Jazz fest promotes genre at Yale

This week marks Yale’s first jazz festival.

The three-day long event, beginning Friday afternoon, was organized by the Yale undergraduate Jazz Collective and will feature performances and lectures as part of an ongoing initiative to stimulate the jazz culture at Yale. Last year, undergraduate Jazz Collective President Sam Frampton ’15 revamped the group to provide structure for the scattered jazz offerings on campus. At the time, administrators were skeptical of the extent of students’ interest in jazz, and the group hopes to bring together students interested in jazz through events like this weekend’s festival, said Julian Reid ’13, vice-president of the undergraduate Jazz Collective.

“We hope the festival will serve as clear empirical evidence that people here are hungry for Jazz” Reid said. “This will serve as the backdrop for a conversation between students and the administration on how to help jazz thrive at Yale.”

The festival will feature groups composed of students, professors and prominent figures in the national jazz community. Events will take place both on- and off-campus to encourage members of the local community to attend.

The Vijay Iyer Trio, featuring prominent alumnus and Grammy nominee Vijay Iyer ’92, will give the headline concert on Saturday. Another well-known name at the festival will be Jack Renner, a trumpeter and recording engineer who created the first symphonic digital recording in the United States. The Yale Jazz Ensemble, which is led by music professor Thomas Duffy and serves as the institutional representation of jazz at Yale, will also perform on Sunday.

The festival will open with a talk by two of Yale’s most eminent jazz professors, Brian Kane and Willie Ruff, followed by a performance by Kane with other student musicians including Reid, a guitarist.

“To play with one of my professors, who is an amazing player, adds a whole new conception to the student-teacher dynamic,” Reid said.

Reid hopes the festival will help jumpstart the movement for jazz at Yale.

“I was hesitant to come [to Yale] because of the lack of a jazz culture,” Frampton said. “I hope students will see this festival and grow the jazz scene.”

The Yale Jazz Ensemble, which is led by Duffy and serves as the institutional representation of jazz at Yale, will also perform on Sunday. The Jazz Ensemble, a group of 18 students, performs primarily big band music, Duffy said, so students who are interested in playing other forms of jazz in smaller groups must look elsewhere. Frampton pointed to Paul Hudak, the master of Saybrook College, as an administrator who has been instrumental in facilitating student jazz groups on campus. Hudak said he hopes to give students as many opportunities as possible to make jazz events happen.

“Even people who don’t understand jazz can learn from it’s naturalness, the spontaneity of it,” Hudak said.

Last year, Associate Dean of the Arts Susan Cahan and Oliver Hill ’12, a member of the folk band Plume Giant, created the Saybrook Underbrook Coffeehouse to promote smaller jazz groups with Hudak’s help. Every other Saturday night, the Saybrook Underbrook Coffeehouse hosts jams sessions with a Yale student group and a professional group from New Haven, New York or elsewhere. Each session also features a student creative writer and a visual artist who present their work throughout the course of the evening.

This week, the Coffeehouse Coda, a late-night jam session, will begin after the regular coffeehouse ends. It will feature Matt Dwonszyk and the RGD Trio.

Jazz has also become more popular as an area of university study in the past 20 years. While the Music Department offers jazz courses, taught by ethnomusicologist Michael Veal and music theorist Kane, the courses are not held every year.

“I usually have to send people away,” Kane said of his “Jazz Harmony” course, which will be held again next fall.

To date, there are no jazz performance classes at Yale, and the administration has not yet been involved in expanding the jazz scene. Kane said the Music Department is interested in having more jazz courses based on student demand. Hudak said he is interested in having a college seminar on jazz performance.

A full schedule of events, which are free and open to the public, can be found online.

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