

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20 hours ago, JSngry said:

Hey, I did project for arranging class, write a basic hed-solo-head chart for sax section of the tune of your choice. My choice as "Played Twice" and  I used Monk's exact voicing.Recorded it (one unmistakeably good thing about the "lab band" environment was that it was understood that if you were doing projects for arranging class, you would have bands/players at your disposal, no questions asked except which band you could get) and took it in.

The instructor's first response was, "Jesus Jim, why do you like UGLY music so much?"

This guy was a huge Gene Perling devotee, as was I (with the Hi-Los's anyway), but TBH, he totally closed my ears and heart to all Singers Unlimited for decades upon decades, because, you know, who need that, that's for those type people, not for me. And you know, a hardened heart is not good for you any more than is a hard head.

Lesson finally learned - you can't define your own sense of beauty by somebody else's sense of ugly.

Yeah, those college professors could be incredible jerks sometimes. To be a GP devotee, and not like the SU is beyond stupid. I just  finished a ten minute arr. based on GP's work, and also included it in my Symphony in One Movement.

One time a friend of mine loaned a Zappa LP (the one with "Yellow Snow) to our Arranging teacher, and the freaking idiot took the album and flung it across the room at my friend, with the record falling out of the record cover! This was the same friend who got decked by a Jazz History Prof., (with over 20K worth of dental damage) for asking him repeatedly about Bird's use of the pentatonic scale!

Another composition teacher, who hung out with Nadia Boulanger and Stravinsky, used to slam the door of a fellow teacher's office when he heard him playing Piano Rags, with comments like,"Could you stop playing that garbage!!"

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