Peek into any rehearsal room in the Jazz Studies program at the USC Thornton School of Music, and you’ll hear something you’ve never heard before. From first-year students to accomplished musicians earning graduate degrees, the emphasis is on original music.
“In the combos it’s great, you can bring in a composition any time, any class,” said master’s student Alex Hahn. “The professors give you a chance to work on them and really encourage all the students to write a lot.”
While jazz has traditionally been passed down through the sonic currency of standards, with popular songs absorbed and often reharmonized by jazz musicians into new work, a trend is developing in jazz education that emphasizes composition as a tool for improvisation.
“We stress the importance of being a composer/arranger as a vehicle for one’s playing to create an environment in which one is able to really convey a specific message,” said Bob Mintzer, chair of Jazz Studies at USC Thornton.
I want to light a creative fire under the musicians.
“My philosophy is I want to light a creative fire under the musicians. I want them to get excited about making music that’s theirs,” added faculty member Russell Ferrante.
The result, shown in the accompanying video featuring original music by Hahn and freshman jazz pianist Paul Cornish, is a program focused on bringing out the individual voices of students.
“I think it’s super important to write and compose as much as possible,” Hahn added. “Writing helps your playing, and playing helps your writing and it’s all one.”
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