Published since 2001
James Nichols is earning a PhD in American History and listening to the radio.
New School's good for jazz; and it has been for a long time. As early as 1941 the New School for Social Research began holding classes in jazz, making it the first college in New York City to do so. To put this date in context, at about the same time as New School began teaching jazz classes, up at Minton's Playhouse in Harlem, there was a young core of disaffected musicians pioneering the idea of jazz as uncompromised art and turning the jam session into a proving ground for young musicians as well as a talent farm for the burgeoning star system in jazz. New School's mission to create methods courses and support a mentoring system in jazz apprenticeship continues to institute the revolutionary thesiscirca 1940that jazz, especially when taken seriously as art and studied methodically, can progress.
The gala function at New School on the night of June 20th attested to the conviction that the jam session, that most intimate form of apprenticeship, still acts as the preferred form of producing jazz competence. New School provides young musicians with the proving ground and social network necessary to launch jazz careers, providing for young pupils a safe launching pad from which to take flight. In 1987 under the leadership of Arnie Lawrence and David Levy, New School introduced a full-fledged jazz department that combined this mentoring system with a curricular depth overseen by such experienced professionals as Reggie Workman and Junior Mance who both started teaching at the school's inception at that timeand by, among other more recent additions, Jane Ira Bloom. Complementing the program, performances by New School's students frequently occur in highly visible establishments in New York as well as in approximately 150 recitals annually.
New School's gala held on June 20th capped off a series of festivities surrounding the twenty-year anniversary of the department's founding. Department director and impresario for the evening Martin Mueller informed the audience that on the floorboards of that very historic stage at New School have sat a veritable bevy of jazz heavies, naming Cab Calloway and Joe Williams as just a couple of the past performers at New School. But earlier, on the night of the 17th, the floorboards positively groaned beneath the combined jazz heft that New School had in attendance for the evening: Roy Hargrove, Bernard Purdie, Barry Harris, Chico Hamilton, Junior Mance, Jim Hall, and Fred Hersch just to name a few. What did all those jazz luminaries share? They all had in common not just a connection to the school as former students or teachers: they also shared a dedication to the special sort of mentoring that New School promotes. Sharing the stage with these long proven veterans were a host of new talents, all recent graduates of the New School who can now take wing in the jazz world, initiated by veterans with vast experience and knowledge who have taught and performed with these young jazz men and women. New School grants these young musicians a positive advantage.
Opening the show was the newly-minted Doctor Chico Hamilton, who recreated his mallet solo from the classic film Jazz on a Summer's Day. Another veteran of that 1958 movie, guitarist Jim Hall, followed the doctor and, as always, got the most out of those quiet and intense little melodies between chords that he has favored ever since Train and the River days with clarinetist Jimmy Giuffre. Joining him on stage was his student Peter Bernstein, playing the role of the rebellious but apt pupil; he buckled under Hall's direction. But with his teacher's guidance, Bernstein channeled his ample energy into graceful single note lines. Then, after just one song, they exited stage left. The quick surrogation of one jazz luminary taking the place of another after just one song and the veritable parade of jazz greats made the evening a little odd. As Mueller himself pointed out on a couple of occasions, any one of these acts could warrant a full evening on their own. Extended jam sessions pushing musicians to new creative peaks may vindicate the mission of the school, but the evening was not about that. On this occasion the New School itself took lead billing, and the jazz stars in attendance played a decidedly supportive role. The limelight shone in reverse. The evening's performanceswhile still entertaining and even dazzling at momentsilluminated a sometimes neglected institution that has pumped vital life blood into the heart of jazz for a couple of decades if not a good deal longer; the format of the program made the very makings of jazz greats plainly visible.
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