The Department of Music in the J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Arkansas is excited to announce the offering of a new degree in jazz performance. The degree, a Bachelor of Music with a concentration in Jazz Studies, features courses specifically designed for jazz-focused musicians in improvisation, history, analysis, and pedagogy. The new degree is housed in a formalized Jazz Area within the Department of Music.
Two long-time music faculty at the University of Arkansas, Jim Greeson and Gerry Sloan, established space for jazz education and ensembles during their tenure on the faculty. Now both retired, Greeson and Sloan’s legacies continue in jazz performance on campus with current ensemble faculty Rick Salonen and Claudia Burson. A suite of new and existing ensemble offerings provide a wide-range of jazz performance for students including jazz combos, the World Music Ensemble, the Latin American Music Ensemble, and the University of Arkansas Jazz Orchestra. Additional performance groups such as the Arkansas Soul Band and the Songwriters Ensemble provide popular music opportunities within the program.
“The Department of Music has offered jazz for decades,” said Ronda Mains, chair of the department. “We have wonderful jazz musicians on our faculty and have always supported the jazz community in Northwest Arkansas. Building on that foundation, we have hired a number of talented faculty members who can take our jazz offerings to the next level and offer our students a more complete experience in jazz studies.”
The new jazz program includes eight acclaimed performers and scholars representing many areas of jazz and contemporary music.
- A Fayetteville native, pianist Claudia Burson is one of the long-established jazz greats in Arkansas. She has performed with Don Wilkerson and Arnett Cobb among many others. After 20 years of performing in Houston, Claudia returned to Fayetteville in 1998 to establish the Claudia Burson Trio and began teaching at the University of Arkansas.
- Kimberly Hannon Teal is a distinguished musicologist specializing in jazz history whose current book project is titled Jazz Places: How Performance Spaces Shape Jazz History. Her research addresses live performance, musical experiences and meaning in contemporary jazz.
- Guitarist Jake Hertzog, the Jazz Area coordinator, has released seven critically acclaimed jazz albums, performed around the world, and has worked with jazz luminaries such as Randy Brecker, Barry Altschul, and Harvie S. His rock groups have been on Vh1 and MTV and he has published dozens of instructional articles on jazz guitar.
- Joon Park is a cutting-edge music theorist and jazz pianist whose research focuses on jazz and multimodal approaches to music theory. His recent articles focus on the pedagogical benefits of bringing a “jazz mindset” to the core music theory classroom and exploring the methodological differences between jazz and classical analysis.
- A unique feature of the new jazz program is world music, taught by flutist Nikola Radan. Nikola founded the critically-acclaimed world music ensemble, BalMus and Blue Thread, a multicultural music project that explores ancient ballads that connect Asia, Africa, Europe, and the Americas. His music has been featured on television channels such as PBS, Sundance and IFC.
- Rick Salonen, the director of the University of Arkansas Jazz Orchestra, is a saxophonist and composer who has toured with many musical theater productions and whose music has been featured by small groups, big bands, and symphonies in Arkansas.
- Drummer Chris Teal is the co-director of the Institute for Creative Music and directs the jazz programs at the University of Arkansas Community Music School. Chris released his first self-titled album as the Chris Teal Trio, “Analog Dreams” in 2019, has released three albums with the band Quintopus on ears&eyes Records, and three albums with the Institute for Creative Music Collective on Outside in Music Records. Chris currently performs in Northwest Arkansas as a member of the Jake Hertzog Trio, the Matt Smith Group, and the Chris Teal Trio.
- Latin Percussionist/Drummer Fernando Valencia is the director of the Latin American Ensemble. Grammy nominated instrumentalist and NAMA award winner, he has played for NYC Off-Broadway and Touring Broadway shows as well as for Latin artists Orlando Fiol, Edgar Maldonado and Frankie Ruiz Jr. among many others. His commercial compositions have been broadcast in Europe and US.
Associate Dean Steve Beaupre noted that “the Fulbright College is thrilled with the establishment of our new jazz degree program. We anticipate a high level of interest from students and rapid growth. As a jazz fan myself, I couldn’t be happier!”
“It’s a great moment for this department,” said Hertzog, “the addition of a jazz degree creates all sorts of opportunities for students not only in jazz, but to build on that jazz and classical foundation for all sorts of careers music.” The department is grateful for its institutional and community support and is looking forward to an exciting first year of the jazz program.
Over the coming weeks, the department will announce further news and special events to commemorate the first year of the new Jazz Studies program!