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Keeping The Music Alive

Harvard Jazz Bands Thrive Amid Difficulties

By Zoe A. Kessler, Contributing Writer

Saturday, April 12 was swinging. In their last performance of the semester, the Harvard Jazz Bands and guests Terri Lyne Carrington (drums), Lionel Loueke (guitar), and John Lockwood (bass) performed in Sanders Theatre as a tribute to the musical influences of Herbie Hancock. While there are mixed feelings as to how institutionalizing jazz at Harvard could help to raise its status in the school’s community, many are taking the University’s push to bring in these guests, as well as new professors, as an indicator that the jazz at Harvard is moving in a positive direction.

Without an official jazz department, band member Andrew R. Chow ’14, an active Crimson arts editor, feels that some of the top talent at Harvard is lost to joint music programs with other schools. “There is a ‘brain drain’ that is happening where the very top level of jazz musicians aren’t in these bands, maybe because they’re playing at Berklee and NEC [The New England Conservatory of Music],” he says. “There is a level of kids who study jazz pretty intensively at summer camps and are very involved with the music, and I feel like the community of the jazz band is a little different, is kind of a second ground.”         

Besides the brain drain Chow mentions, another potential downside to Harvard’s lack of a big jazz establishment is that without being awarded credit like members of the Harvard-Radcliffe Orchestra are, bringing players together can be rather challenging. “As a manager I sometimes feel like I am pulling teeth, and that is not what you want because we are here to play music and we are all here to get along and play jazz, and so I think incentivizing kids is always a way to goespecially at this school,” Monday Jazz Band manager Bradford G. Rose ’14 says. “I think one potential [solution] that we talked about the other day is adding credit to arts programs. I know a lot of schools do that for the wind I think that would definitely get more kids involved in the arts.”

Another solution offered to improve jazz’s status at the school would be to make sure that players of all necessary instruments are accepted to the school. “Sometimes there is just a lack of players of a certain instrument,” Rose says. “While Harvard recruits for football and makes sure that every spot is filled, last year I was the only drummer I think on campus.” Jacob W. Gollub ’17, another band member, took matters into his own hands. “I emailed Harvard admissions and told them to look for more jazz bassists,” he says.

As an outsider looking in, though, guest artist John Lockwood thinks that Harvard’s jazz program, despite its small size, is impressive in its own right. Regarding the suggestion of institutionalizing, he says, “Sometimes established is good, but sometimes established is okay but not always so good because when it is well established [the players] just stay within that institution. When there is less of an establishment, sometimes it encourages people to go out more, and I kind of like that aspect. You could go to clubs and you could grow and that could kind of be your school.” This suggestion seems to fit the genre, in which unexpected experimentation is encouraged. “I prefer…playing with different people every night,” Lockwood says, “and I am playing different styles. That makes it exciting.”

Despite the differing opinions regarding making jazz a formal establishment at Harvard, there is a growing consensus that the presence of the arts at Harvard is increasing. Chow commends the decision to bring in guest musicians and to hire additional professors to help raise the status of jazz on campus. “This semester has been pretty fantastic in terms of jazz on campus with Herbie [Hancock] here and Vijay Iyer here,” he says. “I think the presence of Vijay especially as a semi-permanent professor and member of the faculty, is going to be really important in pulling more people and generating a community. And I think people really are trying to make an effort to build up the jazz scene here.” While jazz at Harvard still searches to find its rhythm, the April 12 concert filled the lower level of Sanders and drew exuberant applause. For all the program’s logistical issues, it continues to draw hard-working musicians from the student body. Even Lockwood admits, “I am very impressed with the students; they’re very talented.”

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