This guest article comes from jazz bassist and educator Danny Ziemann. Danny is Adjunct Professor of Applied Bass and Cello at SUNY Oswego
and Jazz Bass Instructor Eastman Community Music School. Learn more about Danny on his Contrabass Conversations interview, and check out more articles about college selection here.
Opportunities to formally study jazz in a college setting have increased in recent years. What used to be a short list of schools has since blossomed, now representing many talented teachers and strong programs throughout country. In this post I’ll discuss a few specific colleges, artist diploma programs, and unique considerations when applying to study at different institutions. I’ll also provide a list of collegiate jazz bass teachers.
Please note: this is not an all-inclusive list of great programs or teachers in the US—just a sampling of some of the colleges where you can study jazz!
As I meet and learn about more teachers, the list will be updated.
For a very complete resource of colleges with jazz programs, I suggest buying Downbeat Magazine around August or September. There is an excellent college guide that comes out every year with the most current information!
Also, definitely read Jason’s college guide—the questions raised are so pertinent to your decision making process! Teachers make a huge difference, but so do the opportunities that the school offers in general. Think first and foremost about what your needs are.
- Do you want to study only jazz?
- What about jazz and music education?
- Or maybe you want to study jazz and biology?
- Is there a vibrant music scene in the city?
- What’s the scholarship money like?
- Does the school offer grant money for creative projects you might have?
Each school will try to make their offerings as attractive as possible, with each having their own unique considerations. Much of it has to do with how the school functions as a whole.
Let’s take a look at the following jazz programs for example:
The Eastman School of Music is a conservatory located in downtown Rochester, NY. Jeff Campbell serves as the school’s jazz bass teacher. Eastman functions as a school within the University of Rochester (separate campus), though students don’t have to study at the main U of R campus unless they choose to. Students can double major in theory, music education, composition, etc., or in conjunction with a degree from the River Campus in biology, science, etc. Music degrees are available up to the PhD and DMA level. This school offers a concentrated small college experience, but with the ability to integrate into a larger experience. Rochester is within five hours of Toronto, NYC, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, and other large cities. (Full discretion: this is my alma mater)
The Juilliard school is a conservatory located in Manhattan, NY. The jazz program is led by Wynton Marsalis, with Ben Wolfe and Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Carlos Henriquez running the bass faculty. Juilliard is a prime example of a stand-alone conservatory, and offers many diversified degree programs up to the DMA level. Juilliard is an institution where you can fully immerse yourself in all things music, right in the heart of NYC. Location is an influential factor for this school, putting you into daily contact with some of the strongest artistic culture available worldwide.
Michigan State University is a large school with great music, sports, and college culture. Students can pursue a dedicated jazz degree, or add another degree like music education. The MSU jazz department is a known entity in the collegiate world, with Rodney Whitaker serving as the school’s jazz bass teacher. The college of music is part of MSU, not a separate conservatory, offering conservatory level study with a more integrated college experience. Michigan residents can also qualify for in-state tuition, making the price another attractive feature. It is situated close to Detroit, one of the epicenters for jazz history.
SUNY Purchase, located in Westchester NY, is an example of a state school with a fantastic music program. The college of music is conservatory with in a larger university setting. The bass faculty includes Todd Coolman and Doug Weiss, plus additional greats that commute in from NYC to teach. Its close proximity to the city makes it an attractive school choice for someone who wants a larger college experience, access to great musicians and music scene, and in-state tuition prices. There is no education program, but the curriculum offers diverse opportunities for majors.
Each program offers different considerations. Do you want to double major? Do you want a big college experience? Do you want to be one of five or 50 bass players? Being in a large and small studio both has their merits. Make sure to meet directly with the teacher. Reach out to alumni and current students to get an idea of their experiences. If possible, hear the current students play. Learn as much as you can about each college as you consider if it’s a place you want to be!
Artist Diploma Programs
For those who want an experience outside of the standard degree program, consider applying to an Artist Diploma program. While these programs don’t offer an accredited degree, they do offer extraordinary performance opportunities. (This is typically considered after a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree). A select jazz group is assembled to study, perform, record, and tour together, functioning as direct representatives of the institution where they are located. These groups are put into direct contact with some of the most respected names in jazz on a regular basis. Often the programs are tuition free and additionally provide a stipend to help cover expenses. Here are a few of the programs available:
One year programs
Two year programs
- Berklee Global Jazz Institute Boston, MA
- Juilliard Institute Manhattan, NY
- Thelonius Monk Institute Los Angeles, California
Lastly, there are many fantastic teachers available to study with (and one of most important pieces of the puzzle). Of course I don’t know all of the teachers available to teach jazz bass, but here’s a short list of people to start. The list will keep expanding over time!
- Tyler Abbott (University of Oregon)
- Jeremy Allen (Indiana University)
- Jay Anderson (Manhattan School of Music)
- Erik Applegate (University of Northern Colorado)
- Adam Booker (Appalachian State University)
- Miles Brown (University of Delaware)
- White Browne (Berklee College of Music)
- Jeff Campbell (Eastman School of Music)
- Todd Coolman (Indiana University; SUNY Purchase)
- Peter Dominguez (Oberlin Conservatory)
- Kieran Hanlon (SUNY Fredonia)
- Carlos Henriquez (Juilliard)
- Bruce Gertz (Berklee College of Music)
- Drew Gress (New York University)
- Robert Hurst (University of Michigan)
- Marco Panascia (The New School)
- John Rivers (University of Vermont)
- Harvie S (Manhattan School of Music)
- Lynn Seaton (University of North Texas)
- Fumi Tomita (UMASS Amherst)
- Nicholas Walker (Ithaca College)
- Rodney Whitaker (Michigan State University)
- Martin Wind (NYU)
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