Embracing the Jazz Community

Monday, Feb 24, 2020
By Aaron Flagg
Juilliard Journal
Share on:
Vocal soloist Olivia Chindamo performing with the Jazz Orchestra
Olivia Chindamo and the Juilliard Jazz Orchestra

It’s been a big year for jazz at Juilliard. The Jazz Studies program, now in its 18th year, has grown to approximately 50 students and this year we inaugurated our jazz voice program. In the meantime we’ve continued our embrace of cross-divisional collaborations with dance, drama, and the other music areas of the school.

One of the main goals of the program is to develop musicians versed in the jazz continuum and its American vernacular roots, learning the classics of the repertoire, and working with the top musicians in the field. But the creation of new work is also critical to the students’ education. Hearing notes you’ve written for the first time is an exhilarating experience. Shaping, revising, clarifying, and explaining the intent behind the music is best done in community. Students arrange and compose original music in their small ensembles throughout the year, and on April 7, their work will be the focus of our concert, Student Compositions: What We Hear.

Just four days later, on April 11, our director Wynton Marsalis (’81, trumpet) will conduct the Juilliard Jazz Orchestra in our Young Composers and Bebop Legends concert. It’s part of an initiative, now in its second year, to give current big band composers a platform for their music to be heard and an opportunity for students to access the many musical personalities and styles in jazz today. This year’s composers are Joseph Block, a junior at Columbia University who’s participated in the Barnard-Columbia-Juilliard exchange; Miles Lennox, a student at the Manhattan School of Music; Drew Zaremba, an assistant professor at the University of Colorado; and Courtney Wright, a graduate assistant at the University of North Texas. Each is an award-winning composer as well as an outstanding performer.

Learning jazz in community is key. We embrace this to mean the school jazz community, the New York City jazz community, and the global jazz community. In January, a portion of the national jazz community gathered for a festival and competition at Jazz at Lincoln Center. One of our students, Jacob Melsha, describes his perspective on our recent participation and the many important lessons learned there. Please read his article about it.

The inspiration jazz students give each other and the inspiration they receive from all the incredible talent and drive that resides within Juilliard as a whole is something to behold. Come join us at our concerts and see (and hear!) for yourself.

Aaron Flagg (BM ’92, MM ’93, trumpet) is chair and associate director of jazz studies