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Hearing About Jazz Studies

February 8, 2006

Mary Ann Travis

Jazz and New Orleans go together like beignets and café au lait. So it makes sense that Tulane, linked as it is to the birthplace of jazz, offers serious jazz studies. Tulane has long been strong in the study of the history of jazz--with experts like John Joyce, associate professor of music and author of books on early New Orleans jazz, and Bruce Raeburn, curator of the Hogan Jazz Archive, on campus.

020806_jazzWhat's changing and speeding up in the post-Katrina world is an enhanced culture of jazz performance at Tulane. Students at the university now have the opportunity to earn a bachelor of fine arts in jazz studies--and lots of chances to play jazz.

John Doheny, visiting professor of music, is teaching Jazz Improv, Jazz Combo and Jazz Big Band this spring.

He says, "I'm going to make jazz performance as ubiquitous as I can make us."

Doheny, a professional saxophone player who's lived the touring musician's life, came to Tulane to pursue a master's of jazz history a few years ago. For more about Doheny's career, philosophy and reviews, go to his website.

Barbara Jazwinski, chair of the music department, asked Doheny to stay at Tulane and teach, emphasizing "performances, performances, performances." Tulane jazz musicians will soon be playing at PJ's Coffee, the Newcomb Art Gallery, other campus venues and, of course, in and around Dixon Hall.

Part of Doheny's mandate is closer association with other New Orleans' jazz education programs, such as trumpeter Irvin Mayfield's New Orleans Jazz Orchestra, which is now affiliated with Tulane, as well as the New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts, Loyola University and the University of New Orleans. Clarinetist Evan Christopher is another exciting addition to the jazz performance teaching staff at Tulane.

Christopher, a graduate teaching assistant, is currently an artist-in-resident in Paris, France, in a program supported by the French Minister of Culture. After touring this summer, Christopher will return to Tulane to teach in the fall.

"Jazz is America's classical music," says Doheny. With Tulane in New Orleans where jazz originated, it's important that Tulane's music offerings have a robust jazz performance component. The first thing Doheny does with students is have them play the blues. This can be a hard thing for classically trained musicians. The blues harmony dissonance is considered incorrect in Western classical music.

Doheny cites Ellis Marsalis, the pianist and New Orleans' leading jazz educator from whom he's gleaned teaching wisdom.

Marsalis says, "Universities usually want to know how well you play rather than how well you hear." But Doheny has another aim--to teach his students to hear. "To play jazz, you have to learn how to hear. The ultimate goal of a jazz musician is to play what you hear."

Tulane University, New Orleans, LA 70118 504-865-5000