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“These walls are funny. First you hate ’em, then you get used to ’em. Enough time passes, gets so you depend on them. That’s institutionalised” – Red, The Shawshank Redemption

It never occurred to anyone when jazz was in its infancy that ‘it’ could become like an institution or the institution could even become the public face of jazz itself.

Instead it was from what we read in the history books, outsider, party, unknown, rebellious, protest, music. It was an act of creativity beyond prescription. If there was a dream it was acceptance by society on its own terms.

Jazz didn’t enter the concert hall until much later, academia even later. Nowadays jazz as a global movement is often institutionalised, the walls are big company and academic approved, national state sponsored.

The arrivals and departure lounge for many is to go to music college, put on a tux in a youth orchestra, maybe get a job in a professional big band run by the state radio company or philanthropic non-profit. Maybe teach jazz. The money is better after all.

But the institutionalising that sometimes happens is dangerous in a highly distracting way for the real artist, and so many come out the other end resembling the approach of fellow professionals and peers or just stop playing music entirely browned off by the competitiveness of music college. The individual beats a retreat and their essential individuality as artists is squeezed like a tube of toothpaste down to the last blob where nothing much remains. A new tube may not come along for a while.

Ultimately ideas can go stale as the institution despite its best intentions demands conformity, a preservation however softly softly of its core values through the artistry it is sponsoring, the perpetuation of its own legend via its own marketing, and worst of all although rare a doctrinaire imposition of core musical values through rigid teaching, in essence overly prescribed notions of what improvisation using jazz idioms happen to be. 

Shhh, Red is speaking again: “These walls are funny. First you hate ’em, then you get used to ’em. Enough time passes, gets so you depend on them. That’s institutionalised.” 

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