Tuesday, January 26, 2010

New England Conservatory Celebrates 40th Anniversary of Ground-Breaking Jazz Studies Program

NYC Events Take Place March 20 – 27, 2010

* Performers include John Medeski, Bernie Worrell, Cecil Taylor, Lake Street Dive, Dominique Eade, Ran Blake, Anton Fig, George Garzone, John McNeil, Cecil McBee, Billy Hart, Frank Carlberg, Marty Ehrlich, Jeremy Udden, Noah Preminger, Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society & more *

“Four decades after its founding, NEC’s jazz studies department is among the most acclaimed and successful in the world; so says the roster of visionary artists that have comprised both its faculty and alumni.” — Mike West, JazzTimes

New England Conservatory continues to celebrate the 40th Anniversary of its first-in-the-nation Jazz Studies program with “Hot and Cool: 40 Years of Jazz at NEC,” 8 days of concerts in NYC March 20 - 27, 2010 featuring some of NEC’s most renowned alumni, faculty and students. Proceeds from these events will support jazz scholarships at NEC.

NYC event highlights include Hot & Cool: NEC Jazz Summit featuring

John Medeski of MMW, Bernie Worrell, Cecil Taylor, Anton Fig, Ran

Blake, Sarah Jarosz, Dominique Eade, Lake Street Dive and others;

the John McNeil-Bill McHenry Quartet; the Noah Preminger Quartet, A

Vocal Showcase at Joe’s Pub, Darcy James Argue’s Secret

Society, the NEC Faculty Jazz All Stars and more. (A full schedule of events accompanies this press release.)

The 40th celebration kicked off in Boston with a week of events in October 2009, culminating in a performance by the Wayne Shorter Quartet with NEC’s Philharmonia, which Kevin Lowenthal of the Boston Globe called a “stirring merger of jazz and classical music and to the fruitful 40 years of the two forms cohabiting at NEC.”

With a faculty that has included 5 MacArthur "genius" grant winners (Steve Lacy, George Russell, Ran Blake, Gunther Schuller, and Miguel Zenón) and 4 NEA Jazz Masters (Schuller, Brookmeyer, Russell, and Ron Carter), and alumni that reads like a who’s who of jazz, NEC’s Jazz Studies Program has spawned numerous Grammy winning composers and performers. As Mike West writes in JazzTimes: “Four decades after its founding, NEC’s jazz studies department is among the most acclaimed and successful in the world; so says the roster of visionary artists that have comprised both its faculty and alumni.”

History of NEC Jazz Studies

The first fully accredited jazz studies program at a music conservatory, NEC’s program was the brainchild of Gunther Schuller, the jazz historian, horn player, composer, author, and conductor. Principal Horn in the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra at age 19, Schuller had discovered Duke Ellington as a teenager and pronounced jazz as important as classical music. Named President of the Conservatory in 1967, he moved quickly to incorporate jazz into the curriculum. By September 1969, he had gotten his unprecedented program approved by the National Association of Schools of Music and began offering classes. Closely allied to the Jazz Studies program was his Third Stream department, which came along a few years later and which linked classical and jazz into a new genre.

Schuller chose his jazz faculty with a connoisseur’s discernment. The first department chair was saxophonist Carl Atkins. Composer George Russell, who conceived the Lydian Chromatic Concept (which has importantly influenced jazz greats from Miles Davis to Maria Schneider), began a Conservatory association that continued until his recent passing. When Russell retired from teaching, the NEA Jazz Master became a Distinguished Artist-in-Residence Emeritus. Pianist Jaki Byard, called a “walking encyclopedia of jazz,” brought his eclecticism and generosity of spirit to his NEC teaching. And Ran Blake, who Schuller had discovered pushing a broom at Atlantic Records, came to NEC in 1968 and became the first chair of the Third Stream Department in 1974.

During the early years of Jazz at NEC, Atkins formed a trio composed of Donald Pate on bass, Harvey Mason on drums, and Ron Fransen on piano. With Atkins as saxophonist and coach, the group toured jazz festivals recruiting students and attracting national attention to the new NEC program.

Among the earliest students to enroll were Stanton Davis and Ricky Ford. Brought in by Ran Blake, Ford fronted the house band at Wally’s Café while playing in Jaki Byard’s big band and Schuller’s repertory band at the Conservatory. “My participation in the NEC jazz ensemble under Jaki’s direction prepared me for entrée into the Ellington Orchestra,” Ford has recalled.

By the time Schuller retired as President of NEC in 1977, the list of jazz graduates was already impressive. They included Anthony Coleman (who has returned to teach at NEC), Marty Ehrlich, Fred Hersch, Jerome Harris, Michael Moore, and Bo Winiker.

Throughout the history of NEC’s Jazz Studies program, the faculty has continued to be distinguished by its wide range of important artists including trumpeter John McNeil; saxophonists Jimmy Giuffre, Steve Lacy, and Joe Allard; drummer Bob Moses; bassist Dave Holland; trombonist-composer-arranger Bob Brookmeyer; pianists Michael Cain and Stanley Cowell; and guitarists Gene Bertoncini, Chuck Wayne and Jack Wilkins. Vocalist Dominique Eade, who graduated in 1984, then became the first jazz performer to receive an NEC Artist Diploma in 1989, joined the faculty and has been a magnet for gifted young singers. Several, like Kris Adams, Luciana Souza, Lisa Thorson and Patrice Williamson, have gone on to prestigious careers.

So illustrious is NEC’s jazz faculty that five of the most eminent have received MacArthur “Genius” grants (Lacy, Russell, Blake, Schuller, and Miguel Zenón). In addition, Schuller, Brookmeyer, Russell, and Ron Carter have all been named NEA Jazz Masters.

Similarly, prominent alumni of NEC reads like a Who’s Who of Jazz and includes: Bruce Barth, Regina Carter, Freddy Cole, Marilyn Crispell, Marty Ehrlich, Ricky Ford, Satoko Fujii, Jerome Harris, Fred Hersch, Roger Kellaway, Mat Maneri, Harvey Mason, Andy McGhee, Bill McHenry, John Medeski, Vaughn Monroe, Michael Moore, Hankus Netsky, Jamie Saft, Frank London, Don Byron, George Schuller, Luciana Souza, Chris Speed, Cecil Taylor, Cuong Vu, Phil Wilson, Bo Winiker, Bernie Worrell, Rachel Z, Rachael Price, Richie Barshay, and Bridget Kearney.

For further information on Jazz 40th at NEC, go to: http://necmusic.edu/jazz40

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