Trojan Tales

From ‘Maple Leaf Rag’ to Master’s degrees at USC

Annenberg Media talks jazz education with department chair Jason Goldman.

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If you ask a jazz musician about what jazz is, their answer may be cryptic. If you ask them what they did to earn their diploma in jazz studies, they may be even more so. Peter Njoroge spent some time with Jason Goldman talking about what it means to study jazz at USC.

MUSIC: Maple Leaf Rag

Morton: That was the way that they played it in Missouri.

That’s Jelly Roll Morton playing the “Maple Leaf Rag” for the Library of Congress in 1938. Morton was a pianist from New Orleans who claimed quite famously to be the inventor of this new American music called jazz.

Morton: And I played it in a different tempo that is on the [*inaudible* version] of my own creation – of jazz music. A fact that changed every style to mine.

Morton might never have imagined that jazz would be legitimized by elite colleges and conservatories across the globe. But today, a chunk of the best musicians on the scene spent their college days studying jazz.

ACT: “Hey man” Hey how’s it going. I’m Jason. I’m Peter. Good to meet you. Come on in. how are you doing?

Jason Goldman is the Chair of the jazz department here at USC.

MUSIC: Goldman on the saxophone

Goldman’s musical education is quite extensive. He first picked up a dual degree in jazz composition and film composing at the Berklee College of Music and then headed west to pursue an internship at the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. After spending some time here in Los Angeles, he decided to pursue another double dose of jazz education.

GOLDMAN: There was this open spot at the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz, which is like this advanced performance program. So I made it into that program. And then, at the same time, they were willing to pay for a Master’s at USC. So I did my Master’s and this program at the same time. And then following that, as soon as I graduated there, I started working with Michael Buble and touring.

Now, he manages the day-to-day operations of the jazz program at USC. He also teaches courses in theory and arranging, conducts a few ensembles and works with students in private lessons.

For Goldman, the ability of students to improvise through the changes is everything.

GOLDMAN: One of the main things is learning how to improvise, and being able to navigate through harmony. So I am constantly making sure that they’re able to do that. So they almost call me like the jazz police sometimes, because I’m like, okay, you didn’t make the changes, you weren’t playing the harmony right.

Students have a massive list of performances and required courses in everything from theory to music technology. But Goldman wants them to come away with the simple things.

GOLDMAN: Number one is practicing with a purpose, like, get things done in the practice room. And then, finally, just being really well organized in your approach to not just music, but also life.

He then gave me his pitch for jazz school.

GOLDMAN: You know I always tell all musicians, like, you don’t have to go to school to be a musician. I mean, you just don’t have to. You’re building a network of people. And you will be hiring and playing with those people for the rest of your lives. I still play and hire people that I went to college with still to this day.

Before I headed out, I made sure to ask Goldman one more question.

PETER NJOROGE: Do you think that Jelly Roll Morton invented jazz?

GOLDMAN: I don’t know if I would say yes, like Jelly Roll Morton created jazz, but certainly was a big part of it. So there you go.