Applause for jazz changes not universal

Christina Salter

Hang on for a minute...we're trying to find some more stories you might like.

Email This Story

With a new director, new faculty and revamped curriculum, Northwestern’s jazz studies program has undergone a drastic transformation this year – one that has left students divided over whether the changes were for the better.

Victor Goines, former artistic director of jazz at the Juilliard School in New York City, was appointed NU’s director in November 2007 following a two-year search. Immediately after, Goines said he began searching for new teachers to replace the existing faculty.

“It’s sort of like a football team,” Goines said. “When a coach goes from one program to the next, he tends to bring his staff.”

Goines sought “world-class” and “diverse” professional musicians, many of whom he had worked with before. Almost all commute to NU from New York and other cities where they work, he said.

The program’s former interim director, Joel Spencer, said he thought his staff of instructors was already “fantastic” and he was surprised by its dismissal.

“It was certainly a surprise in that we greatly valued our relation with Northwestern,” Spencer said. “We had a fantastic staff of musicians with great experience who really cared about that program.”

While students said they appreciate the opportunity to work with more prestigious professors, the new part-time teachers have not been as accessible as some would like. Because professors must fly into Chicago, lessons were changed from one hour every week to two hours every other week, said Linda Garton, assistant dean for admissions and student affairs in the School of Music.

Freshman jazz studies major Thom Schwartz said the new lesson system is sometimes problematic, although he is satisfied with the program overall.

On Wednesday, for instance, Schwartz’s lesson was canceled when his instructor could not fly into Chicago due to inclement weather.

“I didn’t have a lesson, and now he’s going on tour for two weeks,” Schwartz said. “Stuff like that is a little frustrating.”

Still, freshman jazz studies major Michael Anderson said his professors “would lose some of what makes them special” if they were strictly teachers, rather than active performers as well.

Goines made many changes to the curriculum, including a greater focus on jazz history and the addition of a “business of jazz” component, he said.

Garton said she supports the changes.

Jazz studies major Ken Ross said he likes the new focus on history in order to understand contemporary style. The sophomore decided to transfer to NU this year after he heard Goines was appointed director. Ross had originally wanted to attend NU as a freshman, but the program didn’t accept applications for the 2007-2008 school year due to the lack of a permanent director.

Ross said he has heard complaints about students missing out on lessons, but enjoys seeing his professors “in action.”

Prof. Chris Madsen is the only jazz professor on campus every day, a resource that students said they found useful when their lesson instructors weren’t readily available.

Madsen said this year is a time of rebuilding for the program. Its main challenges, according to Madsen, include accommodating upperclassmen who began their studies under a different curriculum, and attracting larger classes of incoming students.

The program currently has 14 students, though Goines said he would like to eventually have about 28.

Auditions for next year’s freshman class will be held in February, and already more than 60 have been scheduled, Madsen said.

Spencer said he wasn’t aware of all the changes taking place at NU this year. He and his instructors prided themselves on their dedication to NU, and he said he hopes that goal is still in place.

“That’s the ideal of being a great teacher,” Spencer said. “It must be a selfless existence.”