by Caleb Chapman

Jazz has passed the century mark and organized jazz education isn’t too far behind. It’s somewhat ironic that this music with a few miles under its belt is one of the greatest educational tools to prepare young musicians for today’s challenging and rapid-fire economy. I strongly believe that music educators’ most important role isn’t in preparing young musicians to be professional musicians, but rather to teach young musicians to be professionals – in whatever field they end up in. And jazz education specifically brings some unique and powerful benefits.

The most important benefit, of course, comes from the act of improvising – a skill developed more fully in jazz than any other musical style. In that process students of the art form must not only have a technical command of their instrument, but also the artistic ability to spontaneously create a work of art. They are asked to do this within specific harmonic and rhythmic parameters while simultaneously communicating with other musicians. And, they are frequently asked to do all of this in front of an audience.

If students knew this is what they were getting into when they studied jazz, I’m not sure how many of them would even attempt it. But the fact is that thousands of them do. And the result is amazing. Achieving success on the bandstand with such a challenging task makes so many other things seem possible – solving complex equations, delivering a closing argument, diagnosing an illness, or motivating a team.

Of course, this isn’t why we teach jazz or any music, for that matter. We do it because there is an enjoyment that comes from improvising that’s different from anything else we do. The rest of the benefits are just a bonus.

In 2 short months JEN’s next president, Todd Stoll will take the helm of the organization. Thanks to his role as Vice President of Education at Jazz at Lincoln Center and decades as a music educator, he understands the impact of jazz education better than almost anyone.  Since he was asked by Wynton Marsalis to join Jazz at Lincoln Center in 2011 he has produced over 10,000 education events for them both in the US and around the globe. He also oversaw the creation and launch of the Jazz Academy, an online education site featuring a video library of lessons taught by master musicians.  Previous to that, Todd worked as a school educator for nearly 20 years and then spent 10 years as a music curriculum coordinator. He is also an experienced performer, Ellington expert, and jazz advocate. There are few in education who have impacted as many lives as he has. I can’t think of anyone better qualified to continue to elevate the importance and visibility of jazz education at all levels!

Throughout the last hundred years the sound of jazz has continued to change and evolve, but the value of teaching, playing, and listening to jazz certainly has not. Studying jazz sets our students up for success wherever their pursuits take them. And we all get to enjoy some fantastic music on the journey.

In addition to his role as JEN President, Caleb Chapman is Founder and President of Caleb Chapman’s Soundhouse, Director of the Crescent Super Band, and Artistic Director for Pioneer High School for the Performing Arts. He serves on several boards including the Utah Arts Council, and is an award-winning musician, producer, educator, author, and speaker.  To learn more about Caleb, please visit