Jazz studies prepares students for careers as professional jazz musicians and for the advanced study of jazz.

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The iconic musician-teachers on Oberlin’s jazz faculty represent the pinnacle of achievement in the genre, renowned for their accomplishments as performers and their commitment to teaching the next generation of top players. Individually, they have performed to international critical acclaim alongside celebrated musicians like Miles Davis, McCoy Tyner, Esperanza Spalding, Dave Holland, Paul Simon, and Stevie Wonder. Among them, they have also collected several Grammy Awards and other notable honors for their recordings and stage work.

Even while maintaining rigorous performance schedules, they provide individual and group instruction, teach classes, and are generous with their time mentoring students.

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The conservatory incorporated jazz into its curriculum in 1973 and began offering a major in jazz studies in 1989. Students can major in both jazz performance and jazz composition. The program prepares students for careers as professional jazz musicians and for advanced study in jazz.

Students have opportunities to perform in the Oberlin Jazz Ensemble and to form small ensembles with their peers. They frequently write for those small groups and present their work for feedback and guidance at the popular weekly Jazz Forum. Oberlin jazz students also perform regularly in recitals, student-organized events, and off-campus engagements.

All majors complete courses in music theory and music history, as well as liberal arts courses in the College of Arts and Sciences. Jazz studies courses cover a wide range of topics, including jazz aural skills, jazz keyboard, jazz theory, basic arranging and composing techniques, improvisation, and the history of jazz. Majors also complete requirements in aural skills, sight singing, and piano proficiency.

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Curriculum Overview

Students accepted into the program can pursue studies in jazz performance or jazz composition.

Jazz Performance

Principal private study is available in the following areas: saxophone, trumpet, trombone, voice, piano, guitar, percussion, and double bass. Jazz performance students’ talents are developed through the cultivation of technique and artistic vision with the goal of building the skills and capabilities necessary to best express themselves musically. These foundations are established through the guidance of a world-class faculty that is steeped in tradition and maintains an eye on the future.

Required courses, such as Intro to African American Music, provide a comprehensive understanding of the genre’s roots so that you may see clearly its evolution and better anticipate how past musical ideas will affect your artistry.

At Oberlin, you will perform. You’ll participate in small and large ensembles all four years and perform degree recitals in your third and fourth years.

Oberlin’s small jazz ensembles are a defining feature of the department. Student-formed groups perform twice each semester and receive regular guidance from faculty coaches. You’ll be engaged in repertoire choices and write music for these ensembles.

Critical to the program is consistent exposure to performances, master classes, and private coaching sessions each year by dozens of visiting artists. Recent guests include Kurt Rosenwinkel, Terence Blanchard, Billy Childs, Ben Street, Michael League, Eddie Daniels, Dominick Farinacci, Leo Blanco, Anat Cohen, Benny Golson, and Ingrid Jensen.

Jazz Composition

The jazz composition curriculum closely follows the jazz performance course of study. All jazz composition students study with an applied studies teacher on their principal instrument. Students in the jazz composition program begin the sequence of courses in private composition in their first year and explore a variety of styles and idioms. Jazz composition study culminates with the public presentation of original works for jazz ensembles of various sizes on students’ junior and senior recitals.

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Jazz Studies News

Photo of jazz singer Adriana Vergara

More Than Words

December 12, 2017
Oberlin’s jazz voice program opens up new worlds for singers and instrumentalists alike.