Arts + Culture

UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music offers new bachelor’s degree in global jazz studies

New major is an extension of the jazz studies concentration, established by jazz icon Kenny Burrell

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Jade Elliott
juantallo.com

The new major goes beyond performance also incorporating composition and courses in the social sciences and history.

Undergraduates interested in careers as jazz performers, producers, teachers and/or scholars of jazz will now have the opportunity to receive a bachelor of arts degree in global jazz studies, beginning in fall 2018. The major will provide students with a cross-disciplinary education, drawing from various areas within the UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music, as well as the African American studies department.

“The new global jazz studies major is a vital addition to the school of music’s undergraduate programs, which include seven degrees across ethnomusicology, musicology, music performance, composition, and music education,” said Judith Smith, dean of the music school. “The major builds upon UCLA’s strong jazz studies tradition, while acknowledging that jazz has transcended international borders, being incorporated into the music of the world.”

Through individual studio instruction and participation in small combos and large ensembles, global jazz studies majors will develop advanced performance skills in multiple jazz styles, both historical and contemporary. Majors also will take musicianship courses designed to ensure mastery of arranging, composition, improvisation and theory, and scholarly foundation courses in the social sciences, which are designed to provide students with a general understanding of the development and advancement of jazz in the United States.

Distinguished professor Robin D. G. Kelley, immediate past chair of the African American studies department and Thelonious Monk’s biographer, said: “The global jazz studies major is the most exciting cross-disciplinary project here at UCLA. The legacy of jazz is rooted in African-American history and culture, and by joining together the study of this vital history with studio instruction, music performance and musicianship courses, students will graduate with a comprehensive understanding of the genre.” 

The new major is a direct descendant of the school’s popular jazz studies concentration, which was founded by jazz icon and Duke Ellington scholar Kenny Burrell. For two decades, from 1996 through 2016, Burrell — a UCLA distinguished professor, composer and recording artist — successfully directed the program, hiring top jazz musicians from the greater southern California region to serve as expert studio faculty, educating the next generation of jazz artists. 

“Kenny has built an innovative program and community for jazz studies at UCLA and in Los Angeles,” Smith said. “The new global jazz studies major extends his legacy at UCLA and continues to advance his work as a tireless advocate for jazz.”

The major will be formally administered as the interdepartmental program for global jazz studies. Distinguished professor James Newton, a renowned composer and jazz flutist, led the faculty committee that created the interdepartmental program. Professor Steve Loza, an expert in Latin Jazz, trumpeter, and composer, will serve as the inaugural chair of the program. 

“Our students now have the first opportunity to earn a B.A. in jazz studies at UCLA, and we have James Newton to thank for his devotion to the process of creating a cross-disciplinary program that is international in scope,” said Loza, who also directs the music school’s Center for Latino Arts. “Our global jazz studies program is a critical step in building cultural bridges and providing students with an international perspective rooted in U.S. history. It will deepen their experience of how jazz promotes individual expression, dialogue among cultures, and respect for human dignity.”

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