Many people like the idea of studying jazz at university, either through interest or because they plan a career as professional musicians. The options in Sydney are somewhat limited: There currently are no high-level, rigorous tertiary courses available in NSW, and certainly no courses with academic content available. The most prestigious course is the vocational jazz performance degree offered by the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, part of Sydney University. It is the only course that most musicians might have a lot of difficulty getting into. The others are either private institutions where, so long as you can pay, you’ll get in, or ultra-lightweight with low entry (and graduation) standards.
The Sydney Conservatorium, then, is the best of what is available in Sydney. It has produced many well known players over the years, a number of them successful internationally. AIM is possibly the next best option for a full time degree in Sydney, though their focus is very much on the pop/rock side of contemporary music. There are some other options interstate definitely worth exploring, such as WAAPA in Perth, VCA in Melbourne, and the James Morrison Academy in Mt Gambier. Sadly the Jazz course in Canberra has been axed.
Here are some things you need to know about the Sydney Conservatorium Jazz course before you start making plans to audition:
- It is aimed at serious performers who can already play jazz at a high standard and are looking to build on that with a view to making music their profession. It is not for beginners or musicians new to jazz.
- If you have never played or studied jazz before, you won’t get in. You’ll need a background of, ideally, several years at least studying jazz and playing in large AND small jazz ensembles.
- If you can’t already improvise at a fairly advanced level, you have little chance of getting in.
- You need to be able to sight read and pass an aural test.
- As a general rule, the Sydney Conservatorium bases their intake of students on what instruments they need to make balanced ensembles. They don’t just take the best candidates based purely on playing ability. This means that often some instruments can have lower entry standards than others, but don’t rely on this. Historically trombone and double bass seem to have been less competitive. Saxophone and drums are extremely competitive. If you can play good lead trumpet you have a good chance, even if you are not the best improviser. However, if you play trumpet and don’t have great lead “chops”, then you’d better be a seriously good jazz player already. Whatever you play, your best bet is to be excellent already. In any case, if you plan to be a jazz player, you are going to need to become outstanding anyway, so you may as well start now.
- The Sydney Jazz degree is not academic. It is purely a vocational and technical course. In fact, there seems to be no jazz music degree in NSW that offers both academic and performance study combined. We think that is a shame. Being part of the University of Sydney, Conservatorium jazz students can at least take some academic subjects on “main campus”.
If you would like to audition for one of the tertiary jazz courses in Sydney or somewhere else, we can help you. We have a good track record of helping our students get into one of these courses if they want to. However, please be realistic and understand that if you come to us at the last moment for help, you are not likely to pass the audition. You probably won’t learn to play jazz in a few weeks. You are competing for places with students who have studied, loved, respected and worked hard at jazz for many years!