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The Jazz Conservatory

Nick Catalano By

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Each semester I bring my jazz students from Pace university down to Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola to see a performance by the Manhattan School of Music Jazz orchestra, under the direction of Justin DiCioccio. The concerts are spectacular with themes intelligently constructed featuring areas of jazz (musicians, composers, arrangers, styles) appealing to serious listeners. I've written about the orchestra's programs in previous columns, but it is time to focus on the school itself because recent developments there are truly noteworthy.

The school was founded almost 100 years ago, and long ago established itself as an important New York conservatory for classical music studies for students from pre-college age to the doctoral level. The jazz program also has a long history but, in the last couple of years, has gained a stature that rivals that of any school on the scene.

The principal factor in the school's new prominence centers around the recognition that the student musicians (who face stiff competition for admission) have such a high level of prescience are more than ready for active professional careers. Although this is not a new development in such schools, MSM has launched ambitious professional programming for the students on a unique scale. Not only do the best of these students get to perform in top jazz venues like Dizzy's, they record with jazz luminaries such as Dave Liebman, and perform with them at highly promoted concerts, like Paquito D'Rivera.

In the past, the performances at Dizzy's were the highlights of the Jazz Philharmonic Orchestra's professional exposure. But this April, 2011, the school has set up an impressive concert series that rivals just about any such jazz activity happening in Gotham during the month. On April 1, the MSM Afro-Cuban Jazz Orchestra, under the direction of Bobby Sanabria, not only celebrated the 90th birthday of legendary Latin percussionist Candido Camero, with an outstanding evening, but sold its new CD, Tito Puente Masterworks: Live (Audio CD), in the lobby at intermission.

On April 8, 2011 the MSM Philharmonic Jazz Orchestra will perform with Paquito D'Rivera and vocalist Roberta Gambarini, in an "evening of symphonic jazz," featuring the work of composer Mike Abene. And on April 26, Joe Lovano and Judi Silvano will star in a show dubbed Celebrating Sinatra, with arrangements by Manny Album. These charts will be played by the MSM Chamber Jazz Ensemble, another of the school's amazing number of jazz groups, under the direction of Justin DiCioccio. Admission to these shows are only $5 for students, but the Sinatra show is free of charge.

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