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MIT Jazz at 50

MIT Celebrates 50 Years of Jazz

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge is celebrating 50 years of jazz in 2013.  The school’s jazz program was launched in 1963, when Klaus Liepmann, MIT’s first director of music, hired jazz legend Herb Pomeroy to lead MIT’s student jazz band.  
In April, MIT hosted a weekend of concerts, workshops and exhibits on campus, with a gala concert at Kresge Auditorium featuring the MIT Festival Jazz Ensemble, directed by Dr. Frederick Harris, Jr., with special guest, pianist Steve Kuhn.   A highlight of the evening was the world premiere of Chick Corea’s composition, From Forever (Suite for Big Band), Dedicated to Herb Pomeroy.
It turns out that Corea has enduring connections to both MIT and Pomeroy. “Some of Chick’s earliest compositions were created for a sextet he formed with MIT students,” Harris said.   “They even rehearsed at an MIT dorm.
And Pomeroy himself gave Chick his first gig at the Stables Club in Boston.  “Herb was one of the first elders I really looked up to….he set a very good example for me,” Corea said.
The concert itself was outstanding, said Carmen Fields, music enthusiast and daughter of big band leader the later Ernie Fields. “It was a thrilling evening, full of outstanding student and faculty performances…(they) did the jazz legacy and the founder-teacher Herb Pomeroy proud!”
In April, MIT unveiled the Herb Pomeroy Jazz Collection at the Lewis Music Library on campus, with materials donated by Pomeroy’s family.  Items include personal papers, a music library with over 500 pieces of music, teaching materials and numerous recordings.
Students themselves are delighted to discover MIT’s jazz program, says Mark Harvey, who has taught jazz studies for over three decades.  “Probably no one comes to MIT thinking they’re going to study jazz, but when they get here they realize the opportunities,” he says.  Harvey brings his class to rehearsals and concerts of the Aardvark Jazz Orchestra, which he founded forty years ago, to give them a behind-the-scenes glimpse of how professional bands operate.
Is it unusual for a school like MIT - known for its excellence in math, science and engineering – to have a world class jazz program?  Harris sees no incongruity.  
“The MIT mantra ‘Hand and Mind.’  Creation, invention and innovation are the norm,” Harris says. “In music, the idea of creating – especially in jazz – is a similar mind-set. These students do a lot of problem solving on micro-levels, and music is not that far different.”


- by Michael P. Quinlin

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