University/conservatory degree programs in woodwind doubling, part II: jazz

July 2, 2008

In response to my recent post about woodwind doubling degree programs, someone sent me this question:

My question is, out of that list, do you know of which schools offer multiple woodwinds with a Jazz/Contemporary focus … or at least some focus on jazz?

I checked out most of those pages, but it seems it’s all very classical focused.

Before addressing that question, I think it’s worth saying that if you’re going to be a woodwind doubler, a little jazz background is really valuable. Convincing jazz style (articulation, inflection, tone, etc.) is essential for pit and studio work, and the ability to improvise (even a little) can make the difference between getting the gig or staying home to practice.

Some people are overwhelmed by the idea of learning from scratch to play jazz. Don’t be. Most university music programs of medium size or larger offer a beginning improvisation class; here at the University of Georgia, the prerequisite is the ability to play your major scales—not overwhelming for a classically-trained musician. A class like that will take you from zero to improvising a little within the space of a semester. Not a college student? Try contacting some local jazz musicians (maybe by attending their shows at local venues, or going to a nearby university jazz band’s concert). If you hear someone you like, ask about taking some private lessons. You may be surprised how quickly you can learn enough to impress your non-improvising colleagues.

But to return to the question at hand: for those few of us getting our woodwind doubling training in university or conservatory degree programs, are there any good jazz-focused options?

I think there are a few options worth considering:

  1. There are, in fact, just a few schools that have programs blending jazz and woodwind doubling. University of the Arts offers a bachelor’s degree in jazz performance with a woodwind specialist program. New Jersey City University offers a master’s degree in woodwind doubling that includes jazz and commercial music (they suggest electives in improvisation, contemporary music, and jazz history). Click here and scroll down to find it.
  2. If you’ve already got good jazz chops and are a strong saxophonist, there are plenty of places to earn a degree in jazz studies. Contact some jazz professors at schools that interest you, and talk to them about the possibility of using your doubles in your coursework—say, for example, taking an improvisation class on clarinet, or playing flute in a combo. I suspect many schools could really use a strong doubler or two in their big bands, as well (though you will probably have to earn a chair based on a strong saxophone audition).
  3. Most woodwind doubling degree programs are, in fact, classically-oriented. Of course there aren’t many gigs out there for doublers in the strictly classical realm, but the solid technical foundation of classical training is a must for doublers in all genres. I think these programs are an excellent way to go, and especially so if supplemented with some jazz studies. Masters programs at Indiana University (one of my alma maters) require a cognate field (like a minor); I chose to do mine in jazz studies. There are several major jazz schools that offer graduate (and, less commonly, undergraduate) work in multiple woodwinds (University of North Texas, University of Miami, and Indiana spring to mind), so I would strongly suggest considering a multiple-woodwinds-major-plus-jazz minor/cognate combination at one of those schools.

Good luck with your applications and auditions!

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