Before the emergence of modern musical styles such as rock and hip-hop, jazz was the original form of American music. Although its prominence in mainstream culture has diminished since the days of the genre’s legendary performers, jazz has continued to thrive over the years, albeit more covertly.
“(Jazz) offers a different and very individual musical perspective, often showcasing the virtuosity of a musician as little music can,” said Chuck Owen, artistic director of the University’s Jazz Masterworks Series. “While there is a substantial repertory and great tradition of earlier jazz styles that deserves to be revisited, jazz is a dynamic music that has continually sought to reinvent itself with inspiration from other musical styles, other cultures and new technology.”
Owen leads a 17-piece orchestra called the Jazz Surge, and his work with the Jazz Masterworks Series has certainly perpetuated the genre’s growth in the Tampa Bay area. Although the program is only in its second year, it has gained considerable popularity, drawing internationally renowned artists such as Chick Corea, Gordon Goodwin and Nnenna Freelon. The series aims to bring the artistry of jazz to Central Florida.
The School of Music also offers the Monday Night Jazz Series. For the past 10 years, it has brought esteemed jazz artists to campus on the last Monday of each month. In addition to performing concerts with University faculty and students, these guest artists share their expertise with rising jazz musicians through exclusive master classes and workshops.
“USF’s Jazz Studies Program and the Center for Jazz Composition combine to present over 20 jazz concerts a year right on campus,” Owen said. “This constitutes one of the most active university jazz programs in the country and probably makes USF the foremost presenter of quality jazz programming in Central Florida.”
In addition to the University’s significant contributions to the local jazz landscape, there are plenty of opportunities to experience this truly innovative art form in the Tampa Bay area. Numerous local clubs and bars – such as Howl at the Moon, Blue Shark and others – provide live jazz entertainment for nominal fees, while venues such as the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center and Ruth Eckerd Hall regularly feature jazz artists in their schedules.
Despite the wide array of jazz performances available to students, the question still remains whether such events are popular among the college crowd.
“I like jazz,” said William Pendleton, an advertising student. “I just don’t have time for it.”
Although students are traditionally overwhelmingly short on time, junior Tom McGucken believes jazz can help relieve some of this stress.
“It can be very soothing, very composed,” he said. “It warms the soul, in my opinion.”
From McGucken’s perspective, jazz has been overshadowed by the success of rock and other more extreme genres. Despite this apparent musical monopoly, some still believe jazz has found a fan base in today’s generation.
“Many students are adventurous in seeking out interesting music to listen to, and others are attracted to the virtuosic abilities of jazz musicians, generally considered to be the best musicians on a given instrument,” said Jack Wilkins, director of Jazz Studies.
Owen concurs that, although jazz may win over many who are exposed to its distinct style, too few ever come across it.
“Since there is little contact with the music through commercial TV and radio and few have really had any grounding in it in the limited arts education they have received, there are a lot of misconceptions about jazz,” Owen said. “Of course, one of the great things about a University environment is that there are so many opportunities for students to expand their interests and understanding.”