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Jazz Education Pioneer Clem DeRosa Dies, At Age 86


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A drummer, leader, composer, educator, and author, DeRosa was co-founder of the International Association for Jazz Education

Clem DeRosa, a major figure in jazz performance and education, died peacefully in his sleep, December 20. Succumbing after a long struggle with cancer, he was surrounded by family at his home near Denton, Texas, where he had moved earlier this year.

The world of jazz education owes much to DeRosa, as do all followers of big band music. An internationally respected musician, educator, professional conductor/bandleader, composer, arranger, drummer, and author, DeRosa's career dates back to the 1950s. His greatest legacy was as one of the pioneers of jazz education. He was perhaps the first public school educator to instill a solid jazz curriculum and teaching method. His approach became nationally recognized because it produced young high school jazz bands that sounded astonishingly professional.

Based in Long Island in the mid-1960s, his high school jazz ensembles appeared on the Johnny Carson and Merv Griffin television shows. He appeared at the Newport Jazz Festival with the McDonald's High School Jazz Ensemble.

Besides his high school work, he taught master classes at such distinguished institutions as Harvard, the Paris Conservatory, the Manhattan School of Music, Juilliard, the University of North Texas, Hofstra, Indiana University, and the Berklee College of Music.

His performance career was equally distinguished, appearing and/or recording with the likes of Jimmy Dorsey, Clark Terry, Phil Woods, Charles Mingus, Ben Webster, John LaPorta, Marian McPartland, Claude Thornhill, and others.

In 1961, he was named the New York State Teacher of the Year. Around this same time, he was co-founder and served on the original faculty of the Stan Kenton Clinics, one of the first formal jazz education programs.

At the suggestion of bandleader Kenton, he was invited to become associated with the Villanova Intercollegiate Jazz Festival, where he served in several capacities over the decades: he brought his South Huntington High School jazz ensemble to perform as guest band, and later served as clinician and adjudicator.

He was a co-founder and past president of the International Association for Jazz Education (IAJE). DeRosa was the recipient of myriad honors, including being inducted into the IAJE Hall of Fame in 1990. More recently, he was inducted into the National Jazz Museum of Harlem (2008). He received the Manhattan School of Music alumni award for achievements in jazz education in 2009.

His performance skills enabled him to play with major jazz bands from the age of 15. His early musical career was interrupted by Army service during World War II, where he was a member of the Glenn Miller band. Returning from service, he gave up the rigors of a performance career for the stability of teaching, which allowed him to grow and care for his family. Upon his retirement from music education in 1980, DeRosa returned to touring the world as a professional bandleader for the Glenn Miller, Jimmy Dorsey, and Benny Goodman orchestras. He was also a co-author of several books including ones with Mel Lewis, Dick Hyman, Michael Moore, and Ed Shaugnessy.

His latest endeavor was American Jazz Venues, a non-profit organization that he established in 2003. AJV has the singular focus on the health and survival of America's indigenous musical art form, jazz, and strives to grow a new generation of fans. The musical voice of AJV is the American Jazz Repertory Orchestra, a 16-piece big band that plays faithful renditions of the major jazz tunes of the 20th century. DeRosa's most recent appearance with his American Jazz Repertory Orchestra was at Villanova in March, 2011, commemorating the 50th anniversary of that festival.

Earlier this year, DeRosa moved from New Jersey to Texas, where he and his wife Shirley could be nearer his family. He had announced that he was stepping down from the presidency of AJV, and at the next Board meeting a transition plan was (and is) to be put into place.

A devoted husband, father, and grandfather, DeRosa is survived by his wife Shirley; his three children, all involved in music (Richard DeRosa , head of the jazz composition department at the University of North Texas; Dianne, baritone saxophonist and teacher; and Gary, keyboardist); and two grandchildren, Martina and Janice.

A memorial service is being planned for the New York Metropolitan area for mid-May, 2012. Clem DeRosa was 86.

In lieu of Flowers, the family asks that a donation be made to: The Clem DeRosa Jazz Scholarship at Smithtown High School East (NY), c\o Ed Balsamo, #6 Angelo Court, St. James, NY 11780.

For more information contact .

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