Ten years ago, the highly esteemed Juilliard School opened its doors to the sounds of jazz. After attending a packed Juilliard Jazz small ensemble concert or visiting one of the many Jazz summer residencies, one might find it hard to believe that at one time, the genre was not heard within these walls.
Many current jazz students are familiar with legendary tales of Juilliard musicians from decades past being scolded for exploring and experimenting with the art form. And most have heard stories of jazz geniuses frustrated with the Juilliard mindset and becoming enticed by the lifestyle of the New York jazz musician, not bound by any institution’s walls: do Monk, Davis, and Wynton Marsalis ring any bells? However, times have changed and jazz has found a happy home at Juilliard.
This year, Juilliard’s Jazz Studies program celebrates its 10th year and, come September 21, the School’s 2010-11 season will be kicked off with the first-ever Juilliard Jazz faculty concert, set to take place in the Peter Jay Sharp Theater. The excitement expressed by Carl Allen, artistic director of the program, is palpable as he discusses the group, officially known as Juilliard Jazz Quintet and Friends.
“Although we’ve had a number of shows as an ensemble at different venues such as Dizzy’s Coca-Cola Club,” Allen told The Journal in a recent interview, “this will be the first jazz faculty concert at the School. It is also a historic moment having jazz as the first concert of the year. It is definitely a big deal!”
The group boasts an all-star cast with the frontline featuring five distinguished faculty members: Eddie Henderson on trumpet and Ron Blake on saxophone, and Frank Kimbrough, Ron Carter, and Carl Allen holding it down in the rhythm section (piano, bass, and drums, respectively). And if that’s not enough, the “friends” include two additional renowned artists: trombonist Steve Turre and bassist Ben Wolfe.
The opening program is comprised entirely of original compositions written by the faculty members in the group, each piece taking the audience into the sound world of that band member.
The show will give audience members an opportunity to hear just how talented the jazz instructors are, and Allen feels that the concert is also “important for the rest of the Juilliard students.” Indeed, it’s rare that we’re able to see the performances of our classmates in other divisions, and it’s even more unlikely that we’re able to catch Juilliard faculty members in action.
With the intention of doing more performances throughout the year, Allen said that the Juilliard Jazz Quintet will also take on workshops and residencies, similar to the ones that students in the Jazz Studies program do throughout the summer and school year. As Allen says after each of our residencies, the people we meet during workshops automatically “become part of our extended family.” The time and experiences we share with them help us all grow as artists, and remind us why we chose to play this music in the first place.
Although it seems a bit odd that the first Juilliard Jazz faculty concert took 10 years to come to fruition, it has been in the works for quite some time. “We actually had a show planned at one time,” Allen noted, “but it happened to fall on the same day as the [2009 presidential] inauguration. So, we decided that we should probably pick another day.” Yet, the timing of the concert appropriately matches the celebratory mood in the department this year, as the community marks Jazz’s first decade. Allen also noted that the ensemble has “big things planned for this year,” including a possible CD in the near future.
As the group prepares for its debut concert and begins to line up performances in the year ahead, this season opener is truly an honor for the Jazz department. “It illustrates the commitment that Juilliard has shown to the Jazz division,” Allen said. Those who fought for the right to practice, perform, and study this music at Juilliard would be proud to see what has blossomed into an incredible program.