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Tom Everett: Jazz at Harvard

By Published: October 18, 2011

Eighty Years and Beyond

AAJ: How does it feel to have seen jazz grow at Harvard under your watch, to be onstage with Bennie Golson, Brian Lynch
Brian Lynch
Brian Lynch
, Eddie Palmieri
Eddie Palmieri
Eddie Palmieri
and other former visiting artists for the "Forty Years of Jazz at Harvard" concert?

TE: As an individual who has the opportunity to meet, work and in some cases become friends with these major artists (several of whom have been my heroes) is a dream come true. To work with them on their music, learning their music, their artistic priorities, and unique aspects of their personality on a much deeper level, but also the great personal satisfaction to "survive" that situation...

AAJ: What do you mean by "survive"?

TE: "Survive," in the sense that I can contribute back. I hope that for these artists I have at least enough appreciation, insight and knowledge to develop and present a program that will honor them, as well as provide the students and the audience some type of overview and insight into what this player has done. My goal has been to do justice to these players' creativity and influence on American culture.

For example, to have Gerry Mulligan
Gerry Mulligan
Gerry Mulligan
1927 - 1996
sax, baritone
at Harvard while trying to salute him, who like most jazz musicians, [concentrates on] what he's doing now, his new pieces, and all of a sudden he goes into a situation where music is pulled out which he might not have listened to or thought of in decades, I'm delighted to say in some cases even the artist will say, "Wow, I never quite looked at it that way, I never saw this connection or this evolution." I find that exciting, and hopefully rewarding for the artist, but [also] incredibly important for understanding and acknowledging that artist's unique contribution, not just how many hit records they had or who they played with.

Some artists are quite taken aback by that acknowledgement, because they haven't had that experience outside the musical community, especially some of the older artists who didn't have the same educational or financial opportunities as some younger players. For example, a concert honoring Buck Clayton
Buck Clayton
Buck Clayton
1911 - 1991
's music, and a special commission for him to write new music, seemed unreal to him. Someone invested research into [his] life and what [he] did. For some artists, Harvard represented something so foreign, a recognition of the musician and what they do, from people who weren't jazz musicians and weren't trying to make a dollar off of them.

AAJ: What are your hopes for eighty years of jazz at Harvard?

TE: To see it [laughs]!

AAJ: Well, what do you hope to see at 80 years of jazz at Harvard?

TE: That it's part of the fabric of something live, and that there is a respect, appreciation and acknowledgment for what this music represents. Not everyone is going to like it, but there are periods of jazz, just like literature and art. People who know very little about art know about various periods, that this artist represents a certain era, for example. I think an educated person should have some basic understanding of those relationships in American music.

Jazz permeates [American music] as does its African America roots. In my jazz history course we hear a lot of up-tempo, celebratory blues, as well as slow and sad blues. The blues is about triumph, the blues is about success, the blues says, "We can overcome this!" or "Yeah, we're past that point!" as well as the traditional idea of the blues as something down-home, sad, slow and moody. Blues is relative to life and life can go either way. It tells a story and is an experience of life.

At its best, jazz is an art music that to some degree the world looks upon as something that developed and flourished in the context of this country, despite encountering great hardship and prejudice. It's a wonder it survived in some ways, but I think the artists had to play it .

Photo Credits
Page 1: Jon Chase, Harvard Staff Photographer
Page 2, Louis Armstrong: Courtesy the estate of Louis Armstrong
Page 2, Bil Evans: Brian McMillen
Page 3, Si Zenter: Courtesy of
Page 3, Dizzy Gillespie: Courtesy of Tom Everett
Page 3, Jimmy Dorsey Band: Courtesy of
Page 5: Kayana Szymczak, courtesy of The Boston Globe

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