Establishing the IASJ is by far the most important work I have done in my life as a professional musician. It surpasses my own career and experiences, which although have made me what I am, pale in comparison to the positive and far reaching work that the organization has accomplished and continues doing. I feel like I have made a real contribution to the world and will continue my work in this way as long as possible.
In the late 1970s I received a call from noted educator, Jamey Aebersold to teach at a clinic during in Hays, Kansas. To be honest I had never heard the word "clinic" associated with jazz and did not know Aebersold or his play along records which he was already involved in. In any case I spent a few days in the middle of a snowy January on the prairie playing with drummer Ed Soph and bassist Rufus Reid and giving a few talks to the students. Jamey invited me to be on his staff for the several weeks spent doing clinics all over the States during the summer, which I did for the next few years. It was at these clinics that I met David Baker, Jerry Coker, Dan Haerle and others who were the pioneer authors of jazz education texts. I was very impressed by their musicianship and teaching skills which transformed the learning of jazz from what appeared to me to be a mystery to a discipline. It was an awakening and the idea of teaching jazz became acceptable. Also, due to a variety of reasons at the time I was disillusioned with the jazz field and needed something to get me on track and rededicate myself. Teaching seemed to be both a way to help make a living while at the same time doing something positive.
So I learned how to be better at it and began giving classes all over the world, many of which were along with my group at the time, Quest, which included pianist Richie Beirach. Books and videos followed and teaching became a steady part of my life during the 1980s. It was during my travels to so many places, especially in Europe that I realized the obvious. Everyone who is learning an art form like jazz is learning the same material, though it may be presented in different languages. I mean Miles is Miles and Duke is Duke no matter where you are or how you say it. The music is truly universal. Yet from what I could see, musicians and teachers in one country, say Germany, had no idea who the key players and/or teachers were in a neighboring country like France. It seemed that the time worn concept of networking would benefit everyone.
With some thinking about it and correspondence to some of the individuals I had met in Europe over the years (as well as some good friends of mine, Steve Lipman from the Berklee School of Music and Leon Segal from Israel), I began to formulate the concepts of what would be come the International Association of Schools of Jazz. Basically, the idea was not to duplicate the work of the IAJE, an organization founded in America which is a network of teachers involved in jazz and is quite large in membership. My basic goal was to bring students together from everywhere to play, interact and hopefully form lasting relationships and associations that would promote positive cross cultural communication. In other words, the timeless ideal of promoting brotherhood and peace across cultural and geographical borders using something that incorporated a common language to facilitate the goal-in this case, the music called jazz.
What happened next was magical. After sending several letters out and receiving positive responses to my idea I called a meeting for April 22, 1989 using the offices of my publisher of the time, Advance Music in Rottenburg, Germany. My appeal was direct-those who were interested in really accomplishing something should meet me that day. Lo and behold 13 schools from 10 countries showed up including Israel, US, France, Spain, Switzerland, Germany, Sweden, Netherlands, England and Ireland. The representative from the Royal Conservatory in Den Haag, Netherlands, Walter Turkenburg had come on the recommendation of the CIM School in Paris. I did not know him personally but he immediately made it clear that he could help me take care of the business of setting up and running the organization. He still serves as the Executive Director of the IASJ. That meeting in 1989 was historic and the feeling was unbelievable to have all those people in the same room, but now there was work to do.
Walter Turkenburg came to visit me in the US and we thought out the basic plans. The idea was to include schools that were private, like the Taller de Musics in Barcelona as well as state funded conservatories such as the Royal Conservatory where Walter presided over the jazz department. Walter took care of incorporating the organization as a non profit in the Netherlands and we became a legal association. Our first Annual Jazz Meeting was held in the Royal Conservatory in June, 1990. We decided that if only five schools came we would go forward, but were amazed that representatives from all the original attendees to the German meeting sent students and teachers.
From then to now, there have been meetings to which several hundred students, teachers and administrators have attended. Our membership includes over 40 countries and schools from every continent. It is really something special when all these students meet the first day and hear each other play at the "audition". Then without possibly being able to even communicate verbally because of language barriers, they are placed in combos
ranging from 6 to 8 members to rehearse every day for a final concert as well as in the case of some of the more recent meetings, a recording to be held a few days later in the week. The evolution of camaraderie, musical explorations and relationships from day to day is fantastic to witness. We have purposely kept the meeting small and personal so that everyone will get to know each other and have a chance to really play at jam sessions and performances. The main idea is quality rather than quantity. I honestly feel that what we are doing is contributing to peace and harmony in the world, besides promoting the future of jazz as evidenced by these amazingly talented young performers.
Of course I have personal goals that I hope can be realized which of course means funding and all the other kinds of things that go along with the growth of any organization. We have attempted in some ways to find support from international bodies and musical groups but so far we have not been able to dedicate the resources necessary to accomplish this large undertaking. After all, it is a volunteer organization and the leadership are full time teachers or administrators while I of course am always traveling and performing. But it is important to have goals for when the time comes which I am confident it will.
· Establish a center where ongoing activities including workshops, performances, lectures, etc., can take place throughout the year. In particular, developing educational programs to accommodate all age levels from young children and parents to retired people, from laymen to professionals; also interdisciplinary workshops with the other arts.
· Outreach programs to play at schools, retired homes, prisons, hospitals and other community events.
· Sponsor IASJ student and teacher tours and recordings.
· Inaugurate a serious magazine dedicated to discussions of the highest level.