I read, with enthusiasm and anticipation, of Princeton’s music department’s wanting to move in a new direction with the jazz program (On the Campus, Feb. 8). I share many of Rudresh Mahanthappa’s views, i.e., blending contemporary with tradition, space for collaboration, thinking outside of the box, etc. I especially encourage working with the dance program.
If it is Princeton’s intent to help its student musicians prepare for a career in jazz, a considerable amount of emphasis should be placed on studying styles that originated prior to the bebop compositions of Thelonious Monk. The classic styles of Louis Armstrong, Benny Goodman, and Eddie Condon are currently embraced by hundreds of young, working jazz musicians. There are thousands of “swing dancers” from China, Korea, Europe, South America, and, of course, from the U.S. who enjoy dancing to classic jazz, performed by live bands.
Mr. Mahanthappa’s observation that “the climate for jazz is rough” is no more relevant today than it has been since I started playing it at Princeton in 1954. There are 40 to 50 venues in New York City and New Orleans where jazz is performed, often offering opportunities for dancing. Today’s climate is, in fact, encouraging.
I fail to understand the importance given by most college jazz-study programs to big-band-style groups. I believe that it is misleading and irrelevant to guide aspiring musicians toward a “big-band” career. Efforts could be redirected to encourage additional small groups.
My best wishes to Mr. Mahanthappa and the Department of Music for this new direction.