by Carol F. Stoel
The happy hour concert last month by UDC’s talented JAZZtet ensemble at the Acacia Bistro and Wine Bar set the tone for a new level of musical and intellectual engagement in our community. Not only were we lucky to hear the renowned group in Acacia’s intimate setting – the performance also stimulated curiosity about what other musical treasures exist at UDC and how we might participate.
UDC, our local public university, is home to one of the nation’s outstanding jazz programs. Linked to musical programs and events around Washington, DC and the country, it’s also a portal through which we can enjoy more and varied musical experiences.
A few weeks ago, I was fortunate to be able to spend some time with Judith Korey, professor of music at UDC and curator of the Felix E. Grant Jazz Archives, and Rachel Elwell, media technician and research assistant at the archives. From them I learned about the variety of programs, musical series, concerts, and other opportunities for community involvement.
Jazz it up
UDC’s jazz ensembles, under the direction of the late and legendary Calvin Jones, have performed around the country and in DC at various venues. he performances culminate each year with the “Calvin Jones BIG BAND Jazz Festival.” Jones not only grew the program, but also wrote many of the pieces still played by the ensembles today.
When Jones died suddenly in 2004, the program was fortunate that UDC Jazz Studies graduate Allyn Johnson, a faculty member and key member of the ensembles, seamlessly picked up the reins and continued the same high level of programming and invention. A pianist, composer-arranger and educator, Johnson is one of the most influential figures in the Washington, DC jazz scene. Under his leadership, UDC today is home to several ensembles that play music from Ellington to Jones to Johnson with all the creativity that jazz affords.
JAZZAlive is an umbrella for all the jazz programs and activities at UDC, and UDC supports it. Housed under the university’s music program, students can study jazz, hone their talents, and if they wish, earn an associate’s or bachelor’s degree in music. The jazz program emphasizes community outreach and strong connections to DC high school jazz bands, and encourages students to continue their studies and appreciate jazz.
Other music offerings include the nation’s first degree program in gospel music as well as degree programs in keyboard, instrumental music and voice. Students can begin their studies at the UDC Community College, taking their music courses at the Van Ness campus, and then if they wish, earn a bachelor’s in music. Those who are interested in a teaching career will need to pursue a M.A. in teaching.
Listen and learn
The outreach extends also to the general public through exhibitions. In 1988, efforts to establish a jazz archive at UDC were initiated after legendary radio announcer Felix E. Grant offered to donate his collection of radio interviews and recordings to the university. Grant for thirty years hosted and produced “The Album Sound” on WMAL-AM. The program featured a variety of jazz and blues and often featured international music. His shows educated and entertained audiences, and he often interviewed musicians who were visiting the area or were exciting performers. Some of those new and exciting performers came from Brazil, the home of bossa nova. Grant is credited with introducing this musical style to American audiences.
When WMAL ended the program, Grant found a new home at WDCU-FM where “Grant’s World of Jazz” continued to introduce the audience to jazz, blues, and international music. Upon his death, Grant’s widow gave the remainder of his extensive musical collection to UDC’s Felix E. Jazz Archives. The archives are now located in the university library in Building 41 and is available to the public for listening and research.
Visit the archives by December 12th to catch a special exhibit, called Bringing Bossa Nova to the United States, curated by Judith Korey and Michael Fitzgerald. Visitors can hear early recordings, view old posters, and read about the evolution of Brazilian bossa nova. Washington’s Brazilian jazz fans are pleased that music historians have recognized the important role that DC played in the early promotion of this art form.
You can participate, too
UDC’s vocal and instrumental ensembles are open by audition to all UDC students and welcome members of the community, as well. They include the UDC Chorale, a concert choir; The Voices, a gospel music ensemble; the UDC jazz ensembles; chamber ensembles and the community wind ensemble.
Senior citizens who are DC residents can take music classes at UDC, including piano lessons, for free through the UDC Gerontology program. A “Business of Music” course is also offered to help aspiring entertainers manage the business side of their careers and is also open to all students.
Want to learn more? Upcoming musical events and programs are announced on the UDC web site.