Since Gunther Schuller initiated the first fully accredited jazz studies program at a music conservatory, NEC has been a pioneer in the education of creative jazz artists, training the most talented young musicians in the broadest range of styles, while at the same time seeking ways to expand the jazz tradition through the development of students’ individual voices. This rigorous and open-minded approach to improvisation and composition has been a constant since Jaki Byard and George Russell created the school’s groundbreaking curriculum in 1969.
The foundation of NEC’s teaching of jazz begins in the close, mentor-like relationship developed in private lessons between students and the prominent artists that make up the faculty, which includes Ralph Alessi, Jerry Bergonzi, Dominique Eade, Billy Hart, Fred Hersch, Dave Holland, Cecil McBee, Donny McCaslin, John McNeil, Jason Moran, Joe Morris, and Miguel Zenón. And because jazz is based as much on musical knowledge and self-expression as it is on technique, NEC students have always been able to study with any faculty member, regardless of instrument. Students may also choose to work with NEC’s renowned “classical” faculty.
Twenty-seven faculty-coached small ensembles reflect NEC’s inclusive approach to music making, including ensembles focused on free jazz, early jazz, gospel music, Brazilian music, songwriting—as well as more traditional approaches to jazz performance.
Although the focus of NEC’s ensembles program is on smaller groups, NEC has two jazz orchestras. The Jazz Composers' Workshop Orchestra, developed by Bob Brookmeyer and now coached by Frank Carlberg, gives jazz composition majors the opportunity to prepare their music in weekly rehearsals leading up to concerts at the end of each semester. The NEC Jazz Orchestra performs both traditional and contemporary big band music under the direction of department chair Ken Schaphorst as well as other faculty and guest artists. Recent guest artists have included Carla Bley, Maria Schneider, Gunther Schuller, Randy Weston, and Miguel Zenón.
The proof of NEC’s success in developing young jazz artists lies in the achievements of its graduates. Prominent alumni of NEC read like a who’s who of jazz: Darcy James Argue, Bruce Barth, Richie Barshay, Don Byron, Regina Carter, Freddy Cole, Marilyn Crispell, Dave Douglas, Marty Ehrlich, Anton Fig, Ricky Ford, Satoko Fujii, Roberta Gambarini, Jerome Harris, Fred Hersch, Roger Kellaway, Mat Maneri, Harvey Mason, Andy McGhee, Bill McHenry, John Medeski, Vaughn Monroe, Ingrid Monson, Michael Moore, Rachael Price, Jamie Saft, George Schuller, Sara Serpa, Matthew Shipp, Luciana Souza, Chris Speed, Cecil Taylor, Dan Tepfer, Cuong Vu, Phil Wilson, Bo Winiker, Bernie Worrell, and Rachel Z.
But don’t take our word for it. Jazz Times writes: “NEC’s jazz studies department is among the most acclaimed and successful in the world; so says the roster of visionary artists that have comprised both its faculty and students.”
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