William Paterson University Celebrates Major Milestones for Renowned Jazz Studies Program

The internationally acclaimed Jazz Studies Program marks its 40th anniversary, while the Jazz Room Series presents its 35th anniversary season
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Mulgrew Miller, the current director of the Jazz Studies Program

William Paterson University in Wayne marks two major milestones in the history of jazz education on campus during the 2012-13 academic year:  the 40th anniversary of the University’s internationally renowned Jazz Studies Program, and the 35th anniversary of its related performance series, The Jazz Room.

Founded in 1973 by the late music professor Martin Krivin, the Jazz Studies Program was one of the first degree programs in jazz studies in the nation, offering a unique emphasis on small group playing and improvisation.  Later that year, when the University hired the great jazz composer, arranger, and trumpet player Thad Jones as a full-time faculty member, William Paterson became the first school anywhere to bring a major league jazz star onto the tenured resident faculty.

“Thad Jones brought his vast career experience directly into our classrooms and rehearsal halls,” says David Demsey, professor of music and coordinator of the Jazz Studies Program since 1992.  “This approach—having a jazz artist of his stature on campus every week—became the national model for jazz programs.”

Throughout the past four decades, the program blossomed under the leadership of its four directors: Jones, from 1973 to 1979; Rufus Reid, the renowned bassist and veteran of the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Quartet, from 1980 until his retirement in 1999; James Williams, the accomplished jazz pianist, composer, and member of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, from 1999 until his untimely death in 2004; and current director Mulgrew Miller, one of the most influential jazz pianists on the jazz scene, who joined the University in 2005.

“The value to students of having a professor who has a performing career and is an educator is that it shows them being a musician is a life,” says Miller.  “Jazz is a living art form, and like anything that lives, it is subject to the laws of change and evolution. I want to keep the students attuned to that process, to see new trends while at the same time making sure they appreciate the roots and tradition of the music.”

Jazz majors come to William Paterson from across the United States and all corners of the world to study with the program’s artist/faculty of world-class, New York-area jazz professionals. The curriculum, which leads to the bachelor of music and master of music in jazz studies, includes courses in jazz ear training, improvisation, arranging, and jazz history and analysis. Through the years, students have won numerous awards in the most prestigious national and regional jazz competitions, including the Down Beat magazine Student Music Awards and the Notre Dame Collegiate Jazz Festival. Numerous alumni have launched stellar careers as solo touring and recording artists, collaborating with some of the legends of jazz.

In conjunction with the program, in 1978 the University launched the popular Jazz Room Series. The Sunday afternoon concert series, one of the largest and most prestigious college-sponsored jazz events in the country, has drawn a virtual who’s who of the jazz world to the Shea Center stage, representing every jazz genre from practitioners of traditional jazz to avant-garde to bebop to swing to Afro-Latin jazz—as well as William Paterson’s own student ensembles, who open each concert.  The series has won numerous grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, and more than twenty-five years of continuous support from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts for its innovative programming.

The fall season of The Jazz Room, which launches October 7 with a concert by Miller and jazz pianist Kenny Barron, also features performances by John Hebert, the Sheila Jordan Trio, a William Paterson Alumni “Super Band,” and Benny Golson.  For more information, call the Shea Center Box Office at 973-720-2371 or visit www.wp-presents.org.

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09/12/12