$1.6M Gift Supports Endowed Fellowship in Jazz History at Oberlin Conservatory

New role made possible by James R. ’58 and Susan Neumann.

February 16, 2022

Erich Burnett

Collage of jazz album covers.
The James R. and Susan Neumann Jazz Collection at Oberlin consists of more than 100,000 recordings spanning the complete history of jazz.
Photo credit: James R. and Susan Neumann Jazz Collection

For more than a decade, the generosity of James R. and Susan Neumann has led to incomparable opportunities for Oberlin students to study the history of jazz. Now a new gift from the Neumanns will offer additional paths to explore the quintessentially American art form.

The Neumanns, who in 2011 gifted to Oberlin an extensive collection of more than 100,000 recordings, books, posters, and other artifacts chronicling the history of jazz, have donated $1.6 million to establish a fund supporting the creation of an endowed conservatory faculty position in jazz history. An allocation of $100,000 of the overall gift will support the Neumann Jazz Collection.

The newly endowed fund makes possible the creation of a postdoctoral fellowship. Each fellow will be appointed for a two-year period on an ongoing basis, and will teach two courses on specialized topics in jazz history. Those courses will draw upon the conservatory’s expansive archival materials provided by the Neumanns and others. In addition, each fellow will pursue individual research, which will involve Oberlin students.

“I’m delighted that, through this generous gift, we will be able to expand our offerings in jazz history in such a meaningful and enduring way,” says Dean of the Conservatory William Quillen.

“Increasing the number of academic courses dedicated to jazz history has been an interest of numerous members of our community here at Oberlin—and a particular interest of mine—and I’m thrilled that we are able to achieve such a goal through the addition of bright new faculty members. The generous, longtime support of Jim and Susan Neumann has been instrumental to the development of the unrivaled opportunities for jazz study that exist at Oberlin.”

The endowment of Oberlin’s jazz history faculty position coincides with news of a newly developed minor course of study in African American music created in tandem with the Conservatory of Music and the College of Arts and Sciences. Later this spring, the conservatory will appoint a new tenure-track faculty member in African American and African diasporic music.

“The gift provided by Jim and Susan Neumann marks a new era for the appreciation of jazz at Oberlin and ultimately beyond,” says Deborah Campana, head of the Conservatory Library—which houses the conservatory's Special Collections—and director of the Division of Musicology. “The Conservatory Library is grateful for the generous support of the collection itself. At the same time, we look forward to working with a new colleague who will inspire students’ thinking about jazz as they navigate the rich resources represented in this unparalleled collection.”

A lifelong jazz enthusiast, James Neumann promoted jazz concerts at Oberlin as a student in the mid-1950s. He has maintained close ties to his alma mater in the decades since his graduation.

“It is fortuitous that this gift is going to the school where I graduated from,” he said in January from his home in suburban Chicago. “It is a wonderful way to come full circle, just an incredible piece of good fortune for me, and I hope for Oberlin too."

Oberlin Conservatory’s newly endowed faculty position in jazz history continues the institution’s ongoing efforts to expand curricular diversity and support inclusion. Learn more about Oberlin's commitment in the Presidential Initiative on Racial Equity and Diversity and the conservatory’s Racial Equity and Diversity Action Plan.

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