A New Era for Juilliard Jazz | The Juilliard School

From the beginning one of Juilliard Jazz’s main goals was to give all the students a foundation in the history of the music so they could find their voice as a performer. That’s still key today, Marsalis said in a recent interview with The Journal. In addition to knowing the history of the music, he noted, “we want the students to be able to play with the same type of emotional impact and intelligence as the musicians who established jazz as a great art form.” The program also wants its graduates “to be leaders, able to represent our music all around the world.”

The February 25 concert, which celebrates the music of two jazz pioneers, covers both those bases. Goodman (1909-86) was a clarinetist and bandleader known as the King of Swing, who, among many other achievements, was renowned for having integrated bands in the 1930s. Bandleader and composer Edward “Duke” Ellington (1899-1974) also elevated the genre immeasurably. When he was posthumously awarded a Pulitzer Prize, in 1999, the citation read, in part, that it was “in recognition of his musical genius, which evoked aesthetically the principles of democracy through the medium of jazz and thus made an indelible contribution to art and culture.”

Benny Goodman and his Swing Orchestra’s famous 1938 Carnegie Hall concert featured an inspired, toe-tapping version of “Sing, Sing, Sing” and other classics of the Swing Era. Duke Ellington’s “Far East Suite,” “Afro-Eurasian Eclipse,” and Latin American “Suite” typify the aural portraits he created from his worldwide travels.

When students absorb those—and any—songs, Marsalis said, they’ll focus on developing an intensive understanding of them. It won’t be a matter of just harmony and tune, but also “everything around that song. The sociology, what was going on at the time, what the song represented, who was playing that song, what did the leader want, the philosophy of the people playing in that group, how the rhythm section interacted.”

Something else that differentiates Juilliard Jazz, he said, is “our focus on American roots—music like gospel, spirituals, blues, and folk. These are things that give you a melodic vocabulary to improvise in.” That intense focus means that, over the course of their Juilliard education, students will be able “to put together the entire history of jazz and that way they will know about American history, the social development in our country.” And since “jazz touches all aspects of a modern life,” he added, the program will “put them in a position to interface with people who are making a difference with this music in many different venues.”

While the Juilliard Jazz students—there are 41 this year in undergraduate and graduate programs—will have a rigorous exposure to the greats of the field, there are other aspects to their training including courses that let them take advantage of business opportunities that come through Jazz at Lincoln Center, where Marsalis is the artistic and managing director. “They’ll learn about development, production, marketing, booking concert, all the things that Jazz at Lincoln Center does. We very much want to prepare our students to have an impact and to be able to create jobs.”


Wednesday, February 25, 8:00pm
Guest coach Victor Goines leads music by Benny Goodman; Wynton Marsalis, the director of Juilliard Jazz, conducts music by Duke Ellington.

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