David Liebman and Teaching Jazz

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There is a furor about jazz education and the recent popularity of the movie “Whiplash”. Here is Dave Liebman’s thoughtful response:Liebman

I have always contended that the top priority for a teacher is to concentrate on “learning how to learn.” By that I mean that when a student receives information, (s)he has also been guided towards how to leave the classroom and reinforce, or in our case “practice” that information, with the eventual leading being total absorption and hopefully with time, personalization. My mantra in this regard is: “If you know how to learn, you are set for the rest of your life,” no matter what area of work one pursues. If a teacher does not offer that information, then the education has been incomplete. Especially when teaching an art form where information is not for the most part easily learned overnight as compared to law, history, engineering, computers, etc., this aspect of teaching the how to reinforce new material and make it useful is even more crucial.

When I started teaching in the ‘70s (thanks to Jamey Aebersold inviting me to do a workshop), the mantra concerning jazz education was that “it can’t be taught.” Our musical elders by and large did not readily share info (with exceptions……(Dizzy Gillespie for example), out of reluctance, non-verbal skills or just keeping things secret (another discussion). On the other hand they did have nightly “learning” sessions working as much as they did. But when I saw the great Freddie Hubbard do a class at a small college in my hometown in Pennsylvania I knew that jazz education had arrived.

Can an art form be taught? Can creativity be taught? Does one “have it or not?” My contention is that the tools can be taught along with as described above, the means of reinforcing the information. Furthermore and especially in teaching an art form, there is the joy of of sharing curiosity. What makes this music or any art form sound or look like it does? No matter whether it is painting, theater, dance, etc., the curiosity factor has to be there in good education.

My first comment when at fifteen years old I saw Coltrane live at Birdland was: “How can that be the same instrument that I have home under my bed in Brooklyn? How can he do THAT ON THAT INSTRUMENT? How does it all work and what can one do to get that information.” This is where the inspirational aspect of pedagogy is essential. When done correctly, we as teachers should be following something like this:

PARADIGM:
-PRESENTATION OF INFORMATION (TEACHER RESPONSIBILITY)

-MEANS OF REINFORCING/LEARNING/PRACTICING INFO (TEACHER RESPONSIBILITY

-AWAKENING CURIOUSITY , INSPIRING THE THIRST TO UNDERSTAND THE MATERIAL (TEACHER/STUDENT)

-ABSORPTION AND PERSONALIZATION OF MATERIAL (STUDENT).

The next stage is “mentoring”…..yet another aspect of the pedagogical process.

About Hank

Welcome to the blog on the website of Hank Hehmsoth. Here you'll find many and varied writings of Hank Hehmsoth, from opinions, to articles and videos from related topics, and last but not least, his music. Hank frequently gives readings and talks in the Austin/San Marcos area as well as the rest of the country. If you are a creative composer or music professor and are interested in Hank teaching a master class on improvisation, composition, and related topics, such as jazz piano and harmony, at your college or university, contact him directly.
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