Even for adults, it can seem as if the world of jazz is an insular one—like you either get it or you don’t. So it’s easy to see why young people may feel a bit put off, especially given its apparent “out-datedness.” Not to mention the fact that, to actually play requires a high level of skill, commitment, patience, and seemingly endless practice.
On Youth Empowered
last week, guest Todd Stoll, Director of Education for Jazz at Lincoln Center, discussed the power of jazz music in a lively conversation that lead me to a more profound understanding of why we should let go of our fear and consider nurturing an appreciation of the music in the young people we care about.
First, it’s good for your brain—specifically, it’s good for creativity. Like mindfulness, which we’ve talked a lot about on Youth Empowered recently, studies actually show that jazz has a measurable effect on the brain. A John’s Hopkins study demonstrated that when Jazz musicians improvise, they turn off parts of their brain related to inhibition, and turn on the parts related to creativity and self-expression.
Secondly, I think it may be interesting for young people to consider jazz in the aftermath of an election which depended less than ever before on the white vote. In a historical context, jazz can create a sense of place in the timeline of American social and cultural progress, which seems quite relevant, given the multicultural trends of the day.
Not only is jazz a diverse movement of self-expression that took form during a period of intense racial and cultural prejudice, it is also an important precursor to many of our children’s favorite contemporary artists. Young people may be fascinated to develop an awareness of the music that came before Bieber and Jay-Z.
Lastly—and in many ways, this may be the most important—exposing the young people we care about to jazz offers them a choice
. And expanding a young person’s horizon is almost always a good thing. Who knows? Your child may have an interest in jazz, or a desire to play, that completely defies your expectations.
For a novice trying to break into jazz, Todd suggests three entry points: Louis Armstrong, Thelonious Monk, and Duke Ellington.
He describes Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald’s collaborations as being full of joy and love—a great place to begin. If a young person has a “march to the beat of his or her own drum” kind of individuality, Todd suggests giving Thelonious Monk
a try. And for a more worldly, eclectic sound, Duke Ellington’s Afro Eurasian Eclipse
is a beautiful jumping-off point.
Most importantly, Todd recommends that with jazz, like with any human relationship, to give it some time
. An overwhelming love of jazz may not sprout quickly or magically, and there may be a period of adjustment, but it’s worth a try. All music has a certain power, some of which can be studied scientifically, and some of which has a mystical property that we may never fully understand. If jazz has seemed somehow out of your reach in the past, it’s not too late to get outside of your comfort zone—and that goes for the young people in your life as well.
- Eric Komoroff
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