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For others, the well-rounded jazz degree itself is the goal. When educator Justin DiCioccio took over as head of the jazz department at the Manhattan School of Music six years ago, his goal was to rework the program from the ground up. "It's based on the premise of what I feel is the complete Artist-Musician of the 21st Century, and that's a person who is a performer, a composer, and a pedagogue, with no separation in between," he enthused. "And the whole reasoning behind that madness is: This is what we do, it's how you make a living!"
Just making that living can be difficult. A sobering National Endowment for the Arts report suggested recently that there were over 33,000 jazz musicians in the New York City area, this in a city with perhaps 25 venues. "If you go to school to become an engineer, there are companies that want to hire you," suggested one New School student. "In music there aren't factories or companies that say, 'We need jazz musicians!' So it's like you have to almost invent your own job when you're done." To this end, some schools are wisely mandating more industry courses, with the New School offering a lecture series on the business of music, and recording or music industry internships.
Some, of course, will never be able to afford a degree program at all, and for them solutions range from seeking out local mentors to relocating nearer to city centers with jazz scenes. For those who do sign on, the financial costs are high. "It's like going to medical school, but after medical school you can pay off your student loans, and for a lot of people here when we're done it's like: OK, $500 a month, while I can't even get $500 for my gigs."
So do students ever feel misled by their institutions about the realities ahead? In the end idealism still often prevails. "You can't just focus on feeding your body; you've got to feed your spirit too," one mused. "If you don't, you're going to wither up."