University hiring full-time jazz professor with endowment funds

By Andrew Lamb

New steps are being taken to expand the University’s jazz course offerings and performance opportunities in the music department, the result of the Parker and Julie Hall endowment for jazz studies.

Parker Hall, a member of the University’s Board of Trustees, donated $1 million endowment to further the University’s jazz program.

The $1 million earmarked for the music department is part of the larger $5 million endowment that Hall donated for expansion of the jazz program and campus beautification.

The endowment, which has been two years in the making, will be used to support the jazz archives on the third floor of the Regenstein library, increase performance opportunities for students and outside jazz musicians, and expand course offerings in jazz and popular music in the University.

“The majority of the endowment will go for curriculum support,” said Thomas Christensen, professor and chairman of the music department.

Christensen said that an offer has been made to hire a new faculty member, whose name has yet to be released, specifically to help guide the new expansion. The future faculty member, who has until May 1 to accept or decline the offer, will teach the new courses in the department and will help guide the program expansion.

Christensen gave a number of possible courses–History of Jazz and Popular Music; Ethnography of Jazz; Theory and Analysis of Jazz Composition; and Improvisation–but maintained that nothing has been decided at this point.

Until now, all courses about jazz were taught by adjunct professors. The endowment will enable the University to have a full-time professor devoted to the study of jazz and popular music, filling a void felt by many students.

“I think it’s great for the next generation of music majors,” said Kurt Hagstrom, a fourth-year in the College concentrating in music and English. “It’s too bad they didn’t have these kind of courses while I was here.”

Funding will also increase opportunities for student performances by attracting notable musicians to play with student ensembles. “There’s nothing in terms of bricks and mortar. But [the endowment] will provide for the jazz ensemble and X-tet and bring great artists to play with students,” Christensen said.

The music department will continue to invite important jazz musicians to campus. Recent concerts have included ones with Dick Hyman, who served as composer and conductor for Woody Allen; Fred Hersch, a two-time Grammy award winner; Marian McPortland, who hosts a weekend show on NPR called Piano Jazz; and a tribute to Duke Ellington’s friend and co-composer Billy Strayhorn.

The music department is planning on hosting a concert for the Art Ensemble of Chicago, a group that spawned Art Blakely and the Jazz Messengers nearly 50 years ago. The current ensemble is a consortium of 8 to 10 members devoted to avant-garde and experimental jazz.

Christensen said that the endowments mark a significant change in the University’s policy towards jazz music. During the 1950s, the University was responsible for shutting down a number of jazz clubs in Hyde Park on 54th and 55th Streets, including The Beehive, where jazz great Charlie Parker once played.

“There was a time when the University did not support restitution to embrace this history,” said Christensen. “It’s a different culture today than it was 20 or 30 years ago.”

According to Christensen, the University will honor its cultural heritage with the endowment. “[Jazz] is traditionally associated with the South Side of Chicago; it’s important for the University to support and preserve it,” he said.

The Parker Hall endowment represents an effort to push the curricular boundaries of the music department.

“Our main focus will be on the Western classical music tradition, but our curriculum is opening up to non-Western as well as vernacular forms of music.” Christensen said.