JEN Grows Up

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An all-star cast gathers at the JEN Conference. Front row, seated from left: Victor Wooten, Roy “Futureman” Wooten, Kirk Whalum, Jeff Coffin, Johnny Vidacovich, Stanton Moore, Branford Marsalis (standing), David Paich, Caleb Chapman, Rubén Alvarez, Howard Levy, Rashawn Ross and Randy Brecker with Caleb Chapman’s Crescent City Super Band.

(Photo: Courtesy of JEN)

The 8th annual Jazz Education Network Conference had a little more glide in its stride this year when more than 4,000 attendees descended on the birthplace of jazz on Jan. 4–7.

Part of it had to be the location. If New Orleans doesn’t make a jazz educator or student musician want to sit up and trade fours—verbally and musically—then nothing will.

Another part had to be the performance lineup, especially the Jan. 6 all-star JEN Scholarship Concert, which raised more than $30,000 for student scholarships. The concert was headlined by the Jeff Coffin & Caleb Chapman “Inside of the Outside Project” and featured special guests Kirk Whalum, Branford Marsalis, David Paich, Randy Brecker, Victor Wooten, Rashawn Ross, Stanton Moore, Johnny Vidacovich, Tony Dagradi and John Beasely.

This was an education conference, and the participants getting the best education on that night were the backing band, Chapman’s Crescent City Super Band, an after-school high school honor band that was perfect for the occasion.

But the biggest reason for the organization’s newfound swagger stems from the fact that JEN, in its ninth year of existence, has grown into a full-fledged powerhouse, able to teach and promote jazz at every level.

Born from the ashes of the failed International Association of Jazz Education, JEN has held firm on a pledge to spread that gospel as wide and far as possible, while maintaining a sense of complete transparency and holding itself to a high standard of fiscal responsibility. That has meant expanding the organization’s offerings while being careful not to overextend its reach.

That strategy is beginning to bloom. Attendees in New Orleans said the show felt like the best of the old IAJE Conferences. At the same time, JEN seems to be accelerating that growth. The organization has opened up the conference to a much larger array of student performances. This year’s event featured more than 110 student performance slots and included groups from throughout the United States and as far away as Russia.

The organization is currently in the midst of an aggressive campaign to increase membership, with a goal of surpassing 4,000 members by 2018. To recruit new members and broaden its reach, JEN is offering an array of incentives and will soon launch an improved website.

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I see a future where instead of simply taking its place as a dusty museum piece, jazz is once again culturally relevant,” said Chapman, the JEN president, in a recent JEN newsletter. “I see a future where audiences embrace the tradition, legacy and sound of the greats as well as groundbreaking jazz recordings of new music drawn from a myriad of styles. I see a future where instead of pop acts taking over jazz festivals, jazz acts make their way onto the main stages and headlining spots of pop and mainstream music festivals. I see a future where we don’t have to shy away from the word jazz to describe our music because it might cost us the gig. I see a future where jazz continues to carve new ground, push boundaries, and evolve beyond anything we can even imagine today.”

The 9th annual JEN Conference is scheduled for Jan. 3–6 in Dallas.

For more information on the Jazz Education Network, visit the JEN website.

(Editor’s Note: DownBeat is a contributor to this year’s JEN Scholarship Fund, and Frank Alkyer is a member of the JEN President’s Advisory Council.) DB



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July 2019
Anat Cohen
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