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Listening to Perspectives on Cultural Equity and Belonging: Part Two

NEC's Cultural Equity & Belonging initiative will release a report and action steps this month, with recommendations informed by 140 listening sessions with NEC community members.

In advance of that report, join us in taking a look back at the first phase of this initiative.

Recapping Our Community Conversations: Part Two

In today's recap, we examine the beginnings of Jazz Studies at NEC through conversation with founding chair Carl Atkins, current chair Ken Schaphorst, and alumna Susan Calkins ’83 MM, whose doctoral dissertation and book focuses on the history of Gunther Schuller and jazz at NEC.

New to this series? Visit Part One for an introduction

August 3, 2020: African-American Music and Jazz Studies at NEC


  • When Gunther Schuller became President of NEC in 1967, he wanted NEC students to graduate as a "complete musician" who embraced the overlap between jazz, classical, contemporary, experimental, and world music.
Carl Atkins speaks on Zoom. He sits in front of a stylized window and a yellow wall.

"Gunther always believed...that an educational institution [was] obligated to ensure that students were acquainted and and perhaps even immersed in every form of music that was extant. He wanted...jazz [to] be an integral part of the programs at NEC. That was his vision, and remained steadfast for all the years that I knew him." —Carl Atkins

Schuller was adamant that the conservatory avoid becoming a museum, and fully develop musicians with personal visions of their art." —Stanford Thompson

  • The assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1968 fueled Schuller's commitment to launching what is now the Jazz Studies department in 1969, the first nationally accredited program of its kind in the United States, as well as the Community Services Program that brought music education primarily to underserved areas throughout Boston.
  • Ken Schaphorst speaks via Zoom panel. He is smiling and looking down.
    The panelists agreed that the jazz program influenced the culture of NEC greatly:
    • Atkins noted the increased representation of Black students in all musical genres following the launch of the jazz program.
    • Calkins discussed the prevalence of classical students playing in jazz ensembles.
    • Schaphorst noted the value that current jazz students find in studying theory and solfege alongside classical peers, and the influence of the Black Student Union, launched under the mentorship of jazz faculty Jason Moran.
  • The jazz department's educational philosophy was interwoven with Schuller's vision for "complete" musicianship, and the jazz department played an integral role during the 10 years that Schuller served as President of NEC. As the department leadership changed hands throughout the years, the original vision of the program has been preserved; however, cultural diversity and consistency of instruction centered on Black contributions to jazz wasn't maintained over the past half century.

"We have an opportunity today to make some adjustments that would help re-center the department to more consistently live up to the cultural equity goals NEC should consistently aspire to achieve." —Stanford Thompson

  • Susan Calkins speaks via zoom. She smiles and looks at the camera.
    The panelists also addressed the lack of gender diversity in the department and wider field of jazz.

Join us tomorrow for Part Three in this five-part series, in which Dr. Darryl Harper ’08 DMA discusses “Race's Influence on Culture at NEC.” Subscribe via email