. After all, it was Schuller founded NEC's jazz studies program in 1969, making it the oldest advanced jazz degree program in the United States.
For this occasion, Schuller dusted off his 1954 arrangement of Rogers and Hart's "Blue Moon." As Schuller instructed the band, a bouncing, breathy melody filled Jordan Hall. With seeming ease and grace, the 83-year-old Schuller led a 20-piece orchestra on a journey of starts and conclusions. "Keep swinging!" he said while exiting the stage, encouraging the audience.
Today, the phrase "blue moon" most often means "rare," as in "once in a blue moon." While it can imply luck, it sometimes hints at impossibility. Perhaps all three connotations apply to Schuller in the context of jazz at NEC.
during the Birth of the Cool era (1949-50), was named president of the New England Conservatory in 1967. From the start, he would would face trying times. Typically, enrollment at the conservatory was around 700 students. By 1967 it had dwindled to mere 215. With low enrollment, NEC was facing severe financial challenges, and in this turbulent climate, Schuller saw the opportunity to create something new, something different.
Schuller's first act in office was to create a jazz studies curriculum leading to a degree. In the mid-sixties, teaching jazz in the classroom environment was still something of a novel idea. "There was very strong resistance from the board," Schuller stated. "I paid no attention to that." Schuller recalled that while the program was still being formulated, one faculty member even resigned in disagreement.
"I brought in a lot of modern music in a way it had never been done," Schuller said. At the time, jazz didn't have an official theorist and people were still learning how teach the art form in a methodical, organized manner. To help address the problem, Schuller recruited composer-theorist George Russell
. "This was a guy who wouldn't touch a sax for 6, 7, or 8 months, and then he'd take out his horn and blow me away," said Atkins. "He'd give a class and there would be about 8 guys just playing and hanging out," Byron fondly recalled.
The music at the Jazz 40 Summit reflected both the past and present of jazz at NEC. Ken Schaphorst, present jazz chair, directed George Russell's arrangements of "A Bird in Igor's Yard." This piece, which sat in a vault for 30 years, brings together influences of Charlie Parker and Igor Stravinsky. Don Byron's clarinet work was central to the performance.
Carl Atkins directed one original, "Sands of Time," reflective of a trip to the Great Pyramid. He also directed Russell's "All About Rosie," which contains a piano solo originally played by Bill Evans