It’s odd hearing the director of a university jazz program argue that he is NOT an educator.
“We’re just old musicians who want to bring everything we’ve learned in this business to the younger generation and inspire them to play some music,” said Illinois Wesleyan University Director of Jazz Glenn Wilson, who was part of the lively New York City jazz scene for a decade and a half beginning in the 1970s.
That’s where the bari player met trumpeter John D’earth.
“I like the point that Glenn is trying to bring out here,” said the director of jazz performance at the University of Virginia via phone from his home in Charlottesville. D’earth will be the guest artist Tuesday, April 17, at the IWU Jazz Ensemble performance in Westbrook Auditorium on campus.
“Nowadays I’m really much more interested in exposing students to actual jazz music. Real jazz. Because of what jazz has to teach," D’earth said.
He said his teaching boils down to two things: 1) master the instrument, and 2) be yourself. Wilson hopes some of D’earth’s joy for jazz and passion for the music will rub off on his students during his short visit this week. He also wants his students to hear D’earth’s prodigious talent.
“He’s really one of the great jazz trumpet players in the world, and nobody knows about this,” said Wilson as D’earth sheepishly chuckled over the phone line. “There’s a reason for that, but we can wait until music business class to discuss that."
D’earth tongue-in-cheek countered Wilson’s comment about his popularity.
“It was funny in that one review I read of ‘Timely,’ the record we did a while back. The reviewer said ‘And John D’earth is on the record, everybody’s hip to him,’” said D’earth as Wilson laughed along. “I really didn’t quite know how to take that.”
The Essence of Jazz
Add D’earth and Wilson as two more voices that spoke on GLT during Jazz Appreciation Month as being bullish on the genre. D’earth said he also appreciates the humor and sensitivity Wilson brings to the bari sax, a trait he tries to instill into his students.
“Music ends up being very repetitive and codified where everyone is trying to learn the same thing to pass the jazz police academy test, and Glenn Wilson does not care one bit about that. He’s not thinking of chord changes or anything half the time. He’s just listening and playing totally free from his own mind. That to me is the essence of what jazz should be,” declared D’earth.
Both have noticed younger players incorporating other sounds into their jazz, including rock, R&B, and hip-hop. Wilson said he hears more odd-metered and ‘rock-ish’ tunes in their mix. And though he seemed less enthusiastic about that trend than D’earth, he argues musicians should follow their muse.
“That’s fine for them, and if that’s their music they should always reflect what they hear and what they grew up with and should do that,” said Wilson. "But some of this stuff like Kendrick Lamar … they call that jazz with all that cursing and running around and acting silly … Robert Glasper has some really interesting things going on. I don’t know if I would call it jazz, but Miles Davis didn’t call his music jazz either.”
D’earth offered a more sympathetic take, saying jazz has always moved forward by incorporating new sounds. All of it.
“It’s sort of omnivorous,” said D’earth. “There is nothing jazz couldn’t digest in theory. I also think it’s important for young people to be in touch with their own cultural reality.”
He returned to the concept of the jazz police, the belief that certain musicians, writers and critics who influence and ultimately control what is considered jazz. He said that wasn’t his definition.
“I’m talking about people who don’t understand that this music is supposed to be about self-expression, about creating yourself as an artist,” said D’earth. “That’s the essence of this music. Not ‘how do I get to be like Charlie Parker.’ The only way you’re going to be like Charlie Parker is to BE Charlie Parker. Real jazz reflects that. It has to come from within a person genuinely to be authentic. And I’m looking for authenticity all the time.”
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