Berklee Hosts International Jazz Conference

Bob Blumenthal
July 28, 2016
The full band plays at the IASJ opening concert.
Dave Liebman plays the recorder.
Group photo of the IASJ conference.
Left to right: Kenny Werner, John Lockwood, Dave Liebman, and Bob Gullotti perform the opening night concert.
Liebman plays recorder.
Left to right: Franco Caroni, Marco Pignataro, and Dave Liebman raise a flag to celebrate the International Association of Schools of Jazz (IASJ).
IASJ attentees gather for a group photo.
Mike Spencer
Mike Spencer
Dave Green
Mike Spencer

Walter Turkenburg remembers his first visit to Berklee well. It was 1988, and he had just been appointed to teach jazz at the Royal Conservatory in The Hague. “I was staying in an apartment on the Green Line,” he laughs, “and was told, `Get on the inbound train. You’ll see more guitarists get on at each stop. When they get off, you’re at Berklee.’”

Turkenburg was impressed with what he saw, but realized that he and his counterparts across Europe faced challenges of their own. “Jazz programs in music conservatories were growing in parallel with jazz festivals,” he explains, “but these institutions had been in existence for centuries and were doing little to support jazz.” So Turkenburg responded eagerly when saxophonist David Liebman convened a meeting in Rottenberg, Germany, that led to the founding of the International Association of Schools of Jazz. He volunteered to serve as the new organization’s executive director, a position he still holds.

Read an interview with Dave Liebman.

The ensuing decades have seen impressive growth in the IASJ, which now includes more than 40 members from four continents and convenes annually. This year, Berklee hosted the 26th annual conference of the International Association of Schools of Jazz, June 25-July 1. Next year, the conference will be in Siena, Italy, and will be held in Helsinki, Finland, in 2018. This was only the fourth time IASJ has gathered in the United States, and the second time that Berklee has played host.

Looking at Jazz from All Angles

The student musicians (no more than two from each member school), faculty, and staff found a host campus substantially enriched since the previous visit in 2001. Each of the six student combos recorded in Studio 1 at the new 160 Massachusetts Avenue facility, and jam sessions were held in the building’s cafeteria. Lectures and group meetings were among the first Berklee events in the Boston Conservatory Theater, and the recent merger of the schools meant that jazz giants and Boston Conservatory alumni who predate Berklee’s founding (including Johnny Hodges, Roy Haynes, and Don Redman) were now part of the tradition. Live streaming of evening performances provided exceptional outreach for the weeklong event. And Berklee’s Global Jazz Institute, which, along with the Professional Performance Division, took the lead in hosting the event, provided a model for how global traditions and trends can be applied in an educational setting.

There was little downtime for the visitors. After auditions to match skill levels and mix countries of origin, the students attended daily rounds of master classes, rehearsals, and jam sessions, capped by two nights of concert performances. When not teaching or performing, faculty and staff representatives were engaged in a series of ongoing dialogues in the Loft at 921 Boylston Street. “This is where everyone brings a topic of interest to discuss,” Turkenburg explains. “Everything from how to develop audiences and the best way to learn through jam sessions to grading systems and the best new technology.”

In Turkenburg’s view, these conversations become more important as jazz education evolves. “There is no subject that teaches transferable skills better than jazz,” he emphasizes, “and there is still only one way to learn—the hard way. But in my view, jazz can be divided into three periods. There was the historical period, when the music was transmitted informally. Then came the institutional period, when jazz education became established. Since 2007, with the emergence of the iPhone and Facebook, we’ve entered the digital period, when innovative approaches like the Global Jazz Institute have emerged.

“This means that our approach to education has to change. Conservatories used to be like monasteries, the repositories of all information. That’s not the case today, when information is everywhere and selection becomes critical.” For a week in late June, IASJ did its part to spread the word, form connections across borders, and move the music forward.