Is there enough work for university jazz students?

My dear friend and colleague, David Leibman recently circulated an email which posed an important question: Will students currently studying jazz in university settings find adequate employment upon graduation in the jazz scene. This is certainly a valid and pressing question, especially in light of the big tuition many schools are charging for an education, particularly in the United States. While this condition is not just particular to music students (record graduates from universities are unemployed due to a world-wide recession), Dave feels that part of a well rounded education in jazz should include the skills to survive and thrive in the music biz and particularly the jazz music biz. I concur!

Here are my thoughts on the subject:


For better and for worse, my approach has always been the triple threat concept: playing, writing/arranging, teaching (carrying the message). I try to convey that this is an option to my students. Not all are takers. I made a point of studying all kinds of music from a writing and playing perspective so as to expand my work possibilities, again, for better and for worse.

While we focus on the tradition and where it went from there, many of our students, given the chance to write and record original music, gravitate towards hip hop. When Robert Glasper is on the cover of Downbeat and makes a hip hop cd many aspiring jazz artists take note. Everyone needs to find their own road!

So, without professing to have any revelatory answers here, I try to preach the concept of students developing a clear message in their music, remaining focused and true to that message they want to convey, while studying music, art, and whatever else in a general way so as to provide skills that enable them to work while their true passion develops and hopefully is recognized. Those who instigate (writing tunes, gathering people together to play, seeking out playing situations, using the internet to spread the word) seem to thrive and survive.

This is what I do, for better and for worse!

The jazz students at USC are doing extra work in television, playing in pop bands,doing small jazz gigs  and teaching in order to fund their study of the music we call jazz. Whatever it takes!



  1. YetAnotherTenorPlayer
    Posted August 12, 2012 at 3:50 am | Permalink

    “Dave feels that part of a well rounded education in jazz should include the skills to survive and thrive in the music biz and particularly the jazz music biz.”

    This logic presumes that the root of the problem is a lack of skilled musicians out there. Nothing could be farther from the truth. If all the jazz schools stopped putting out grads for the next 10 years, the music business wouldn’t even notice. There is simply way too much supply of heavy cats, and not enough demand for their services. It’s not rocket science.

    Sending more and more grads into this non-scene while telling them they have a realistic shot is misguided enough, but also sticking them with $100k-$200k in debt is criminal. Even if there *were* tons and tons of gigs out there, an 18 year old Bob Mintzer today would laugh out loud at the thought of spending that kind of cash to learn how to play.

  2. admin
    Posted August 13, 2012 at 11:58 pm | Permalink

    It’s not a great situation, I grant you. But there are plenty of business school graduates that don’t slide right into a job nowadays as well as countless other college grads who are unemployed immediately following graduation.
    The point being made is college jazz programs should not only train students how to play, but also how to market themselves, take advantage of composition, arranging, producing, music technology, and many other skills that could provide work opportunities.
    A college education is obscenely expensive today. So is rent in NYC ! I guess we all have to make the most of the facocked world we’ve created for young people. University music schools are a place where young musicians can congregate, learn the basic skills of being performing musicians, and learn how to learn.
    The 18 year old Bob Mintzer played 15 dollar latin gigs and 25 dollar weddings to scrape by in the late 60’s. I was happy to get to play at all! It wasn’t easy then. In the 70’s nobody I knew made a living playing jazz. We all did a multitude of other things to survive. It’s not so different now.

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