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!

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