Friday, 01 November 2013 14:47

Jazz Summer Schools: anything goes, or does it?

Written by  Ivor Widdison


Jazz Summer Schools are over for another year.  For many participants they have a social as much as a subject appeal.  What happens when things become too social?  Adult music summer schools are not regulated as to education/training quality or “pastoral” experiences.  Literally anybody can start one up.  Just advertise one or two well known and popular jazzers as tutors, select a convenient and/or attractive venue and off you go.  So long as it’s for adults only, no problem.  The rule of thumb seems to be if you didn’t like the experience you don’t go back next year.  Tutors, whether or not big names in jazz, have the power  and students tend to be in awe of them;  even adult students have feelings, indeed, in some respects they are just as sensitive to criticism as young people.  So challenging bad education practice or inappropriate behaviour may be too daunting for those at the receiving end.

I make these points in the light of a complaint received by Jazz Services from a female jazz student whose positive experiences at a recent jazz summer school were overshadowed by some singularly inappropriate behaviour by one of the tutors.  Not to put too fine a point on it, it amounted  to a fully fledged grope in front of a class, which she was expected to laugh off.  Fellow students agreed what happened was utterly wrong, but not worth making an issue of, because that’s “the way he is”.  When taken up with another tutor there was much sympathy, yet again a feeling that there wasn’t much that could be done.  Complaints to the leader of the summer school, the proprietors of the establishment and OfSTED yielded nothing beyond a denial of any responsibility and “we haven’t received complaints before”. 

From the reported reactions of fellow students, the consensus seemed to be that as the pros out weighed the cons at this summer school they would probably be back next year.  You just had to watch out for the culprit in question.  So is this the answer?  This is what life’s like for girls, take it in your stride, just look out for the groper.  Or is there another way?  For example, jazz summer schools adopting a voluntary code guaranteeing freedom from molestation by tutors and providing a simple procedure for hearing complaints.  Given enough schools signing up to such a code, a system of kite-marking monitored by, say, Jazz Services, together with a selection of jazz summer school leaders might be appropriate.  What do you think?

- Ivor Widdison