November 21, 2012

Jazz studies at UofL: Why it may be the happiest major on campus

Jazz students play in a recital on Tuesday, Nov. 13 in Comstock Hall.

Jazz students play in a recital on Tuesday, Nov. 13 in Comstock Hall.

By Simon Isham–

Jazz Studies at U of L may well be the happiest major on campus. When walking by the School of Music, it is not uncommon to hear the bluesy sound of a saxophone drifting out of an open window and into the street for all to hear. Much of the music that emerges from the building in this way is the result of the Jazz Studies Program, which prides itself on being as open about its major as it is about music.

The Jazz Studies Program is particularly proud of creating partnerships with universities in South America for a variety of travel durations, from short clinics in Ecuador to semester-long student exchanges in Brazil. At the beginning of 2012, U of L students traveled to the Universidade Estadual de Campinas, and a group of Brazilian students from that university came to the University of Louisville. In May, a sextet of undergraduate students traveled with Jazz Studies Department Chair Michael Tracy to Loja, Ecuador, where they performed as soloists with the Loja Symphony Orchestra.

Tracy told the Cardinal that he especially appreciates that “our jazz faculty are multi-faceted, gifted, caring educators and wonderful, talented performers who practice what we teach. Each of our nine faculty … are exceptional musicians. I am especially pleased that (our bass and piano professor) Chris Fitzgerald has been offered a full-time position. Chris is respected throughout the music community (both local and national) as a committed educator who continually puts his students first. He is a highly musical performer (who) always makes the musicians around him sound better. Another wonderful aspect is that Mr. Fitzgerald is a graduate of our program, a wonderful example for former, current and future students.”

Tracy said that a jazz major needs to be accomplished on his or her instrument—somewhere between the level of a professional and a beginner. He said that he or she must be someone who continually seeks to improve on an instrument and use that as a vehicle for self-expression through the craft of improvisation. A jazz major must also be able to appreciate the many different styles of jazz and “take on the responsibility of working in isolation while interacting with others in ensembles—a leader while being a follower, a team member.” He also said that a jazz studies major must be “highly inquisitive, ever searching and challenging (his or her) limits—musically and as a creative person.”

To prospective students, Tracy says: “The School of Music recently added a minor in music as an option for those who are studying in other areas but still want to continue their study of music. There are options … You don’t have to be a music major to play. We present concerts almost weekly at the School of Music, so visit and see what you could be doing.”

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Photo: Tricia Stern/The Louisville Cardinal

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