Mount Royal Jazz Program ends but the music doesn’t

Mt. Royal University has discontinued the Jazz Diploma Program. This diploma program was introduced in 1980 as part of a general music studies diploma. What differentiated it from many others was the use of local freelance players to develop curriculum, give instruction and promote the program in the community. With Eric Friedenberg at the helm the instructors hired were already actively performing, recording, touring, transcribing, arranging and copying. It was a busy time in Calgary and the use of working musicians was unusual in a teaching situation.

What motivated the faculty of Garry Deboeck (drums, ensemble), Dave Diver (piano, theory, history) Eric Friedenberg (woodwinds, ensemble, arranging) and Bob Day (brass, improvisation) and myself as a bass instructor was the love of jazz. I don’t think any of us would have taught anything else except the culture of jazz- so quite possibly none of us would have expended this energy in our busy lives to teach unless the program had formed. There were few opportunities at that time to study jazz in Canada although south of the border there were many percolating up from the haze of the 70’s. In Western Canada there was nothing at the time, Mt. Royal was unique in this offering.

The current faculty of Jim Brenan, Rubim de Toledo, Tyler Hornby, Ralf Buschmeyer, Sheldon Zandboer, Jon Day and Mark Dejong have the same experiences as we original faculty did plus the experience of studying in dedicated jazz programs. The improvement in the results over the last 30 years makes you ponder where we would have been 30 years from now.

A good musician must do everything that our euro-centric “classical” studies demand and then go much farther. The study of the jazz language involves extensive development in sound, context, mental agility, improvisation, composition and self confidence. A colleague of mine in the non-jazz stream of the program aptly described improvisation as composition in real time. In other words improvisation is the musical fluency of being able to write an idea down for others to execute or generate ideas in the moment without hesitation. Complete mastery of the language of music is the goal of the study of Jazz. This is the compelling nature of Jazz study, a virtually unattainable goal which will keep a mind active in pursuit of it forever.

I saw many students leave with a passion for the music and I see them continue on to perform, teach, compose and find a rewarding path through life. Calgary’s music studios are full of Mt. Royal’s Jazz Study students and they seed the minds of  young students resulting in an expanding milieu of talent and interest. It is a healthy sub culture populated with engaged, lively conversation and curiosity. This energy translates into some world class performers and composers but also Doctors, Lawyers, Computer Programmers, CEOs, Festival Programmers, Small Business owners and other entrepreneurs. Everyone who studies the music carries skills with them that can not be developed in any other course of study. They are completely unique.

After 34 years of a jazz program existing in Calgary you would expect evidence that it has caused an effect on the culture. Most of the current teaching studios in the city are owned and operated by jazz musicians. Most of the teachers in the public music system are conversant in the jazz idiom. Jazz is present in all media. Jazz is a wholly North American art form which has informed our language and culture since the beginning of the 20th century. It will continue to evolve and grow in the 21st century.

The unique skills that students developed in Mount Royal’s Jazz program will continue to affect the culture of the city. In the farewell concert of March 19, 2014 for the Jazz Diploma Program I saw evidence of this. I saw past, present and what would have been future students play with fierce determination using excellent skills. The skills will not be forgotten and they will not stop developing. That is what jazz is about, born from struggle and determination to succeed.