Following an anonymous donation to the Yale School of Music, School of Music Dean Robert Blocker announced the Yale School of Music Jazz Initiative on Friday.
The initiative will include the revival of the Yale Jazz Ensemble, a new improvisation course taught by saxophonist Wayne Escoffery, private saxophone lessons with Carrie Koffman, as well as undergraduate jazz combos. Overseen by University Bands Director and music professor Thomas Duffy, the initiative comes in the wake of recent undergraduate grievances with Yale’s lack of academic and extracurricular offerings for jazz musicians. Currently, Yale’s music department does not have a formal jazz program.
“I’m super excited that all of this worked out because students have been working for years to convince the administration and the music faculty about the value of jazz in the curriculum,” said Alex Dubovoy ’16, former president of the Yale Undergraduate Jazz Collective. “There are a lot of student ideas that aren’t currently in the proposal and so I’m excited to see where things are, but it’s a giant step and there’s still work to be done.”
Michael Hoot ’17, president of the Collective, said he is eager for the initiative as it is the first time in several years that the University has hired a saxophonist for private lessons. Hoot, who said he has not taken saxophone lessons since high school, said he plans to take advantage of the new opportunity. Dubovoy was enthusiastic about the undergraduate combos program, noting that it has not been done before.
Still, while the initiative represents significant progress, undergraduates interviewed said that more improvements can be made. Hoot, who was a member of the Jazz Ensemble before it was suspended by the University two years ago, said Yale should provide a certificate program for jazz, similar to the one that is currently offered in human rights. Other ideas students have brought forth include jazz lessons for credit and interdisciplinary classes in jazz studies that bring together different academic departments to explore other aspects of jazz, like its history. The initiative at present is the result of years of student efforts, Dubovoy said.
“Being involved in lobbying for something to happen, I never expected progress like this to happen before I graduated,” Hoot said. “I was really surprised that things were able to come together so quickly, and again, for what can be accomplished in the short term, this is amazing.”
Formed in 2012, the Yale Undergraduate Jazz Collective was founded partly in response to the lack of jazz presence on Yale’s campus. Since then, students involved have worked with the college administration to implement undergraduate jazz programming. Dubovoy said he lobbied the administration for a jazz curriculum during his time at Yale, and Hoot said he also worked with administrators to determine what resources would be needed in order to set up a proper jazz program.
Besides a regular concert series called “Jazz in the Underbrook,” the Collective also hosts jam sessions and brings in local professionals. In April, the Yale Undergraduate Jazz Collective organized its fourth annual jazz festival, where undergraduates brought Escoffery to Yale’s campus for the first time. In reference to his appointment, Dubovoy said Escoffery will be an important voice in helping to shape Yale’s jazz curriculum in the future.
The Jazz Ensemble, which was suspended two years ago due to limited rehearsal space and shortage of qualified student musicians, will once again be open to all Yale students in the coming fall. After the Ensemble’s suspension, the Yale Undergraduate Jazz Orchestra was established by Benjy Steinberg ’17 as a partial replacement for the big band. Though the Ensemble was unable to fill all 17 of its spots for several years, the orchestra, which is of the same size, drew more interest than could be accommodated. Duffy said the Ensemble has always been open to all students, with past members coming from Yale’s graduate and professional schools.
“Now with the reopening of Hendrie Hall, it makes it easy for the Jazz Ensemble to come back and adding Wayne to the mix is terrific,” Duffy said. “I’m pleased that the Jazz Ensemble will be back with an enriched environment around it on campus.”