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Tiny Bubbles: A Growth Industry for Jazz?

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With all of the discussions regarding the sad state of jazz careers, it would be surprising indeed to find that jazz has experienced a significant growth spurt in recent years, but it has. Unfortunately, that growth has not occurred in the clubs, concert halls, or other venues in which jazz musicians perform and hone their craft. The growth has occurred in one of the few areas that has expanded in this period of high unemployment and extended economic malaise; namely, in the public sector. Where is jazz found as part of the "public sector"? In colleges and universities, where thousands of jazz musicians earn a living teaching jazz, not only to music majors, but also to countless thousands in the general student population in various "jazz appreciation" and "jazz history" courses as part of the General Education curriculum.

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Since 2004, there has been significant growth (a whopping 33 percent) in the number of students enrolled in jazz studies at our institutions of higher learning. This growth is entirely possible without any increase in the number of institutions who offer majors in jazz studies, but surprisingly enough, that number has grown as well (by a similarly impressive 26 percent).

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In both of the preceding graphs, there are declines which occur shortly after well-documented downturns in the U.S. economy. When we look at total music student enrollment (all disciplines), the post recession trends are more prominent.

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What does this data tell us? It suggests that adding programs to university offerings will, at least initially, result in increased enrollments in those programs. This is not surprising; when a program is created, it requires a cohort of new faculty who are highly motivated to "recruit" students to populate their classes and ensembles. It also supports the obvious conclusion -- when the economy is in the doldrums, enrollment in the fine arts will likely decline as students choose careers with better job prospects.

There is also the "bubble" theory -- is higher education the next big bubble in our economy, as has been posited repeatedly in recent years? Could this jazz growth simply be a tiny jazz bubble within the larger higher education bubble? With declining career opportunities in jazz, and with the unceremonious elimination of college jazz and music programs, it's hard to imagine that it could be anything else. Only time will tell, but when a reliable arts advocate like NPR gets in on the cuts (with a metaphorical "ax" no less), what's left?

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Photo by Jenn Rogers. Used by permission.

Data Source (all graphs): National Association of Schools of Music (NASM),

Higher Education Arts Data Summaries, Music Enrollment (2004-2011)