A Merger In Jazz Education
Jazz education was brought to UCLA when Burrell started teaching "Ellingtonia," a class on Duke Ellington in 1978"It was Thad Jones who turned my ear to the inner sound of Ellington; he was one of my heroes that really succeeded in the music business," Burrell stated. "Number one, he was a jazz musician and an African American, a citizen of the world, a role model, a great businessman. He is American many times over." Burrell presented the idea to Dr. Claudia Mitchell Kernan, Director of the Center on Afro-American Studies. With his brainchild, the guitarist taught for 18 years, until UCLA created the Jazz Studies Program in 1996, appointing him Director. By this time, he was a world-renowned performer and recording artist on the Blue Note and Verve labels, with artists including John Coltrane, Jimmy Smith and Stanley Turrentine.
The creation of a Jazz Studies Program was the realization of a goal he'd set for himself while studying music in the 1950s. "When I was in college, I was disturbed by the fact that jazz was not getting legitimate attention like other forms of music," he recalls. "I made a pledge to myself that if I ever had the chance, I would try to do something to help solve that problem. The Jazz Studies Program offers graduates a diverse range of activities, including careers and graduate studies in jazz performance, composition, arranging, research and teaching, as well as becoming great musicians." Burrell went on to say, "with 'Ellingtonia,' I would not only be teaching the students about jazz, but giving them an example of a role model who they could learn lessons from, even if they weren't in music."
Burrell's staff has included Gerald Wilson, Garnett Jnr Brown, the late Billy Higgins and Harold Land, Billy Childs, Ruth Price, Barbara Morrison, and Dr. Bobby Rodriguez. Added to his list of jazz activities is his leadership of the philanthropic David L. Abell "Friends of Jazz," whose focus is saluting seasoned pianists with The Duke Ellington Award for Excellence, inviting them to UCLA for interviews and playing before members. Past honorees have been Randy Weston, Cedar Walton, Barry Harris, Hank Jones, Harold Mabern, and George Cables.
Trumpeter Herb Alpert's Foundation contributed an enormous amount to the Ethnomusicology departments in 2007, establishing the Herb Alpert School of Music and underwriting all music endeavors at UCLA. Alpert became a music philanthropist when, in 1988, he connected with the Harlem School of Music, coming to its rescue in 2010 when it was about to close by donating $500,000 to keep the doors open. "I didn't want to make it [UCLA School of Music] a lopsided music school," Alpert explained. "It's full-serviced, classical, ethnic music and jazzthe works."
Closely associated with The Monk Institute for years, he was able to bring it to UCLA by providing graduate level studies. Herbie Hancock, Chairman of The Institute and longtime champion of Jazz Studies at UCLA stated, "the Monk Institute 's program will provide students access to UCLA's unusually wide and varied curriculumfrom courses in music business and technology to film scoring and global musical traditionsit represents the future of Jazz. Jazz has always functioned as a strong bridge between people of different cultures and different ethnicities." In addition to Hancock, The Institute will include lecturers Wayne Shorter, T.S. Monk, and James Newton.
Newton reiterates that UCLA's jazz program both benefit from its new association with an institute named for the father of modern jazz piano and adds, "There's a responsibility that comes with the name Thelonious Monk. He's one of the highest models I can think of for students as they move through the process of discovering themselves and learning about the nobility of the music."
"I think jazz is the perfect art form, explains Alpert. "It's speaking for people all over the worldlook at what's happening in the Middle East, people looking for freedom and self-expressionthat's what jazz is all about."
Burrell concurs, "Jazz is a serious, world-respected art form, one of the major gifts from the United States to the world, and it should have all the serious attention that other forms of music have and I'm certainly glad to be a part of all that jazz."
It was Edward Duke Ellington who had the very first college jazz concert at UCLA in 1936, and it was Kenny Burrell who brought jazz studies to UCLA with his creation of "Ellingtonia," taking the university into the forefront of jazz education in this new millennium.