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Art & Scholarship: Not An Either/Or Proposition

Jack Black in "School of  Rock"

Performing and composing music have been at the nucleus of my musical activity since I was a kid. I eventually began teaching when I was in high school, mostly giving private lessons, but I always conceived of teaching as a financial means to an artistic end— I taught to support my performance habit. Moreover, as I reflect on my early college years, I realize I was somewhat of a snobbish undergraduate performance major, looking down my nose at the non-performance majors, especially the music education majors. My view was, if you’re not performing (or at least composing), then you’re not really doing the thing that music is all about: you’re not creating.

Boy, was I wrong.

When I became an education major as a doctoral student, I saw things from the other side. I realized that teaching isn’t merely a means to subsidize a performance career. It is an art in itself and a critical profession, and educators dedicate themselves to education with the same passion and diligence that performers dedicate to performance. Educators see the importance of their role in the development of the human being. As an educator, I have come to espouse this view. I learn things about myself and about music that I discover as I teach, and it makes me a better musician.

In a similar view, as a undergrad jazz performance major, I was leery of anyone who was not trying to make it as a performer. In fact, in my research, I found that this is a prevalent view in the jazz community: jazz musicians, particularly those who came up through “the street,” that is, the oral tradition of learning jazz as it’s passed on from person-to-person, may view jazz education with suspicion. They may see the institutionalization of jazz as a paradox, because the qualities of academia are perceived as being at odds with art. And if I thought jazz education was bad, then jazz researchers and other paragons of the sterilization of jazz were even worse.

Wrong again.

As I began doing it, I really came to enjoy research. It can be fun to have a problem (really, a question— “problem” is the word researchers use to describe a question they have) and then create a research study to answer it. What do people have to say about this problem? Do the responses match what you thought people would say? What responses came as a complete surprise? How can this new knowledge help musicians? On the flip side, reading research studies has positively impacted my performing and my teaching. I can say that through reading and conducting research, I am a better, more thoughtful musician and more attuned to fine details.

But there is sometimes a stigma that scholars— teachers or researchers— are out of touch and have forsaken the creative process for disconnected scholarly pursuits: all theory and no practice. I suppose this can happen, but having read many research studies, I have found that music researchers tend to be in tune to issues in the field, and their work informs practice. (Really, that’s the point.) A lot of what drives the skepticism is a fundamental misunderstanding of the role of research in advancing the field of music. The point of research is not to get caught up in research for research’s sake or to dilute musical creativity. It’s to investigate a problem in an area of practice, with the goal of enhancing it.

One outcome of this is that musicians do not have to choose between being an artist or a scholar. They can do both. It is not an either/or proposition. For instance, in my research on music entrepreneurship, one of my research participants, Tanya Kalmanovitch, articulated this view. Tanya teaches music entrepreneurship at New England Conservatory of Music and is an active performer in both the classical and jazz scenes in New York City. She said this:

“I have a really strong love of language and learning and intellectual pursuit… That’s not something that’s directly compatible in the professional context of what we do. I think we’re sort of expected to play more than speak, and that the music should speak for us… [I’ve kept my] intellectual pursuits pretty separate... [and] it took me a little while to realize that I actually don’t have to choose between the two, that I can choose to integrate them in my life.”

This integration of art and language has played out in a big way with technology. Think about how the written word has exploded through blogs. Probably more so than in any other time, musicians are taking virtual pen in hand to document their thoughts, either as vehicles to report their research or simply as a way to say what’s on their minds. The blog you are now reading was born partially from this idea, because a member of my dissertation committee suggested that in lieu of publishing my research findings in a journal (“the journal is dead,” he said) I start a blog. In turn, I use this blog partly to report the findings of my research.

At the same time, the language Tanya speaks of sometimes causes the problems between artists and scholars. For example, one dissertation I relied on for my research was jazz pianist Keith Javors’s “An appraisal of collegiate jazz performance programs in the teaching of jazz music.” As part of his study, Javors surveyed jazz educators across the country about the state of college jazz programs. One response stands out, because the respondent objected to Javors’s use of the word “transmit” in a question. To paraphrase, the respondent felt that words like “transmit” were the problem with jazz education, because they over-intellectualized the artform. And yet, Javors was simply using the language of scholarship in its proper context, in the same way that a jazz musician uses bebop phrasing in its proper context, for example, to improvise over “Scrapple From The Apple,” a standard bebop composition.

Javors's study is a good example of music research. What else do music researchers study? A good question. To provide an answer, at the end of this post I’m including a partial list of the jazz sources I used in my dissertation. These sources explore a rich variety of topics related to jazz, with the goal of enhancing the music. Multiple sources are authored by artist-scholars, including some who are well-known, like Bill Dobbins. I suspect you will, as I did, find them fascinating and enlightening. [Note: accessing some of the sources may require a subscription to a research database like ProQuest or JSTOR; you or a friend may already have a subscription, or your local library might. Other sources can probably be found online.]

In total, musicians can find fulfillment as both artists and scholars in roles that enrich each other. You are not “jive” if you are a performer who is also interested in teaching and research. You are a human being who has multiple interests, and those interests can be harmonious. And as musicians consider how they might have a life in music, artistry and scholarship can play a dual role. In one sense, this duality is relevant for the entrepreneurial musician, who will likely have to piece together a living from multiple income streams. In another sense, the triangle of performance, education, and research can co-exist and intersect in mutually beneficial ways for music-- and the musician.

Jazz Research Studies By Category


Watson, K. E. (2010b). Charting future directions for research in jazz pedagogy: implications of the literature. Music Education Research. 12(4) 383-393


Future of Music Coalition. (2012). Financial case studies: Jazz sideman-bandleader. Retrieved from

Kubacki, K. & Croft, R. (2010). Markets, music, and all that jazz. European Journal of Marketing, 45(5), 805-821


Kenny, B. (1999). Jazz analysis as a cultural imperative (and other urban myths): a critical overview of jazz analysis and its relationship to pedagogy. Research Studies in Music Education. 13(56) 56

Nicholson, S. (2005). Is jazz dead? or has it moved to a new address. Routledge.

Performance and improvisation

Berliner, P. (1994). Thinking In Jazz: The Infinite Art of Improvisation. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press.

Ciorba, C. (2006). The creation of a model to predict jazz improvisation achievement. (Doctoral dissertation, University of Miami, Frost School of Music) UMI Number: 3243107

May, L. (2003). Factors and abilities influencing achievement in instrumental jazz improvisation. Journal of Research in Music Education. 51 245-258

McDonald, R. & Wilson, G. (2006). Constructions of jazz: how jazz musicians present their collaborative musical practice. Musicae Scientiae. 10(1) 59-83

Seddon, F. (2005). Modes of communication during jazz improvisation. British Journal of Music Education. 22(1) 47-61


Day, M. D. (1992). An assessment of selected factors contributing to the success of high quality college jazz studies programs. (Doctoral dissertation, University of Arizona).

Dobbins, B. (1988). Jazz and academia: street music in the ivory tower. Bulletin for the Council of Research in Music Education. 96 30-41

Devroop, K. (2011). The occupational aspirations and expectations of college students majoring in jazz studies. Journal of Research in Music Education. (59)4 393-405

Goldman, J. I. (2010). The shape of jazz education to come: how jazz musicians develop a unique voice within academia. (Masters thesis, McGill University, Quebec, Canada). ISBN Number: 978-0-494-68369-9

Javors, K. (2001). An appraisal of collegiate jazz performance programs in the teaching of jazz music. (Doctoral dissertation) UMI Number: 3017113

Prouty, K. (2002). From Storyville to state university: the intersection of academic and non-academic learning cultures in post secondary jazz education. (Doctoral

dissertation). UMI Number: 3078870

Renick, J.S. (2012). The past, present, and future of jazz education: toward alternatives in jazz pedagogy. (Doctoral dissertation). UMI Number: 3511182

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