The Jazz Composers Collective on Creating and Performing

The Jazz Composers Collective on Creating and Performing

Jazz Composers Collective: Clip #8 FRANK J. OTERI: The whole question of interpretation leads us back to education. TED NASH: I have such a gripe with education. I have a very hard time with it. I used to teach at NYU for about 4 years, and I just didn’t agree with the system at all.… Read more »

Written By

Frank J. Oteri

Frank J. Oteri is an ASCAP-award winning composer and music journalist. Among his compositions are Already Yesterday or Still Tomorrow for orchestra, the "performance oratorio" MACHUNAS, the 1/4-tone sax quartet Fair and Balanced?, and the 1/6-tone rock band suite Imagined Overtures. His compositions are represented by Black Tea Music. Oteri is the Vice President of the International Society for Contemporary Music (ISCM) and is Composer Advocate at New Music USA where he has been the Editor of its web magazine,, since its founding in 1999.

Jazz Composers Collective: Clip #8

FRANK J. OTERI: The whole question of interpretation leads us back to education.

TED NASH: I have such a gripe with education. I have a very hard time with it. I used to teach at NYU for about 4 years, and I just didn’t agree with the system at all. I had a very difficult time with a lot of the way the system is set up for education. I just wish somehow things could just be revolutionized, I wish most of the world could be revolutionized. [Everyone laughs] I wish somehow we could start something… We try to make ourselves available for clinics and we do things at the New School. But if somehow we could really be a major force in education… Of course, it’s just our point of view, too, so maybe a lot of people wouldn’t agree with it, but I find that the way some of the schools approach teaching jazz just completely goes against the sense of what jazz is. You get people all learning how to play the same way, you’re defeating the whole…

FRANK KIMBROUGH: It takes all the sense of region out of it. Chicago had a sound. New York had a sound. New Orleans had a sound. When everybody’s playing the same little scales with all the avoid notes circled…

BEN ALLISON: Avoid notes!

TED NASH: Makes you want to play nothing but the avoid notes.

FRANK KIMBROUGH: There are guys out there who are 70 years old who have made a career out of those avoid notes. In terms of getting close to your instrument, maybe it’s good. Maybe, you know, if you run those same old scales all the time, maybe you’ll at least get… But then, what are you going to do? You’re going to go to the gig and play scales?

TED NASH: I mean, isn’t it sort of great that Hank Mobley didn’t go to Berklee?

FRANK KIMBROUGH: It’s great. I’m so sad that he didn’t go to Berklee!

TED NASH: Whatever. You know what I’m saying? I mean, just because…

BEN ALLISON: You know what the savior of the education system is going to be? It’s going to be people like Frank Kimbrough. Because he is not academically-minded in the way that he thinks about music at all…

FRANK KIMBROUGH: Well, I try to be the bad boy.

BEN ALLISON: …and yet he teaches at NYU, and he’s got a whole lot of ultra-hip kids. I graduated from the department that he teaches in now; I graduated in 1989. And thank God that Joe Lovano was there at the time, and Jim McNeely, and Steve LaSpina; these guys had really open minds about what it was. The person who had set up the program at that time, I don’t know if they’re still there, but anyways, they had a very kind of focused, narrow vision of what it was supposed to be, if you wanted to churn out what felt like studio musicians. So, an emphasis was placed on reading. He would constantly give me failing grades because I didn’t play electric bass. I didn’t want to play electric bass. So I’d do a recital of solo bass, and I’d get, you know, three A’s and a C, every time. But, thank God, Lovano was there saying just find what you want to do, and learn your music through that.

FRANK KIMBROUGH: There’s a large problem with education because you’re trying to number one, teach one of these kids how to play, how to deal, how to think for yourselves, so obviously there’s a certain amount of discipline involved. You know, you should be able to play music, you should be able to read music, you should be able to sightread if you need to and deal like a professional. The ultimate obligation of a teacher is to turn out someone who’s able to think for himself and who’s able to deal with whatever gig comes. But at the same time, you have to sort of do that without sacrificing the ability to create. When we were kids, you know, you have a coloring book, you know, you color the cow blue, and they come up and say, well, you can’t do that, the cow’s brown. You see, that’s where it starts. And by the time a kid gets to college, he’s already shut down enough. So to try and open him up and still instill that sense of responsibility of being on time, being able to play, you know, and all that, it’s a delicate balance that has to be reached. And ultimately, what I do in my classes, I just try to make it so that everyone can have fun, because I think the more fun you’re having, the more you’re going to learn.

BEN ALLISON: But you said it before, you said that you try to teach kids how to play. See, when I was in school, they were trying to teach me what to play. There is a big difference.

FRANK KIMBROUGH: There is a huge difference.

TED NASH: You’re trying to make everybody an amateur. [Everyone laughs]

BEN ALLISON: Well, you know, professional’s good, but you know what, some of my favorite musicians are amateurs, you know, so that’s just a whole different thing…