Jazz studies prepares students for careers as professional jazz musicians and for the advanced study of jazz.
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, Dave Holland, Paul Simon, and Stevie Wonder. 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.
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.
Opportunities for Jazz Studies Program Majors
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 Ambrose Akinmusire, Steve Lehman, and Stephen "Thundercat" Bruner, 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.