The Oberlin Review
<< Front page News December 2, 2005

Donation Will Fund New Jazz Facility
Space Needed: The student musicians of the Oberlin Jazz Ensemble practie in a cramped room in Hales.

The jazz studies program, currently located in Hales Memorial Gymnasium, will change homes thanks to a graduate’s five million dollar donation to build a new facility.

“[This] will have a transformative effect on the jazz studies program at Oberlin,” said Conservatory Dean David Stull. “The gift will address the critical space issues faced by this department, and transform the long term potential for the program.

“The College has seen this as a major need for many years,” echoed President Nancy Dye.

The Jazz Studies program, first launched in 1972 and offered as a major in 1989, currently has 50 majors and many non-majors studying within the program. Its new building will include faculty studios, rehearsal spaces, practice rooms, library space and storage areas. The new building will be constructed adjacent to the Conservatory.

The donation comes from Board of Trustees member Stewart Kohl, OC ’77, along with his wife Donna. Kohl is one of two managing partners of the Cleveland-based private equity firm The Riverside Company. They are a longstanding benefactors for Oberlin facilities and initiatives. Along with his business partner Béla Szigethy, OC ’77, Kohl is a primary financial backer of the Oberlin Business Scholars Program, a Winter Term program that teaches Oberlin students about business. He also gave money for the neuroscience teaching laboratory, named in honor of his parents.

Kohl said that there were a number of factors driving his decision to make his gift for a jazz studies facility.

“The Conservatory is world class, and deserves our support,” he said. “The jazz building bubbled up as a capital need for the College.”

In an Oberlin College press release that can be found on its website, Kohl spoke further on the topic.

“Under the leadership of the renowned Wendell Logan, the jazz program is one of our most popular majors at Oberlin and contributes significantly to the richness and diversity of the Conservatory and the overall campus.

Finally, jazz as an art form is a uniquely American gift to the world, of which we should be especially proud in these times when not all of America’s gifts are so beloved.”

But Kohl told the Review that there is also a personal angle to his decision to make this donation.

“My friend Mel Litoff and his wife Phyllis Weisbart were the owners of a jazz club called Sweet Basil that was, when they owned it, one of the premier jazz venues in the world,” Kohl said. “Sadly, Phyllis died from brain cancer in 2002. The new building will be dedicated in her memory, so it’s a great privilege for us to be able to make this donation. I like to think that she’s looking down on us and smiling.”


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