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Just dropped into the "post your classical playing" thread and was very impressed by some of the performances posted there. It struck me that given the placement of the saxophone in the overall musical timeline of classical music there is a higher percentage of more contemporary and modern pieces in the repertoire as compared to other instruments. And there seem to be quite a lot of young university age students playing them, which is really cool.

In counterpoint to that I started thinking about university jazz programs and the fact that I don't seem to hear as much in the way of modern trends in composition/improvisation (of the kind that I'm familiar with here in NYC, for example).

I know there are exceptions, just speaking generally. I'm sure it's no doubt due (in part) to the fact that the saxophone has been associated with most of the history of jazz music while it's a more "recent" arrival in classical music. And I realize that classical saxophonists often play transcriptions of earlier material. But I do get the impression that it's the classical saxophonists that are playing more modern music than saxophonists in the jazz departments. I might assume that many of these students do both classical and jazz, so maybe it's all in the "mix".

Furthermore, I'm not totally sure how much most university jazz programs deal with early jazz. I get the sense that the so called "mainstream" period of the 50s & 60s is most emphasized. Perhaps that's because it's more codified and easier to teach with books?

And conversely, does the rest of a "typical" classical department play as much modern music as the saxophonists seem to play?

Am I off base in my perception of these things?

(hope I've posted this in the correct section)
 

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Just dropped into the "post your classical playing" thread and was very impressed by some of the performances posted there. It struck me that given the placement of the saxophone in the overall musical timeline of classical music there is a higher percentage of more contemporary and modern pieces in the repertoire as compared to other instruments. And there seem to be quite a lot of young university age students playing them, which is really cool.

In counterpoint to that I started thinking about university jazz programs and the fact that I don't seem to hear as much in the way of modern trends in composition/improvisation (of the kind that I'm familiar with here in NYC, for example).

I know there are exceptions, just speaking generally. I'm sure it's no doubt due (in part) to the fact that the saxophone has been associated with most of the history of jazz music while it's a more "recent" arrival in classical music. And I realize that classical saxophonists often play transcriptions of earlier material. But I do get the impression that it's the classical saxophonists that are playing more modern music than saxophonists in the jazz departments. I might assume that many of these students do both classical and jazz, so maybe it's all in the "mix".

Furthermore, I'm not totally sure how much most university jazz programs deal with early jazz. I get the sense that the so called "mainstream" period of the 50s & 60s is most emphasized. Perhaps that's because it's more codified and easier to teach with books?

And conversely, does the rest of a "typical" classical department play as much modern music as the saxophonists seem to play?

Am I off base in my perception of these things?

(hope I've posted this in the correct section)
What a wonderful topic! I'm a student at Lawrence University and play a lot of both classical and jazz music. I think it' definitely true that typically jazz saxophonists typically do not play as much modern music as classical saxophonists do. I think the reason is a combination of the "pedagogical progression of jazz," meaning the ways that players improve in the jazz idiom, and the saxophone's placement in "classical" music.

Most university jazz saxophone players (myself included) have someone they want to sound like. It might be someone more modern like Chris Potter, Joshua Redman, Mark Turner etc... The progression to get closer to the caliber of these players is to learn the history, language and feel. I think that, this process typically happens using material from the 50s and 60s (although people certainly transcribe Louis Armstrong and Coleman Hawkins).

As a classical saxophonist we don't have much to fall back on. It's important to be familiar with Ibert, Glazunov, DuBois but I think playing them is a different story because, the reality is that not a whole lot of people want to hear them. I think the "progression of classical" improvement is very different than jazz. There seems to be less emphasis on learning the history and more on learning the techniques. Playing Ibert will not help you play Lauba. Having great circular breathing, endurance and slap tongue will help you play Lauba. It just seems like classical players have somewhat of an upper hand when it comes to playing contemporary music because that falls naturally into our trajectory to improvement.

Londeix said in a lecture that I attended that "the classical saxophone is in the same position as the violin was in the 16th century. It's the new thing! The saxophone's placement in classical music encourages this new kind of contemporary music. This is simply because of the nature of the instrument...it can do almost anything a composer can come up with.

I'm very interested in what others have to say on this topic.
 

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Discussion Starter #3
Thanks sttsaxman for your input. Makes sense.

I do think that to the degree that there is some convergence between contemporary composition (classical based) and certain strains of contemporary improvisation (jazz based) that the two can come together. There are many excellent compositional ideas that can be applied to improvisatory contexts. And improvisation need not necessarily be strictly a "jazz" thing (although that has been the predominant musical area for it) to be applied in the classical side of saxophone playing.

I'm not talking about "jazzy" works in a classical context or "chamber oriented" works in jazz settings (although both do happen). I mean a true musical overlap that creates it's own music. Not really talking about the so called "third stream" either. In some ways it's already been happening in the musical circles I travel in for some time. I'm happy to see the classical saxophone be at the forefront of new music in university programs and would also like to see more jazz programs expand their consciousness to perhaps bridge this gap.
 

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EE - You're right that jazz is not taught from its beginnings in the conservatory. I just heard tell of a young man who played 20s jazz for his MM thesis recital at Manhattan SOM, but that sort of thing is by far the exception. There also seems to be more or less of a contemporaneous blind spot - pre-1950s - in classical saxophone music, which I've heard explained by "it's not this generation" of profs/students. (It might also have to do with too much of it being orchestral work - strike one - in a romantic-modern style - strike two - and largely written for Sigurd Rascher - strike three and yer out!)

But back to jazz. I often hear middle-aged semi-pros and amateurs, and elderly pros, lamenting that the schooled young jazzers of today don't have much emotional expression, or don't know the history of the music. If true, I would suspect this is because the music has evolved, and all they are taught is what evolved - and not all of that.

What you're hearing is what's left after they threw out everything that was too poppy, too swingy, and too barbershoppy, with rhythm you wanted to dance to and harmony you could learn right on the bandstand. Then also, to a large degree, they stopped right before the freedom thing. (There are exceptions - I was part of an Ornette repertory group at Purchase in '07, a fantastic experience!)

What I believe effectively happened is that academia took the lessons of bop and repositioned them as a beginning, rather than a reaction to what went before. But why do this?

a) Master musicians could become conservatory professors. They could base a rigorous curriculum of theory, scales, patterns, etc., on the more sophisticated harmonies of bop, teach it to perfection, and indeed, even use it to interpret repertoire that existed before the curriculum - thus making all of jazz a continuing evolution, even tho, if you look closely, we concentrate only on the most evolved phases.

b) With that a given, they wouldn't have to teach what went before at all. This is good from the evolutionary viewpoint, and it also conforms to some hard realities in intellectual life. Musicologists, if pressed, will admit that popular music is off limits to the academy unless it has obvious social, ethnoracial, or political relevance - and the most relevant thing about most 20s to 40s pop was how many social groups were kept out of it.

Add a + b and you get, well, not quite institutional prestige - few jazz programs have much - but at least legitimacy, the right to be part of the institution, tho not to expand or change it.

In short, your average college-trained jazz player sounds the way he does because the curriculum and rigor of jazz is more acceptable to teach than the full experience of it. Indeed, as time passes and jazz's founders are more often interpreted in tribute albums and by carefully vetted repertory bands, the curriculum is on its way to becoming the full experience - quietly rewriting jazz history to include only what it can use.
 

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Discussion Starter #5
paulwl,
Thanks for a very thought provoking post. Your comment that "the curriculum is on its way to becoming the full experience" has potent ramifications.

Interestingly, my listening over the past year or so has been almost exclusively to music recorded prior to 1950. Part of the reason being that I'm finding so much raw material there (some of which seems in danger of extinction) that can be creatively applied to the type of freer improvisation which I am most interested in. I'm also hearing a lot of beauty in the world of classical tone conception as well.

As for "emotional expression", one of the potential problems I see in jazz programs is an overly "idiomatic" approach to (re)creating music. As a player I often ask myself, what are the musical elements that are in play and how can I be creative with them (rather than within them). Of course, there is a lot to learn and a certain focus is necessary in practical terms. But as was being discussed in another thread, emphasizing the ear (over learning almost exclusively with pre-written out materials) and thereby activating one's musical imagination could be the key, in my opinion.

It only seems natural to me that this should all come together, at least artistically. A broadening of jazz studies (on both the the early and recent ends of the spectrum) and bridging the divide between jazz and classical studies (with regards to a greater exchange of ideas on composition and improvisation) could provide a much more creative and academically stimulating environment for today's students.
 

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Honestly I think political correctness has something to do with it. That, and the few critical/reviewer types embracing trad/swing/etc. lately tend to be allied with neoconservatives - probably because everyone else feels obligated to resolve the color issue first.
 
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