The subject was jazz; the occasion, the 13th annual National Assn. of Jazz Educators convention, in progress through Sunday at the Anaheim Marriott Hotel, where some 2,000 educators, students and performing artists have gathered to help determine the future of the music.
"A minority music such as jazz," said Herb Wong, the association president, "is still not given its rightful due. This slice of American tradition is worthy of support."
Indeed, the worth of America's native musical art form was not something of which the conventioneers in Anaheim needed reminding. Ready on the lips of many in attendance at Thursday evening's performance and social events were eager words to promote the music.
"Funding is still the major problem we face," said Wong, summarizing the issue confronting most of the association's 5,700 members. Educators from the ranks of "elementary to postgraduate" institutions are in a constant fight with unresponsive administrators, parents and public to keep alive a musical art seriously jeopardized by budgetary shortages and cutbacks.
Though the proposed solutions to fueling the fires of jazz on the educational level remain elusive, the 17-year-old international organization seems united in its efforts to keep musical education a constant, despite the consistent channeling of educational funds into areas other than the arts.
During the course of the four-day Anaheim convention, 121 concerts, teaching clinics, workshops and panel discussions will have addressed virtually every aspect of jazz education. (A five-hour benefit concert beginning at 2 p.m. Sunday, open to the public, addresses the all-star performing aspect. Among those expected to perform are the Tonight Show All-Stars, Bill Watrous, David Frishberg, Ernie Watts, Jon Faddis and Conrad Janis.)
Surprisingly, according to Wong, not every event is geared to helping teachers tutor the next jazz star. "Alternate careers related to areas of the jazz industry are a very important part of the music's future," he said, noting that during his two-year administration he has tried to approach jazz education on an "interdisciplinary" tack.
"I've encouraged a lot of guys into entertainment law," he said, citing an example of alternative jazz service. "There are many kinds of jobs and you have to have it all--broadcasters, critics, lawyers, (recording) engineers."
Having it all was certainly in evidence during Thursday's opening of what reportedly was the association's best-attended convention to date. In addition to numerous concerts and clinics featuring such artists as saxophonists Gary Foster, Lanny Morgan and Tom Kubis, trombonist Ashley Alexander and trumpeter Conte Candoli, the association showcased a Jazz on Film program, presented a posthumous award to bassist Charles Mingus and honored musician-arranger Benny Carter and educator Paul Tanner.
Such activities, Wong believes, help to "maintain and nurture the music" by giving educators and students an opportunity for "immediate access" to established jazz artists.
"They see how it's done," Wong said, adding that the information is as readily taken home for dissemination among students as it is given by the artists.
Miroslav Vitous, the Czech-born bassist who chairs the jazz department at the New England Conservatory in Boston, couldn't agree more. "It is my destiny, I think," he said, "that I pass it on. Like my teacher (did) for me."
But the teaching aspects promoted by the association go beyond demonstrating instrumental prowess. Highlighted on this year's program are "Women in Jazz" and "Jazz and the Media." Though there's some confusion in the association's ranks about jazz music's relationship to the media, there seems little doubt that women, once excluded from the male-dominated scene, have arrived as instrumentalists. In ample evidence was the extraordinary trumpet prowess of Stacy Rowles and the big-band excellence of Maiden Voyage.
"We've expanded tremendously in scope," said Wong, adding that his own experience with the association has coincided with a "dynamic decade" for the organization.
"Woody Herman, who considers himself a great beneficiary of these educational programs," Wong said, "has said that the great young, budding players are the results of zealous efforts by the jazz educators.
"I'm proud of them."