Jazz Education: The Next Generation, Part 2

Jazz Education: The Next Generation, Part 2
Karl Ackermann By

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We let them know, as they go through our program that talent is only the first ingredient along the way to professional viability... —Pete Malinverni, Head of Jazz Studies, SUNY Purchase
Part 1 of Jazz Education: The Next Generation explored how the early days of music and—specifically—jazz music was approached through various channels of formal education. The long, arduous process of creating an accepting environment for jazz education necessitated moving the art form from a vaudevillian status through a firewall of academic elitism and prejudice to a proper mainstream reception. The irony is that whether one ascribes the "Golden Age" of jazz to the eras of Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington or Thelonius Monk, they were all within the extended period of time in which the wider body of academic institutions shunned the acceptance of jazz.

While jazz education has come a long way in the last forty years, there remains a curious otherworldly perception that, while breaching the stereotypes of the past, those typecasts have often been replaced with new hyperbole. Such was the case with the Academy Award winning movie Whiplash (Sony Classics, 2014). The picture's writer/director Damien Chazelle claims to have based the fictionalized account of a New York conservatory jazz program on his own, apparently nightmarish, experiences in a Princeton, New Jersey High School jazz program. The mass market success of Chazelle's picture should have been welcome exposure to the world of jazz education but its highly unrealistic, grossly sensationalized depiction of a sadistic, abusive environment makes for poor recruiting collateral.

So what remains lacking, in thinking about jazz education, seems to be a now long-established link to the professionalism that dominates the art. Antiquarians and casual players aside, the professional jazz class extends beyond leaders and session musicians. They are engineers, agents, promoters, producers, managers, authors and educators with a passion for their calling that is rarely surpassed in other careers. Yet the economics are more than challenging in a niche market, making a well-rounded, holistic education more of a necessity.

Practice, Pragmatism and Purchase

In the second part of this series, we focus will be on two schools that have made jazz education a cornerstone of their institutions. The State University of New York (SUNY) at Purchase and Toronto's Humber College; two institutions that are taking responsibility not just for music education but also for preparing students for managing their careers beyond the music.

Saxophonist Gerry Malkin recalls that when he arrived as a student at SUNY Purchase, his first classroom was in a double-wide trailer. A lot has changed. The university system in New York was established in 1948—one of the last states to do so—but the number of colleges and universities grew quickly over the next two decades. SUNY was ground-breaking in its progressive attitude. In 1953, SUNY took the unprecedented step of banning national fraternities and sororities that discriminated based on race or religion, from all of its campuses. The move was an impetus for similar actions from colleges across the country. Under former Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller, a further expansion took place in 1967 with the new Purchase campus representing "the cultural gem of the SUNY system," in his words. This early description has been borne out as the school has been ranked ninth in U.S. News & World Report's 2016 listing of top public liberal arts colleges, and a Princeton Review 2015 list of The Best 379 Colleges. Purchase's School of the Arts accounts for nearly half of all the school's students and administers the Conservatory of Music among its various Arts programs. Along with offering curriculums to conservatory students, Purchase allows Liberal Arts students to select many of the fine arts classes as well.

The impressive list of past and present faculty at Purchase is quite extensive and includes John Abercrombie, Vic Juris and Ingrid Jensen. Trumpeter Jon Faddis had played with Lionel Hampton and Charles Mingus developing a unique style that helped set him apart from early comparisons to Dizzy Gillespie. Baritone saxophonist Gary Smulyan played with Woody Herman in the late 1970s and went on to play in the big bands of Toshiko Akiyoshi/Lew Tabackin, Lionel Hampton, Freddie Hubbard, Tito Puente, and Clark Terry among many others. Tenor saxophonist Ralph Lalama, was a regular member of the Thad Jones and Mel Lewis led Village Vanguard Orchestra in the early 1980's. An earlier version of that band included his Purchase colleague, trombonist John Mosca who had also worked with Sarah Vaughan, Stan Getz and other top names. Drummer Kenny Washington had long been a favorite side man of legends such as Gillespie, Lee Konitz, Betty Carter, Clark Terry, and Tommy Flanagan, before becoming a legend himself. Drummer Richie Morales was a long-time member of Spyro Gyra and had recorded with the Brecker Brothers, Gato Barbieri, Al Di Meola and a host of other jazz and pop luminaries. Other Purchase faculty members include Bradley Brookshire, a harpsichordist and Grammy nominee, bassist Todd Coolman—a two-time Grammy winner—composer Laura Kaminsky, pianist Steven Lubin, bassist Tim Cobb who has recorded with Tony Bennett and Amy Winehouse.

Atop this talented collective sit Doug Munro, the founder of Jazz Studies Program at Purchase, and Pete Malinverni, the Coordinator and Head of Jazz Studies, who together represent the full spectrum of the school's program from inception to present day. Malinverni—who earned is his Master's degree through the Purchase Conservatory—is an impressively accomplished pianist and trio leader. While under-recognized as a recording artist, his Autumn in New York (Reservoir, 2002) garnered him critical praise both as a composer and musician. His Theme and Variations (Reservoir, 2006) was lauded for its masterful blend of classical and jazz influences in a solo setting. His affinity for a different amalgamation—sacred music and jazz—was successfully achieved with Joyful! (ArtistShare, 2007), a quintet outing that included Coolman (the previous Head of Jazz Studies) and Malinverni's vocalist wife Jody Sandhaus. Munro and Malinverni were well acquainted prior to their shared experience at Purchase as Munro mentored the pianist at an early age. Munro, a guitar virtuoso with credits on more than sixty recordings, has worked with an top-tier, cross-genre roster of artists including B.B.King, Eddie Gomez, Dr. Lonnie Smith, David "Fathead" Newman, Michael Urbaniak, Randy Brecker and Michael Brecker, Cornell Dupree, David Sanborn, Noel Redding, Todd Rundgren, Ron Wood, Toots Thielemans and Allen Toussaint. As a leader, he had received critical praise for his eclectic style on two of his Chase Music Group releases, The Blue Lady (1995) and Up Against It (2003). Munro is also a long-time staff member at Litchfield Jazz Camp, having been part of that faculty since 2009.

This past fall I interviewed Malinverni and Munro on a host of topics regarding jazz education at Purchase. Munro re-counts the beginnings of the program. "I started teaching at Purchase in 1989 as a part-time adjunct faculty in the Studio Composition Department. There was no Jazz Department then, only a few elective courses. In 1992 we got a new Dean of Music, Donald Steven. He asked me if I would be interested in developing an Undergrad and Graduate degree program in Jazz Studies for Purchase College. I spent the entire year, with the help of Dean Steven and my faculty mentor, James McElwaine, writing what would become our core curriculum. The program was officially launched in the spring semester, 1993. We started with 10 internal transfer students. The mission of the program was, and still is, to provide students, through teaching and mentoring, the skills and tools they would need to pursue a career as a professional musician. I directed the program for its first 10 years. I saw my role as being an advocate for our students, faculty and program. I was constantly trying to build the program towards, what I considered to be, our critical mass of 80 undergrads and 20 master's students. I was a tireless recruiter for our jazz program, trying to attract the best students and the best faculty to teach them. As the first Director I view my role as being one of builder. There have been three Directors of the Jazz Studies Program at Purchase. I was the first, bassist Todd Coolman, was the second Director. Todd took over the Directorship in 2003. I view Todd as being the force that made our Jazz Program great. Under Todd Coolman's direction and tireless work our program reached its current international status as a top Jazz Studies Program. In 2013 Pete Malinverni took over as our third Director. Todd and I were both overjoyed that Pete accepted the position. Pete had been teaching in the program for many years. We both felt that he had the vision and energy to take the Jazz Studies Program and put his own personal stamp on it. We are already seeing evidence of Pete's vision for what a Jazz Studies Program should be providing for its students in the current times. Pete has revamped and brought back our jazz vocal major. He also works across the campus bringing students from other programs into the jazz experience while taking our jazz students and giving them opportunities outside the traditional jazz curriculum. I am excited to see what the future holds for our program under Pete's impressive leadership."

Malinverni adds a pragmatic approach to the overall mission of the program. "I believe the most important thing we can do for our students is to provide as "real-world" an experience as possible in the classroom. The way I and many of my colleagues came up was by learning under the pressure of playing with unquestioned -and demanding! -masters. That paradigm is no longer as available to young musicians, as the touring band is less common these days. So, when a task is assigned in a class or rehearsal, we expect excellence and professional comportment. My specific role is that of guiding our program toward a model including that type of rigor but tempered with love—so the students know that, for now, with us, their mistakes will be corrected and their next attempts will be heard with fresh ears—a luxury not often found on the outside, where you make it happen now -or never."



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