Jazz Education in the UK

There is a story that the first European college jazz course began in Frankfurt, Germany, in the early nineteen thirties, but was promptly closed down after Hitler seized power in January 1933!

The story, though difficult to confirm, has the ring of truth. Had Jazz Education been available so early in the history of jazz (the first jazz recordings appeared in 1917), the Jewish and Negro elements present in the music would have guaranteed the disapproval of the Nazis.

Alas, they were not alone. Even Lord Reith’s BBC forbade the broadcasting of dance music on Sundays during the 1930’s.

Jazz has been the recipient of hostility and cultural philistinism throughout its eighty years. Now it is pleasing to report to a steady post-war growth in opportunities for serious study of jazz at college level, leading to a current boom in provision.

In the nineteen forties America led the way, the most famous pioneer being the Berklee College of Music in Boston. Berklee still thrives today but has tough competition from numerous excellent courses, both in America and Europe. Jazz came from America and uses American popular song; so the language of jazz is English. The language of jazz education, from the blackboard to the bandstand (and vice versa) is also English. Couple with that fact the emergence of European Jazz as a distinctive genre, and study in Britain is increasingly seen as first choice for the international student wishing to combine the polishing of his or her English Language skills with the sharpening of jazz abilities.

In recent years the London conservatories - the Royal College of Music, the Royal Academy of Music, Trinity College of Music and Guildhall School of Music and Drama - have offered some jazz provision, either one year courses for advanced players or those at postgraduate level. Yet undeniably Leeds College of Music, who pioneered the BA (Hons) in Jazz Studies in 1993, remain the ‘Oxbridge’ of jazz education at undergraduate level. The degree course stemmed from one of the first jazz courses in Europe (Frankfurt excepted) in 1965 and students are able to precede the three-year course with a one-year access course if required.

The degree course includes options in sound recording and even Indian Music and fusion, where Leeds has the only specialist full-time Indian Music teacher and musician. The 200 jazz students at the College thrive in this environment where the only limit to their music-making is their own imagination.

Leeds itself is an active student town with two universities and specialist colleges of art, technology and building as well as the music college. Leeds is also the club capital of the north and venues range from music clubs for musicians and audiences to places to bop, chill or just to be seen at.

Whether you like contemporary dance, opera, straight or interactive theatre or sculpture, you will find some of the best arts events in Leeds. The College’s new neighbour - Leeds College of Music has just moved into brand new purpose-built premises - the West Yorkshire Playhouse, is known in the UK as the National Theatre of the North, producing its own excellent plays and musicals as well as providing and outlet for touring theatre productions. The theatre runs regular jazz in the foyer programmes and they are always on the lookout for new performers.

After three years, you can stay on for the postgraduate certificate 1-year course, the MMus due to come on stream in Autumn 1998 or launch yourself into the big wide jazz world as your predecessors have successfully done before you. Past students from the course include big names on the European jazz scene some of whom regularly perform in Japan, radio producers, producers of sell-out musicals, composers and teachers.

Following the success of the jazz course at Leeds and the jazz teaching in the London conservatories, there is considerable growth in the provision of jazz education at both Further Education (post-school but pre-undergraduate) and Higher Education (undergraduate) levels throughout the country including Newcastle, Chichester, Middlesex and Doncaster.

We are enjoying an end of century boom. Jazz in the classroom is swinging.

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