I have a theory that methods for teaching improvisation (beyond the broader jazz music idiom) arrived late in the history of jazz education. There were high school jazz bands before there were Aebersold albums, and reams of multi-media how-to materal on chord progressions, modes, the Lydian Chromatic Concept etc.
Remember how the jazz big band charts used to come with a “written” “improvised solo” to address this short-coming? How many of you will admit to having played the “suggested solo” in your high school jazz band? Maybe it was because you didn’t feel ready to skate through the changes of “Cherokee” yet or maybe your band director asked you to because he thought it would make the organization look good and help you win the big trophy at jazz festival.
Which brings me to my next observation that there were three basic categories of jazz band director when I was growing up:
#1 Old School — Tends to call his group a “stage band.” Record collection consists mostly Boots Randolph (Yackety Sax) and Elvis. White shoes and belt a must for important concerts.
#2 Coach — Must win the Festival. Creativity is for cry-babies. Tempos start at 120 = half note and rush up to 140 before the tune ends. Dynamics range from FF to FFF. Record collection consists of Buddy Rich and Maynard Ferguson. Usually outfits the band in monogrammed polyester sportshirts that look “sharp.”
#3 Our Savior — Can speak with confidence on chord progressions. Knows phrygian mode is not a type of sexual disfunction. Has a lot of Ornette in his record collection. Might call the jazz band a jazz “ensemble” or even a jazz “workshop.” Likely to give you a second chance if he catches you smoking weed on band tour.
Serously though, one of the finest examples of the “Our Savior” variety was Grant Wolf, beloved jazz studies professor at Mesa Community College, purveyor of an excellent jazz scene during his time there and an inspiration to hundreds who pursued the jazz art form.