Press release

New England Conservatory Celebrates 50th Anniversary of Groundbreaking Jazz Department

Jazz50 celebration features concerts in Boston and NYC with distinguished faculty, alumni, and students performing. 

Faculty and alumni performers include Antonio Sanchez, Alan Pasqua, Matthew Shipp, Bruce Brubaker, Dan Tepfer, Ran Blake, Ethan Iverson, Joe Morris, Luciana Souza, Fred Hersch, Donny McCaslin, Billy Hart, Cecil McBee, Dominique Eade, Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society and more.

“First-rate professors.... illustrious students.”

The New Yorker

“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 alumni.”


New England Conservatory (NEC) celebrates the 50th anniversary of its internationally renowned Jazz Studies Department and first fully accredited jazz program at a music conservatory. To commemorate the anniversary and celebrate the department’s vibrant legacy and its place as one of the top jazz education programs in the world, NEC will host Jazz50, a year-long series of concerts and events featuring many of the school’s distinguished jazz alumni, faculty, students and special guests.  The celebration will take place during the 2019-2020 academic year in Boston and New York City.

“I’m very grateful for Gunther Schuller’s farsightedness and efforts in establishing the Jazz department in 1969, the first fully-accredited program in a conservatory,” says current Jazz Studies Chair Ken Schaphorst. “I’m also grateful to the faculty and students who have established NEC as a leader in the world of jazz education over the past 50 years. It’s been deeply humbling to share the responsibility of shepherding this noble mission for the past 18 years, educating students in the transformational art form of jazz, developing communication between unique individual human voices.

“I’m excited to have this opportunity with Jazz50 to celebrate the achievements of NEC's past and present, while looking forward to our future.”

NEC’s Jazz Studies Department was the brainchild of Gunther Schuller, who moved quickly to incorporate jazz into the curriculum when he became president of the Conservatory in 1967. The foundation of its teaching and success begins with the mentor relationship developed in lessons between students and the prominent faculty artists.  In addition to its two jazz orchestras, faculty-coached small ensembles reflect the NEC’s inclusive approach to music making, including ensembles focused on free jazz, early jazz, gospel music, Brazilian music, and songwriting, as well as more traditional approaches to jazz performance.

Students are encouraged to find their own musical voices while making connections and collaborating with a vibrant community of creative musicians, and ultimately to transform the world through the power of music. The program has spawned numerous Grammy-winning composers and performers and has an alumni list that reads like a who's who of jazz, while the faculty has included six MacArthur "genius" grant recipients (three currently teaching) and four NEA Jazz Masters.

NEC’s Jazz50 programs include Boston events featuring:

  • The NEC Jazz Orchestra with Alan Pasqua (alum) and Antonio Sanchez (alum)
  • Jazz Advance: The Legacy of Cecil Taylor (alum) featuring an all-star line-up including Matthew Shipp (former student), Bruce Brubaker (faculty), Dan Tepfer (alum), Ran Blake (faculty), Ethan Iverson (faculty), and Joe Morris (faculty)
  • A weeklong residency and concert by Luciana Souza (alum)
  • The Music of Gunther Schuller featuring the NEC Jazz Orchestra

NYC events will include:

  • An NEC Faculty All-Star Group featuring Fred Hersch (alum, former faculty), and current faculty members Donny McCaslin, Billy Hart and Cecil McBee at the Jazz Standard
  • Dominique Eade (alum, faculty) and Fred Hersch (alum, former faculty) at the Jazz Standard
  • Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society (alum) as well as the NEC Alumni Big Band at the Sheen Center

This anniversary provides us the opportunity to reflect on half a century of leadership in jazz education at New England Conservatory, and to celebrate the importance of jazz in both the history and future of American music,” says NEC President Andrea Kalyn.

Concert Details

Boston | Thursday, October 17, 2019 | NEC Jazz Orchestra with Alan Pasqua and Antonio Sanchez

7:30 pm, Jordan Hall

The NEC Jazz Orchestra will celebrate the anniversary of NEC’s Jazz Studies Department by playing music drawn from throughout its 50-year history, including George Russell’s “All About Rosie” and Jaki Byard’s “Two Five One.” Featured guests will include alums Alan Pasqua and Antonio Sanchez. The department’s first chair, Carl Atkins, will assist current chair Ken Schaphorst in conducting.

There will be a post-concert Jam Session at 9:30 p.m. in Brown Hall.


Boston | Friday, October 18, 2019 | Jazz Advance: The Legacy of Cecil Taylor

7:30 pm, Jordan Hall

Among NEC’s many prominent alums, Cecil Taylor stands out for his influence over the history of jazz. Taylor’s significant legacy will be recognized with a series of piano solos featuring NEC faculty and alums: Ran Blake, Bruce Brubaker, Ethan Iverson, Matthew Shipp and Dan Tepfer. Ensemble performances will include Steve Lacy’s “Rain” as well as an ensemble led by NEC faculty member Joe Morris.

There will be a pre-concert Panel Discussion, open to public at 5 pm in Brown Hall.


Boston | Thursday, November 7, 2019 | Luciana Souza: Grow Your Art Residency Concert

7:30 pm, Brown Hall

Grammy-winning NEC alum Luciana Souza is one of jazz’s leading singers and interpreters.  She returns to her alma mater for a week-long collaborative residency with NEC’s Entrepreneurial Musicianship Department. From November 3 – 7, Souza will work with students, discuss lessons learned in the music business, ways to take charge of one’s career in the rapidly changing world and more, culminating in this performance with NEC students.


Boston | Thursday, December 5, 2019 | The Music of Gunther Schuller

7:30 pm, Jordan Hall

One of Gunther Schuller’s first orders of business as president of NEC was to create the first fully accredited jazz program in a music conservatory in 1969. To honor his musical vision, Schuller’s compositions and arrangements will be performed by the NEC Jazz Orchestra, with the help of his son and NEC alum George Schuller.


New York | Thursday, March 19, 2020 | NEC Jazz50 Faculty All-Stars

7:30 and 9:30 pm, Jazz Standard, NYC

NEC has always boasted an impressive faculty. But this quartet, featuring NEC alum and former faculty member Fred Hersch, with current faculty members Donny McCaslin, Billy Hart and Cecil McBee, sets a new standard—each member a leader in the world of jazz, in addition to being a dedicated teacher.


New York | Friday, March 20, 2020 | Dominique Eade and Fred Hersch

7:30 and 9:30 pm, Jazz Standard, NYC

NEC faculty member Dominique Eade was not only the first jazz artist to receive NEC's prestigious Artist Diploma, but she is also the teacher of many of the most prominent jazz vocalists working today including Sofia Koutsovitis, Jo Lawry, Michael Mayo, Rachael Price, Luciana Souza and Sara Serpa. She joins with the legendary NEC alum and former faculty member, Fred Hersch, for the night.


New York | Saturday, March 21, 2020 | Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society and NEC Alumni Big Band  

8 pm, Sheen Center for Thought and Culture

Darcy James Argue is one of many prominent jazz composers to have studied at NEC, working with the legendary Bob Brookmeyer. Darcy's ensemble will be joined by an all-star group of NEC alums, including Dominique Eade, Marty Ehrlich, Brian Landrus, Tony Kadleck, Curtis Hasselbring, Josh Roseman, Jennifer Wharton, Frank Carlberg, Jerome Harris, Kim Cass.


History of NEC's Jazz Studies Department

The first fully accredited jazz studies program at a music conservatory, NEC’s program was the brainchild of Gunther Schuller, the jazz historian, horn player, composer, author, and conductor. Principal Horn in the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra at age 19, Schuller had discovered Duke Ellington as a teenager and pronounced jazz as important as classical music. Named President of the Conservatory in 1967, he moved quickly to incorporate jazz into the curriculum.  By September 1969, he had gotten his unprecedented program approved by the National Association of Schools of Music and began offering classes. Closely allied to the Jazz Studies program was his Third Stream department, which came along a few years later and which linked classical and jazz into a new genre.

Schuller chose his jazz faculty with a connoisseur’s discernment.  The first department chair was saxophonist Carl Atkins.  Composer and NEA Jazz Master George Russell, who conceived the Lydian Chromatic Concept (which has importantly influenced jazz greats from Miles Davis to Maria Schneider), began a Conservatory association that continued for 35 years. Pianist Jaki Byard, called a “walking encyclopedia of jazz,” brought his eclecticism and generosity of spirit to his NEC teaching. And Ran Blake, who Schuller had discovered pushing a broom at Atlantic Records, came to NEC in 1968 and became the first chair of the Third Stream Department in 1972.

During the early years of jazz at NEC, Atkins formed a trio composed of Donald Pate on bass, Harvey Mason on drums, and Ron Fransen on piano. With Atkins as saxophonist and coach, the group toured jazz festivals recruiting students and attracting national attention to the new NEC program. 

Among the earliest students to enroll were Stanton Davis and Ricky Ford. Brought in by Ran Blake, Ford fronted the house band at Wally’s Café while playing in Jaki Byard’s big band and Schuller’s repertory band at the Conservatory.  “My participation in the NEC jazz ensemble under Jaki’s direction prepared me for entrée into the Ellington Orchestra,” Ford has recalled.

By the time Schuller retired as President of NEC in 1977, the list of jazz graduates was already impressive.  They included Anthony Coleman (who has returned to teach at NEC), Marty Ehrlich, Fred Hersch, Jerome Harris, Michael Moore, and Bo Winiker. 

Throughout the history of NEC’s Jazz Studies program, the faculty has been distinguished by its wide range of important artists including trumpeters Ralph Alessi and John McNeil; saxophonists Jerry Bergonzi, Jimmy Giuffre and Steve Lacy; drummers Billy Hart and Bob Moses; pianists Fred Hersch and Jason Moran; bassists Dave Holland and Cecil McBee; and trombonist-composer-arranger Bob Brookmeyer.  Vocalist Dominique Eade, who graduated in 1984, became the first jazz performer to receive an NEC Artist Diploma in 1989, joining the faculty and becoming a magnet for gifted young vocalists such as Kris Adams, Rachael Price, Luciana Souza, Sara Serpa, Lisa Thorson and Patrice Williamson.

So illustrious is NEC’s jazz faculty that six of the most eminent have received MacArthur “Genius” grants (Lacy, Russell, Blake, Schuller, Moran and Miguel Zenón).  In addition, Schuller, Brookmeyer, Russell, and Ron Carter have all been named NEA Jazz Masters.

Similarly, prominent former NEC students reads like a Who’s Who of Jazz and includes: Darcy James Argue, Bruce Barth, Richie Barshay, Jamie Baum, Don Byron, Regina Carter, Freddy Cole, Marilyn Crispell, Dave Douglas, Dominique Eade, Marty Ehrlich, Anton Fig, Ricky Ford, Satoko Fujii, Roberta Gambarini, Jerome Harris, Fred Hersch, Roger Kellaway, Sunny Kim, founding members of Lake Street Dive, Brian Landrus, Mat Maneri, Harvey Mason, Michael Mayo, Andy McGhee, Bill McHenry, John Medeski, Vaughn Monroe, Ingrid Monson, Michael Moore, Alan Pasqua, Noah Preminger, Matana Roberts, Jamie Saft, Antonio Sanchez, George Schuller, Sara Serpa, Matthew Shipp, Luciana Souza, Chris Speed, Cecil Taylor, Dan Tepfer, Ryan Truesdell, Tom Varner, Cuong Vu, Phil Wilson, Bo Winiker, Bernie Worrell and Rachel Z.

About New England Conservatory

New England Conservatory (NEC) is recognized internationally as a leader among music schools, educating and training musicians of all ages from around the world for over 150 years. With 800 music students representing more than 40 countries in the College, and 2,000 youth and adults who study in the Preparatory and Continuing Education divisions, NEC cultivates a diverse, dynamic community for students, providing them with performance opportunities and high-caliber training with internationally-esteemed artist-teachers and scholars. NEC’s alumni, faculty and students touch nearly every aspect of musical life in the region; NEC is a major engine of the vital activity that makes Boston a musical and cultural capital. With the recent appointment of Andrea Kalyn to serve as NEC’s 17th President, the Conservatory is poised to embark on a new chapter at the forefront of innovation in education and music.


Performers take a bow in Jordan Hall while the audience stands and applauds
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