Published 2:22 pm, Wednesday, February 26, 2014
California Jazz Conservatory: Newly accredited Berkeley school chooses 1st artist-in-residence Pianist Susan Muscarella was teaching jazz at UC Berkeley 36 years ago when she first heard Benny Green. She was auditioning the serious little swinger for the piano chair in the storied Berkeley High jazz band directed by the late Phil Hardymon, who disliked the sometimes alienating audition process, so he enlisted his friend Muscarella. She’d later hire Hardymon to teach at the jazz school she started on Shattuck Avenue in 1997, and name the performance space in the Jazzschool’s new Addison Street digs Hardymon Hall.
“Benny was amazing then,” says Muscarella, who has chosen the celebrated pianist as the first artist-in-residence at the just-accredited California Jazz Conservatory, the new name for the Jazzschool. Its four-year program offering a bachelor of music degree in jazz studies was certified this week by the National Association of Schools of Music, a major milestone that, in addition to attesting to the school’s rigorous academic and artistic standards, qualifies the conservatory’s students for federal loans and allows it to admit students from abroad.
“Accreditation is the key to our long-term sustainability,” says Muscarella, a tireless worker who has always tapped the best musicians in the area to teach at the jazz school, whose vital community classes and workshops will continue alongside the expanding programs for aspiring professional jazz performers, educators and recording specialists.
“It was always my dream to create a degree program like this, where the courses in the curriculum are mutually beneficial,” says Muscarella, whose conservatory’s general education classes connect to its core subject. The social studies requirement, for example, can be satisfied with four semesters of jazz history, from its African roots to right now; a science course covers the physics of music.
Changing the name to the California Jazz Conservatory “better reflects our mission. In three words, it sums up who we are: a serious music school in California dedicated to jazz.”
In addition to running the school and occasionally teaching private lessons there, Muscarella is finishing her doctoral thesis on the jazz piano trio. She’s getting it through the University of Évora in Portugal, whose jazz school will participate in a new exchange program with the Berkeley institution. A German music school is also going to be involved. Some young European piano player may get private lessons with Green, who learned his craft on the job, playing with Art Blakey and Betty Carter.
“Benny is the perfect mentor for our students,” says Muscarella, who hopes Green will be in residence for several years. “He’s the real deal, everything I want in a musician,” she adds, a great player who’s also “considerate and conscientious. Our degree is about music but also about preparing students for the world and making sure they have high ethical standards.”
Green was delighted when Muscarella called to offer the gig.
“I’ve watched Susan’s pure labor of love grow year after year, with great admiration and respect,” Green e-mails from Bern, Switzerland, where he’s performing with his trio. “I feel that this is a good time in my life to take more responsibility and share my experiential perspective with young folks – of all ages!
“I do my best to let my students witness my own enthusiasm for records and the joy of jazz. If they can see what this music means to me, I hope our exchange will instill something of the fire and passion I saw in my mentor-bandleaders like Betty Carter, Art Blakey, Freddie Hubbard, Ray Brown and Oscar Peterson. People like me, who played with people like them who played with Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Charlie Parker and John Coltrane, are a serious young person’s link to jazz.”
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