Logan: Oberlin's Own Jazzman
succeed is his greatest satisfaction
Logan isn't mentioned in Ken Burns' recent jazz documentary, but
perhaps he should be.
of African-American music and chair of the jazz studies department,
Logan -- who has been at Oberlin since 1973, a year after jazz was
incorporated into the curriculum --
is a nationally recognized composer and exponent of both jazz and
has received numerous composing awards and grants from the country's
most prestigious organizations, including the National Endowment
for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the American
Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP), the Guggenheim
Foundation, and the American Academy of Arts and Letters.
vita is impressive, but what makes Logan a vital presence in contemporary
music can't be gleaned from a vita. You have to go to former students,
many of whom have gone on to become leading American jazz composers,
performers, and music educators. Start with Cathy Elliott '79, a
New York composer and arranger who also does some vocal work.
literally changed my life," she said. "I was a composition
student – not in his department at all – and when I needed more
guidance he offered it. He gave me arranging lessons. He also hipped
me to great women and black composers. He allowed me to sing with
the jazz ensemble, which I really knew nothing about then.
we worked, he pushed us to do our best. He would never let us slack
off. Kind of like a dad, really. He was always there for us with
guidance, personal as well as musical. So many talented people working
today studied or worked with Wendell. Whenever we meet, we start
telling Wendell stories, which invariably end with, ‘Where would
we be if he hadn't crossed our paths?'"
Philip Mossman '82 echoed Elliott's sentiments. "When we speak
of Wendell, we often refer to him in tones of reverence. Just knowing
someone was really listening made all the difference in the world."
is "the quintessentially American composer," according
to Mossman, a noted composer and arranger as well as director of
the jazz studies program at the Aaron Copland School of Music at
Queens College (part of the City University of New York system).
based on the finest compositional traditions in a Western sense,
his music is just bursting with human content. It speaks to people
and is meant for them. It also says many things that Wendell says
in words when you talk with him: his take on America, world culture,
history -- what is painful, ironic, funny, and beautiful -- it's
all there in the music," Mossman said.
success of his former students, and seeing them develop, is Logan's
great personal satisfaction. Teaching them also stokes his own creativity.
often present me with ways of looking at things that I hadn't considered,"
he said. "I've learned never to underestimate anyone – there
are always surprises."
Logan holds auditions, he looks for "that other whole, which
is kind of intangible. Desire, motivation -- they can carry students
a long way." As they did him.
grew up in Thomson, Georgia. My father was a musician and there
were instruments all around the house, so you just grabbed one and
started playing. Did my father and I play together? Oh, yeah!
began to put sounds together for the sheer joy of it long before
I began to work as a composer. When I was 11 years old, I just knew
that's what I wanted to do," he said.
still composing today. A piece for his six-year-old granddaughter,
Kawren, is one of his most recent works.
called 'Little One' and was inspired by her birth. It's part of
my Gullah Island Suite that we performed at Cleveland's Severance
Hall in February."
on his career, Logan said simply, "I've been blessed."