One of the best-kept secrets at USF is the Monday Night Jazz Series. Started in 1996, the Department of Jazz has welcomed many acclaimed musicians to jam with students the last Monday of each month. Part performance and part education, the series has been a bright spot for the students and faculty of the School of Music.
Before the Monday Series, the Department of Jazz would sponsor a musician or two as artist-in-residence, but after budget concerns, the department decided to try to attract artists for a series. Through connections with colleagues from other schools and venues, faculty in the department would try to catch artists playing in nearby locations, such as Miami or Atlanta.
“After they played a weekend gig, we’d get artists to come here and work with our students on Mondays, sometimes just a week or so in advance,” said Jack Wilkins, Director of Jazz Studies.
The series helps support itself through ticket sales, thereby making it a viable part of the program.
Now in its seventh year, the program has established itself enough to make it necessary to schedule months in advance. The program is well supported by local groups, such as the Tampa Bay Jazz Society, the Al Downing Jazz Society and the small but strong jazz community in and around Tampa. The jazz program itself has gained esteem worldwide, touring Italy and South Africa in recent years. The Monday Night Jazz Series has grown with the department and consistently offers entertaining performances.
The guest musician usually arrives in Tampa Sunday evening, sometimes rehearsing soon after. After teaching a graduate level clinic Monday morning, there is a short rehearsal in the afternoon. The performances are at 8 p.m. This may seem rather slapdash, but the common denominator is the music. Jazz lends itself to such impromptu meetings.
“Jazz music is the common language,” Wilkins said. “The creativity of improvisation is like a conversation with new people.”
The real winners with the program are the students. The clinics are a highlight at the end of each month. Sometimes the musicians will work solely with students who play their instrument, which is a thrill for both the students and the artist. At schools elsewhere, performing with prominent musicians is a rarity.
“Our students get a chance to interact with great jazz artists every month,” Wilkins said. “A lot of schools don’t get that chance.”The students also get a chance to witness life as a professional musician first hand.
This semester, USF welcomes bassist Lynn Seaton, guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkle and trumpeter Jon Faddis.
Lynn Seaton will be the first musician featured in the Monday Jazz Series, on Sept. 30. Seaton currently teaches at the University of North Texas. He has worked with many prominent artists, including Tony Bennett, Al Cohn, Kenny Drew Jr. and Mel Torme. He has also performed with the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra, on The Cosby Show, and in festivals from Kansas City to Kyoto, Japan. A bass virtuoso, Seaton is a pioneer of lead solos on bass, heading up his own trio. Seaton has performed in over 100 recording sessions, including the Grammy Award-winning collaboration of Dianne Schuur and the Count Basie Orchestra.
“Lynn also does scat singing, where he’ll play bass and sing the notes he plays at the same time,” said Wilkins.
Milt Hinton, jazz critic for The New York Times, rates Seaton as one of his five favorite bassists today.
October’s featured artist is guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel. His peers marvel at his experimental works. Only 31, he has already cemented himself as one of the most creative jazz guitarists today. His collaborators include such diverse artists as jazz legends Gary Burton and Joe Henderson, and Q-Tip of A Tribe Called Quest fame, with whom Rosenwinkel has recorded and toured.
“Kurt’s one of the young stars in jazz today,” said Wilkins.
At a time when innovation in the jazz world is perceived to have lessened, Rosenwinkel’s fresh style marks him as a true groundbreaker in the field. Using alternate tunings to get a different sound every time he plays, he makes a concerted effort to expand his curiosity on guitar. He also wants jazz to capture a broader and younger audience.
“Jazz is adventurous, dynamic music,” Rosenwinkel said in Guitar Player. “If you like Radiohead, you’ll love jazz.”
“We lean toward the art side of jazz, what the Europeans call ‘pure jazz,'” Wilkins said. “And Kurt Rosenwinkel fits right in with what we do.”
The third artist featured this semester is Jon Faddis, who performs Nov. 25. As a youth, Faddis was an apprentice to Dizzy Gillespie at JazzWorkshop in San Francisco. Gillespie’s influence on Faddis, and many others, is unmistakable.
Faddis’ trumpet can be heard on recordings by a diverse array of artists, such as Frank Sinatra, the Rolling Stones and Luther Vandross, and also on a theme for The Cosby Show. He was the musical director of the Carnegie Hall Centennial Jazz Band.
Currently the musical director of the Carnegie Hall Jazz Band, he heads up the 18-piece all-star orchestra. The band is a medium for performing works by some of the greatest names in jazz, such as Miles Davis, Benny Goodman and Tito Puente.
The best format for experiencing jazz is live, and the Monday Night Jazz Series gives the local community the opportunity to enjoy celebrated performers in action.
In these most patriotic times, it might be nice for Americans to educate themselves about jazz, and see performances of a truly American music.
Contact Andrew Pina at firstname.lastname@example.org