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Jazz: The Hip-Hop of its Era

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By Randi Schmelzer

Published Jun 24, 2008 10:01 AM


Decades before scholars and musicians looked askance at hip-hop music, jazz music faced similar skepticism.

Long before hip-hop hit the academic radar, another form of music was generating the kind of controversy today surrounding DJs and MCs: jazz.

"In the early 20th century, jazz was a really profane music," says Jacqueline Cogdell DjeDje, chair of UCLA's Department of Ethnomusicology. "And now in the 21st century, jazz is the best thing that America has ever produced. You find it in all of the universities. It's very rare to not have a jazz ensemble."

art

Jazz guitarist Kenny Burrell, a UCLA professor of music and ethnomusicology.

As UCLA pioneered the field of hip-hop education, so too did it pave the way for jazz. The university's Jazz Studies Program — directed since its founding in 1996 by renowned jazz guitarist and professor of Music and Ethnomusicology, Kenny Burrell — "continues to expand and grow and evolve," Burrell says. "I'm very happy to have been a part of bringing jazz into academia."

Created by a faculty of professional artists hand-selected by Burrell, the program was founded on the concept that music should be passed along to the next generation by "primary sources," Burrell explains: working musicians who could share practical, first-hand information and instruction through private lessons, lectures, classes and music ensembles.

Though the program has grown, it still adheres to those core beliefs. Today, course offerings include everything from music theory to a Latin ensemble; one of the school's three big bands — the Contemporary Jazz Ensemble — will be touring Japan later this summer, with Burrell at its helm. And Burrell still teaches his now-legendary history of Duke Ellington course, Ellingtonia, set to enter its 30th year.

While he wouldn't say it of himself, Burrell, too, is something of a legend when it comes to jazz. Born in Detroit in 1931, over the years he's played with genre greats including Dizzy Gillespie, John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Charlie Parker, Tony Bennett, Billy Holiday and Quincy Jones, among others. The recipient of dozens of honors, Burrell was named a 2005 Jazz Master by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA); he also received the 2004 Jazz Educator of the Year award from DownBeat magazine. And as the founder of the Friends of Jazz at UCLA, Burrell is regarded as a global ambassador for jazz and its promotion as an art form.

Beat Scholars

Read the main article about how hip-hop became a subject of serious scholarship at UCLA.

But the 30-plus students enrolled annually in UCLA's Jazz Studies Program are learning more than just the history of a musical art form, Burrell says. They're learning the history of American culture.

"The roots of American popular music pretty much started with jazz and blues in New Orleans in the late 19th century," Burrell explains. "Those roots went on to influence every kind of music in America, and around the world."

But what of the cultural backlash that greeted jazz's origins, those many years ago?

"You know, that's the history of man," Burrell says. "That's just human nature. But the point is people's minds can change and they can be influenced, and they certainly have been influenced by this music — and for the better."

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