Words of Introduction by CPA Dean Richard Lawn:
The Origins and Development of Jazz at UArts: Conversations with School of Music Faculty
MD: More than anybody, Evan Solot is the single person credited with championing the jazz program. And championing is probably a suitable descriptor because during those years there was a great sentiment against such things. There was a lot of resistance to it early on, mostly philosophical, not so much budgetary. Certainly in those days jazz was not a respected area of conservatory study.
ES: I came to the Philadelphia Musical Academy as a student during the years 1962 through 1967. When I was a student there was some jazz but it was not officially recognized by the school. The saxophonist Vince Trombetta and the trumpet player Mike Natale were both at the school. They were students already playing jazz. We were always trying to start something. I had experience in starting big bands from when I was a junior in high school. There was a University of Pennsylvania graduate [student] named Jimmy DePreist [now well-known as an orchestra conductor] who was also a drummer. When I was in high school I called him, and he said he would get together a youth band if we would take care of auditioning. We put up notices in all the high schools around the city and set up auditions. Vince Trombetta played in that band. So, when I came to PMA, I worked toward two degrees, a music education degree with a trumpet major and an applied music degree with a composition major. I was studying composition with [Professor] Joseph Castaldo. During my senior year we talked him into letting us have a big band for no credit under the guidance of a faculty member, Peter Lewis, a theory teacher who played some jazz piano.
MD: When I was in high school one of the best jazz festivals in the country was held nearby at Villanova [University]. I went out there on two occasions to hear the PMA Big Band play, and they won the festival [competition]. They also had a small group; Mike Pedicin, Evan, Jimmy Paxson, Stanley Clarke, Sunnie Paxson and maybe a few other students also played. But that was a student-organized thing. They won the festival competition for small group too, and that was a pretty prestigious thing. They had also gone to the Glassboro Jazz Festival. I knew of the PMA Big Band because I was keenly interested in coming to the School; my teacher, Paul Patterson, was also the teacher of Jimmy Paxson, in those days a legend. [University of] Notre Dame at that point hosted the "finals" of college jazz festivals. It was one of the most important [competitions] in the country and the PMA Big Band went there a couple of times.
BZ: I knew Evan Solot from when I was in high school. Evan studied trumpet with my high school band director who was on faculty at PMA--Tony Marchione--and Evan used to write arrangements for our high school jazz band.
We then asked how the program began to take formal shape.
ES: The year after I graduated, Castaldo decided to experiment and offer the Big Band for credit. I was teaching in the Philadelphia Public Schools, and came down here two afternoons a week and rehearsed the band offered for credit for the first time. Well, what happened was that we had all this success in the first year, with magazines writing about and praising our great band! Castaldo was looking for a worthy pursuit as another extension of getting the school's name "out there" and attracting people.
MD: The band was pretty famous then, and they brought a lot of notoriety to the School, not all of which was well received by the rest of the faculty. Some of them were becoming concerned that PMA was becoming known as a school that promoted or condoned this "jazz" thing. This is the time that the festival we are now planning is designed to commemorate. So, 35 years ago the students had a band, but what they wanted to have was the imprimatur from the School, as in the official name Philadelphia Musical Academy Festival Band. They were playing and rehearsing, but they weren't going out and representing the school and they wanted to. 1967 was the year that they asked for and got the official "ok" from the School to use the name. Joseph Castaldo, who was president during those years, was first and foremost a composer and didn't really have anything against jazz. He liked Evan a lot and he liked the people who were playing and teaching jazz. So he kind of took up the charge a little bit and allowed it to grow.
BZ: I was still in college at Temple University at the time. In 1967 they didn't have a saxophone major at PMA. It wasn't until the next year that Vince Trombetta started the saxophone major. Until then, if students wanted to play saxophone they would come in as clarinet majors with a saxophone minor. There were few college jazz programs around at that point; basically, North Texas State [University] had a program since 1947--they had the "Dance Band" major, as it was called--and Berklee [College of Music] was already in existence. As far as I know there were not many schools of music trying to build any kind of jazz program. I was envious, being at Temple, because we were barely allowed to say the word [jazz] there.
RK: Vince Trombetta's background was "classical", but he was a great jazz musician and commercial musician, so when he started the sax major it was an "American Saxophone" major as opposed to a classical or jazz major. You learned how to play saxophone and woodwinds in order to make a living. I started as a student here in the fall of 1975. But I'd made my mind up in ninth grade that I wanted to be part of that. The faculty always had a reputation, and it still does: those are the guys who are playing. The guys who are teaching are also the guys performing throughout the area. At least in terms of jazz and commercial music. This was a place that there was a lot of buzz about. It was the place where there were ensembles performing really good jazz, and where the teachers were good jazz musicians.
ES: There was even a time when we had three big bands and lots of small groups. And the thing that was different then--that I miss--is that the same people who played in the Big Band also played in the orchestra, and that was such a wonderful thing to have. It was so much richer. In those days there were more people, say woodwind players, who were more interested in being "doublers" than they are today, because they could make a living in the theater. I remember a saxophone player named Alfie Williams--he later played with Mongo Santamaria--who also played flute and bassoon. The classical teachers who were sensitive to jazz--such as Adeline Tomassone, a flute player--taught a lot of jazz performance majors. So, for instance, I could write for four flutes and bassoon in the sax section and know that they were going to be played by people who were seriously studying those instruments.
MD: We were known at one point as a school that really taught and embraced all kinds of contemporary music. Andrew Rudin, Castaldo, Theodore Antoniou, going all the way back to Vincent Persichetti: all of those people were obviously very "pro 20th century". Their focus was not conservative. Even when we had the orchestra it was programming some pretty novel pieces. There were always "two different kinds of mindsets" coexisting, maybe uncomfortably, but I think to the benefit of the students. Just being in that stimulating environment was something you can't get from a recording or a score or a book.
RK: There was a division. There is still a division. As open-minded as this school was, there was a division that often happens when people are fearful of their own territory. There was a jazz snobbery, and what I would call a "classical" snobbery that existed in the mid '70s and later. There were so-called "legitters" and "jazzers", but there were also good musicians who crossed over, playing in both jazz groups and in new music ensembles and in the orchestra.
As the program continued to evolve, local interest from outside the School grew.
BZ: I left school and went on the road for a year with a bus-and-truck-tour Broadway show called Promises, Promises. I came back and led the Big Band at Temple University for one year, for no pay, in 1972-73. Jim Herbert was the guy who had been in charge of it. I wound up conducting the band and writing for it. We had a great trumpet section: Earl Gardner, Stu Satalof, Rick Kerber, Jeff Jarvis, and Kevin Rogers.
ES: I remember hearing Bill's band at Temple for the first time. They blew me away--how good that Temple band was. I was just really impressed with what he was doing.
BZ: In the mid '70s Evan called me and asked me to come in and sub for a guy named John Davis, who was on faculty, with the third big band. As a matter of fact, Mike Quaile, who is now on the faculty, was the guitar player in that band. I was eventually hired in 1979, when [Dean] Clem Petrillo was still head of the school, to lead the Big Band and to teach Jazz History. I was not [yet] a saxophone teacher.
We were curious about rehearsal facilities.
MD: We rehearsed in the 313 S. Broad St. building, which no longer exists. On the second floor there was a big rehearsal room. In those early days there was only one drum set--which wasn't even four pieces of the same set--that we had to take out of the closet to play and then put back. Outside of when the ensemble was rehearsing we weren't allowed to play the drums. There was no drum set in any practice room.
RK: I have fond memories of also rehearsing in a [former] carriage house behind the music building . It's where Evan's office was and it's where the jazz bands rehearsed. It was a carriage house for [what had been] a hotel. It was basically a big garage, and it was the jazz "getaway."
ES: We rehearsed there because it was a separate building and the noise didn't bother anybody else. At one point we also rehearsed in the basement of 313, and when you turned the lights on the roaches would all scatter.
BZ: When I first came on we were in 313, Music Library and all. We rehearsed in the basement which had no air conditioning and no heat, and every time it rained the rugs got moldy. It was a brutal place to rehearse.
MD: I remember playing on the roof one day [at 313] in December when it started to snow flurry. I brought a snare drum up and was playing with brushes and Stanley Clarke was playing bass. Allen Goldenberg brought his alto [saxophone] up and the three of us were playing on the roof because we weren't allowed to go into a practice room and play jazz.
ES: I have an early recollection of the first time we asked for a jazz group to play in Performance Hour--the equivalent of what we now call First Wednesday. It was a weekly thing. It was a chance for people to play in front of their peers, and the first instance of jazz at the school, officially, was a jazz group playing [in] Performance Hour and [then assistant dean, and original PMA president] Maria Ezerman-Drake rang the fire alarm--emptied the whole school onto the street. She didn't want to hear that music in the School.
A full curriculum slowly started to gel, beginning with the ensembles as a locus of jazz education.
MD: Initially the only jazz opportunity [formally] was to play in the big band; then after some years there came to be a second big band. That was a period when maybe jazz wasn't yet so worthy of study at a very deep level in a university setting. I think the way that we've promoted or grown the jazz program today makes a lot of sense now. I don't know how much sense it would have made to have had a full-blown jazz program in a college or university setting in those days. We started with just the [Big] Band, and I think by the time I was a junior they offered a jazz history class and a jazz arranging class. Evan taught them both.
ES: When I became a full-time faculty member in 1970-71, Larry McKenna and Mike Natale taught jazz improvisation. I taught a jazz history course the first time soon after that.
BZ: There were some supplemental theory and composition courses that had a jazz slant to them.
ES: We started adding courses and got to the point where we put enough courses together to have what we called Jazz Emphasis, which was a two-year program.
MD: The first year we had a Jazz Emphasis was 1976. There were more courses and it was ok to take lessons with a teacher who also played jazz, and you could take those lessons as part of your instrument major. People like Bob DiNardo and Vince Trombetta were jazz players, though they were classically trained, and they were teaching "classical" music as well, but they were allowed to incorporate more jazz into their lessons. But you still couldn't be a jazz major, and the jury requirements were all classically based.
BZ: We started to move towards a jazz major in the early-to-mid '80s. And at that point some people came on specifically to teach drum set. Joe Nero came in to teach drums and percussion. Domenick Fiore came on to teach bass. Ed Flanagan, who is now the head of the [jazz] program at Temple, was on the guitar faculty here.
ES: There seemed to be enough interest to put more things together and get a whole four-year jazz program. So the Jazz Emphasis billowed out and became a Jazz Major. Many of the best former students were asked to stay on as teachers: Ron Kerber, Tony Salicondro, Dennis Wasko, Edward Simon, Marc Dicciani; and later Steve Beskrone, Sam Dockery, Tony Miceli and Chris Farr.
BZ: George Akerley was here as a student and played piano in Evan's band. He was comfortable doing anything, from figured bass on the harpsichord to Moog synthesizers. George wound up on the faculty here. The trombonist Robin Eubanks also comes to mind as a former student who is comfortable in a lot of different idioms.
RK: By the time I graduated it was a foregone conclusion that a jazz major was going to happen. It's what the School excelled at. The classical programs had great teachers and great musicians, but in an age of specialization, our students weren't graduating and playing in major symphonic orchestras. If you were going to specialize in that, there were other places to go. But the players who were coming out of this School were in the commercial world. You could look around in any pit orchestra and see the musicians were trained at PMA/PCPA. And many of the people who were going to be performing in the commercial world were graduating from this School.
BZ: To this day--and this is no exaggeration--any gig I go on, fifty to seventy-five percent of the orchestra or band has an association with this School.
The School endured some difficult times.
RK: By the time I was a student in the mid '70s, there were 35-36 saxophone majors at a very small school. And I think this is interesting historically: by the early '80s it was "broken". For various reasons the school was broken, and at a low point, in many ways, I think. And it didn't have the identity it once had. The energy wasn't there, the spark wasn't there. But by the mid '80s there was what I would call the "second generation" of the jazz program. We got very serious about recruitment. It was really a lot of the will [on the part] of the faculty to go out to different high schools and festivals for recruitment, trying to bring in a better level of student, and also trying to raise the bar while they were here. And by the early '90s there were thirty-some saxophone majors again, and the same thing was happening with guitar and percussion.
BZ: We [the jazz faculty] were trying to go out and perform as much as we could, to make that impact, and to make the connections. We also had former students, now going out and teaching or working with jazz bands in the local schools, or getting full-time jobs in area school districts.
MD: As the director, Castaldo was using a different prism to try to understand what was going on. There was a disconnect with respect to jazz. But he was always supportive of the jazz program and he was a really great guy. I think the program was in place by the time Don Chittum came in as director.
RK: Although you may not consider him jazz faculty, Don Chittum was always the one who had the most open of minds, and just wanted to nurture people in any way that they needed to be nurtured. When he was director, he took that to the next level. When Marc Dicciani took over as director, he had some very difficult [economic] decisions to make. Sleepless nights. That whole period was difficult. But I really think that the problem turned into an opportunity.
MD: When we had to let go of the orchestral programs, we all considered it a loss because of how much both populations really benefited from each other.
We asked how the jazz program today continues to evolve.
BZ: There have been some very crucial and very basic changes to the program, as we keep trying to make sure we're on the same page. Now, as the curriculum has developed we've been able to make adjustments and move at our own pace. I'd like to believe we can get away from referring to courses as having a "jazz" prefix in front of them. We are who we are at this point. The educational values are still there.
MD: We're trying to help people to become educated and trained in music, but also to be educated and trained in a larger context. We've made curricular changes, and we're not done making curricular changes, to try to create this balance of skills. We are training people who are going to go out and, for the rest of their lives, work in music, so we need to give them those basic skills. We've enhanced those skills, but in so doing we've tried to put more critical thought into the individual training process. If you look at where we are now, we're in this continuum of redefining what a music school should do, what our social responsibilities are. When I look at the jazz program now, I don't want to separate it from music education--I don't want to separate it from a university education. One of the foremost things we are trying to do is produce critical thinkers who can assimilate into society and be successful.
BZ: The real question is, "Why is a jazz program necessary?" What does it offer? I think [jazz] has become a huge umbrella that covers many styles.
MD: We are really talking about supporting the individual, letting people think differently, providing opportunities for them to find out not only what kind of music they want to make, but also what kind of people they want to be. Only three-quarters of our students' studies are in music; inside of the understanding and analysis of music [that this part of their curriculum offers] is also an understanding and analysis of the individual. A jazz program can help build the inner voice, build individual confidence, through improvisation, composition, musical creativity.
There are a lot of fundamental differences between ours and an orchestral training program, but the basis for the difference really is that we use, as a body of information, literature--to form technique and all the elements of control on your instrument and development and style and interpretation and theory and eartraining and composition and form and analysis--we use, instead of the European tradition, a hundred years of a jazz tradition as the foundation.
BZ: It's important to remember that there's nothing wrong with a traditional approach, with paying tribute to what has happened in keeping the music alive. But, you have to be careful that the message you're sending is not that we have to go back and do this over again. When traditionalism becomes the main focus, that is a problem.
MD: The arts require encouraging our students to take risks. Being conservative and traditional is not our mission, was not our mission before, but especially not now in a university setting. If that were our goal, then we'd better change our name to A University of Some of the Arts. I don't think that's what we're supposed to be doing. We're The University of the Arts--what a bold name that is--and we'd better live up to our name.
Lars Halle: Who's Afraid of the Big Band Wolf?
I was eleven years old when I first decided that I wanted to write big band music. I had been studying drums for a year, and my teacher had been the drummer with the local big band since its start in 1968. I started to tag along to rehearsals and as soon as I saw the process, I knew I wanted to be a part of it. I can't explain why I knew. It was just an inherent recognition--as if it were meant to be. I didn't just want to play--I wanted to be responsible for the entire entity of sound. I wanted to have control over the sounds that the instruments would produce, and that the audience would perceive. So, I started to write. But, at eleven years old I had a lot to learn, and no experience to act as a foundation. My first attempts were sonic fiascos, but with the support of the band and a fire in my belly, I set out to fix my errors and keep trying. Years later, writing for big band has become part of my identity. Whether I am arranging a popular standard or composing my own big band creation, I take pride in that part of my musical soul is affecting not only the musicians in performance, but also the audience. And it is particularly gratifying to realize how the music has profoundly affected the audience, whether on a deeper level, or just on the surface. I am often approached by listeners, acquainted or not, who express their experiences with my music, and though I have no particular impact in mind while composing, I find it interesting and enlightening to see how it may have inspired someone. There is no greater reward to a composer than having brightened someone's day with a composition, even if just for a moment.
Granted, my ambitions have changed over the years, as I grew to realize that I had the ability to develop these skills into a considerable part of my musical career. Having built a library of arrangements and compositions, I decided to put together a big band of my own. Since its first rehearsal in 2000 the Lars Halle Jazz Orchestra has achieved a sound that is definitively its own--an extension of the music on the page. And having the talent made available to me, I have been able to expand my horizons and develop my musical ideas particularly for the band, but simultaneously pushing the band to new limits and new sounds. While the musicians in the band are showcased as soloists, as well as part of the ensemble, these compositions become the ultimate solo performance for the writer. Making music is something that I, as a person, cannot fathom being without, unless I settled for a miserable and utterly pointless life. I have chosen the big band as a medium because I feel that I can express myself most effectively through that particular ensemble.
In the spring of 2002 I stepped into the commercial world of big band writing by joining the long list of arrangers and composers published by Kendor Music. My first published composition, Switching Gears, hit high school music stands last summer and have led to the approval of a second composition, Sonidos de la Calle, coming out this spring. Now, writing for the high school ensemble proves to be a challenge if you have gotten used to a nearly flawless ensemble whose musicians have virtuostic abilities and exceptional sightreading skills. Writing "easier" music has inherently changed my writing as a whole, perhaps trying to find a common ground between the two extremes. But my aesthetic reasons for writing have not changed, and I feel that no matter what I produce, there is without question a part of me in the final product. And whereas some might scorn a composer for writing music for "entertainment," I feel that if people walk away having been touched by my music--call it entertainment, enlightenment, therapy, philosophy, spirituality, or just plain listening joy--that's alright with me.
Lars reviews two Big Band sound recordings recently acquired by the Music Library
Dave Holland Big Band. What Goes Around. (CD4165)
Mark Germer: The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, 2nd Edition: A Review
Apr. 2003 mg
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