Jazz Studies

Studies in Oberlin's Jazz Division prepare students for careers as professional jazz musicians and for the advanced study of jazz in both performance and composition.


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 such celebrated musicians as McCoy Tyner, Esperanza Spalding, Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock, and Art Blakey. They also have 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. There are also annual auditions for the Oberlin Sonny Rollins Jazz Ensemble, a group that performs in community outreach settings and on tour in venues such as Lincoln Center's Dizzy's Club and SF Jazz. Students frequently write for their small groups and present their work 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.

Opportunities for Jazz Studies Program Majors

Members of the Oberlin Sonny Rollins Jazz Ensemble are selected on the basis of four criteria: an audition for Oberlin’s jazz faculty, evidence of academic achievement, thoughtful response to a question about the place of jazz in the world, and service to humanity.

As a jazz studies student:

  • You’ll work with legendary visiting artists and our resident faculty.

  • You’ll become a part of the Oberlin Conservatory’s vibrant musical community. In addition to the 20-plus-piece big band and roughly 20 small ensembles sponsored by the Division of Jazz Studies, Oberlin supports numerous unofficial groups and jam sessions; the areas surrounding Oberlin also offer many professional opportunities.

  • You’ll rehearse, perform, practice, and record in the Bertram and Judith Kohl Building. Kohl is the first LEED-Gold-certified music conservatory, and features Clonick Hall—a world-class recording studio and performance space.

  • You’ll have the chance to organize on-campus performances and master classes with such musicians as Maria Schneider, Terence Blanchard, Billy Childs, Michael League, Eddie Daniels, and Anat Cohen, and be involved in production-based organizations as the Oberlin Jazz Society and the Oberlin College Black Musicians’ Guild.

  • You’ll have opportunities to hear guest artists and perform with your own ensemble in the Birenbaum, the social and performance space in the lower-level of the Hotel at Oberlin.

  • You’ll have access to the James and Susan Neumann Jazz Collection that features more than 100,000 recordings and a vast array of posters, ephemera, and iconography, believed to be the largest privately held collection in the United States. The collection was generously donated to Oberlin by James and Susan Neumann.

  • You’ll be able to browse—and check out—the resources in the conservatory’s music library with listening and viewing rooms, computer stations, and a vast collection of sound recordings, musical scores, books about music, and periodical titles.

Upcoming Jazz Studies Events

Jazz Studies News

Jazz Studies Facilities

Bertram and Judith Kohl Building

The Bertram and Judith Kohl Building is the home for the conservatory’s jazz studies division and programs in composition, musicology, and music theory, as well as the Clonick Hall recording studio.
exterior image and sign for the Kohl Building

Clonick Hall

Clonick Hall is a superior recording studio and performance space housed in the conservatory’s Bertram and Judith Kohl Building.
String and percussion ensemble in Clonick Hall recording studio

Lily McGregor Skybar

The Lily Smith McGregor Skybar is a sleek, airy space for conservatory deans, faculty, and staff to meet informally or for small group sessions, workshops, and social functions.
Interior of Lily McGregor Skybar