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Jazz Education: The Next Generation, Part 2

Karl Ackermann By

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What are the elements that make the Purchase program stand out from other schools? Munro offers the following assessment. "I think there are three unique features about our Jazz Studies Program at Purchase. The first is the sense of community among the students. We are located 25 miles north of NYC in a very secluded part of Westchester County. There is no college town to hang out in. The students have created their own community of musicians. I have seen this happen continuously since the first year of the program. Our students help each other, they watch out for each other, they hang out together in both playing and social situations. There is no prejudice regarding race, gender, weight, coolness etc. It's pretty unique. The second aspect is the jazz faculty. Todd Coolman insisted that if you taught private lessons you had to come to the college to teach the students. The students would not be allowed to go the teacher's pad to take a lesson. This move really helped to build a sense of community within the faculty. They would all see each other at the college. It was a gas for the students too because they would see all these big name jazz artists in the hall of the music building. This practice is becoming more common now but when Todd started it, it was not the common practice for the NYC area programs. The third feature is that all of our classes are taught by professional jazz musicians. Every class, including jazz history (which is taught by Kenny Washington!) is taught by cats that are out in the professional arena. We don't have grad assistants teaching the basic courses or combos. It's pretty unique." Malinverni adds a note about the importance of mutual respect within the overall community. "At our place, we view our students as prospective colleagues so we tell them the truth in a way that leaves no room for ambiguity but is delivered respectfully, as positive criticism, helping our students along the way toward the artists they're becoming."

Admission to the Purchase program is competitive. Munro talks about the prerequisite conditions for entry. "We are looking for students who already are listening and playing jazz. Most students start to listen and play jazz in their High School years. We realize that their level and depth of understanding may not be that high yet. We don't expect full blown consummate players but we do expect to hear some jazz vocabulary, evidence of accumulation of repertoire and a level of technical ability that allows them to speak the language on their instrument."

Munro believes that Purchase offers the best facilities for students in the New York City area. With more than sixty practice rooms, almost one-hundred Steinway grand pianos and recording studios, under the direction of Grammy winning engineer Peter Denenberg, students are provided with a state of the art setting for developing and building their skills. The school's Performing Arts Center includes four performance areas and has played host to the likes of Sonny Rollins, Pat Metheny and many others. Purchase has two large ensembles, The Purchase Jazz Orchestra under Coolman and Faddis' direction and The Purchase Latin Jazz Orchestra led by David DeJesus. The ensembles have the opportunity to perform annually at prominent New York clubs such as Dizzy's Club Coca Cola, Birdland and the Blues Note. Student performers also have what Malinverni describes as a "home away from home" in Greenwich Village at Smalls Jazz Club. The pianist Spike Wilner is a club owner and Purchase Graduate School alum. "I and most of my colleagues often call students to perform with us, as members of our groups or to sit in on our engagements in NYC. Also, since all classes and rehearsals take place on campus, impromptu playing sessions and conversations about the music are a commonplace among us." says Malinverni. I had asked about the process used to determine the type of ensemble in which students collaborate. Malinverni describes that procedure. "I put together each of our fifteen Combos with an eye toward well-matched groups of musicians working under the wings of professors who will offer a positive environment in which to thrive." Munro adds additional detail. "We start with the number of small combos we have, say for example 16, when then make sure we can populate each combo with 1 drummer, 1 bassist, 1 guitarist and 1 pianist. From there we can add vocalists and horn players as needed. All of our combos are "theme based." For example, I teach combos that play the music from Charles Mingus' "Ah Um," or Chick Corea's "Light As a Feather" and a Horace Silver themed combo. The instrumentation for the combos is often dictated by what your combos theme is for that semester. Populating the combos is not an exact science but we do our best to insure a great combo experience for all of our students."

Purchase College is a somewhat unique setting in that an overall dedication to the arts is a cornerstone of the school. Malinverni and Munro explain how that overall environment impacts the jazz program. Malinverni states, "It makes a big difference -I don't think the arts in general and Jazz in particular are treated with as high a degree of respect in other institutions as they are at Purchase. I and several of my colleagues know the college president, provost and other upper administration folks personally and they are present at our performances -on and off campus -more often than they are not. I do not take this support for granted. When former Governor Nelson Rockefeller founded the State University system he inaugurated the Purchase campus as a hub for the arts in the state. On our campus, we have four separate Conservatories -of Music, Dance, Visual Arts and Drama -and our students take advantage of collaboration across those entities." Munro adds, "Collaboration between the conservatories is very common. It's a great way for students to foster the contacts they will need to succeed in the real world. Lately the college has started going one step further by integrating the Liberal Arts side of the campus with the conservatory programs. We have a new major called Arts Management that is showing great promise. We also have conservatory class offerings for non-majors. Our college is dedicated to a "one college" community as opposed to the "siloing" of programs."

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