Courtesy of Dani Zanuttini-Frank

Last month, the Yale Undergraduate Jazz Collective organized a pilot program offering free jazz lessons to a set of Yale undergraduate students from all musical backgrounds.

The program offers remote lessons for double bass, drum set, guitar, voice, trombone, saxophone, piano and trumpet which will be taught by professional jazz musicians in New Haven. This program marks the first institutional jazz lessons program offered at Yale, and in the coming years YUJC plans to modify the program to an in-person setting with more students.

“This is an entry point for people who already play and want to get involved in the community, but also people who are beginners,” said Dani Zanuttini-Frank ’22, YUJC’s chief publicity officer. “A lot of people have told us they’d love to learn how to play jazz, and one-on-one lessons are the way to actually learn. Taking lessons will undoubtedly boost your confidence.”

To gauge interest in their lessons program, YUJC first put out a survey in their magazine — The Turnaround — last September. Upon receiving significant interest, they sent out an official application on Jan. 23. 55 students applied, 10 of whom were selected and will each receive five lessons between Feb. 8 and May 1. 

YUJC Chief Financial Officer and Chief Advocacy Officer Ethan Dodd ’22 said that due to the limited number of spots, YUJC members selected applicants that showed a “great enthusiasm about the music.” Additionally, the board looked for applicants with the potential to become leaders in Yale’s jazz community.

“It was not at all based on your ability to play well,” Zanuttini-Frank said. “We thought the program would work best if it created a community of people. We found applicants who seemed like they would be really excited about working together with other people in the lessons program.”

In order to enlist jazz instructors, YUJC reached out to jazz musicians in the New Haven area. Jason Altshuler ’23, YUJC’s president, said that through the program the group hopes to support local musicians in the absence of in-person performances during the pandemic.

Altshuler explained that the lessons program also serves YUJC’s primary mission of cultivating a strong jazz community at Yale. By creating bonds between beginner and advanced jazz students, he hopes the lessons program will encourage more students to perform jazz, attend shows and form jazz groups.

“We picked a diversity of instruments so that these students could form groups of their own and find other musicians who want to play jazz and make groups,” Dodd added. 

Students taking lessons will communicate via a Facebook group and Slack forum in order to collaborate by recording their progress and sharing clips of their practice.

Zanuttini-Frank and Dodd noted that newcomers often find it daunting to attend on campus jazz events — like Jam Sessions hosted by the group — because playing jazz can require musicians to perform solo pieces or improvise during the performance.

“It is scary to put yourself out there,” Dodd said. “But [jazz] is a great form of expression and we’re trying to make sure that through this education people will have the confidence to get out there, show up to jams, perhaps start their own ensembles.”

Dodd went on to say that since jazz requires significant skill to be performed well — YUJC hopes to “reduce that barrier” through their lessons program. Even though there are several resources available on campus — including the Yale Jazz Initiative Jazz Combo Coaching Program and the Yale Jazz Ensemble — for experienced students looking to further their jazz skills, beginners often find it difficult to get involved. Through their program, Dodd said they hope to equip beginners with the skills to take advantage of numerous on campus opportunities. 

“Everyone who plays jazz started somewhere,” Altshuler said. “No one was born playing like [renowned American jazz musician] Miles Davis. If you have that impulse, if you have the desire to get better, to put in the time and to really study the craft, you will get something out of it. And the community will also get something out of it, because that’ll be another player that we can enjoy playing with and talking to.” 

YUJC first formed in 2012.

Marisol Carty | marisol.carty@yale.edu

MARISOL CARTY
Marisol Carty covers Music. She is a sophomore double majoring in Economics and Philosophy.