Composition in Jazz Education

Looking back

'Jazzing up' popular songs became 'jazz standards' written up in 'Fake Books' and 'Real Books'. In the old days, occasionally 'originals' found their way into these books as well. These 'originals' were compositions based upon the structure of jazz standards. In the 1980s, when jazz departments started to grow at academies, conservatories and universities, 'composition' became an integral part of curricula. In some cases, 'composition' became a separate study program.

The Keith Jarrett Trio and some others specialized in playing standards in the 1990s. Most of the players coming out of professional higher jazz education were less interested in the jazz standards of the first half of the century. They often recorded 'deconstructed' versions of pop songs of their youth, of e.g. ABBA, the Beatles and Bjørk. More and more newly written compositions found their way to the repertoire of jazz musicians. Influences on these compositions came from all kinds of music: classical, pop, world, and jazz.

Composition in jazz education today

Teaching jazz composition is one of the recurrent topics at the Ongoing Dialogues. On one end of the spectrum is the standpoint that composition cannot be learned. High-level lessons in analysis, ear training and counterpoint will shape the student who has to go down the path alone to create new works, is the idea. On the other end of the spectrum is the standpoint that the student needs to be drilled and skilled to become a composer. A song, a blues, a big band arrangement has to be produced following the rules of available in the composition textbooks. The truth is as always in the middle, and that where the panel will be looking for.

The 2023 IASJ Composition Panel

Arranger, composer, and conductor Ed Partyka leads a round table discussion in which 'composition in jazz education' holds the central position. The topics discussed are:

  • should a composition of the candidate be part of the entrance exam,
  • when to start teaching composition,
  • how to teach composition, the use of textbooks or abstract ideas and philosophies,
  • how to evaluate compositions at final exams of students,
  • the position of competitions in jazz composition,
  • the availability and absence of grants to make new compositions.

Any ideas for more topics? Do you like to participate in the discussion? Please mail to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.