By Mark MacNamar, San Francisco Classical Voice
Here’s a new-new thing: The California Jazz Conservatory — formerly known as The Jazzschool or the Jazz School Institute, or more colloquially, ‘that jazz school over in Berkeley.’ It was, until just recently, a small, unaccredited school, with no formal program of study, and known largely only to aficionados. In fact, the school was perhaps better known for its community outreach program.
Now, ‘that jazz school’ down in the Arts District in Berkeley has become a fully accredited, four-year conservatory, offering a top-rated faculty — including artist-in-residence, Benny Green, once a member of Art Blakey’s famed Jazz Messengers. The conservatory will offer both financial aid and the ability to provide visas to students coming from abroad. The tuition for four years is about $72,000; the degree is a B.A. in Music with a focus on jazz studies.
“I would like to see this become the Juilliard of Jazz on the West Coast,” Susan Muscarella said earlier this week. She founded the school in 1997, which was originally upstairs from La Note restaurant on Shattuck Avenue. And used her life savings to do it.
Muscarella, who grew up in Walnut Creek, studied classical piano as a child and was performing jazz professionally before graduating from Las Lomas High School, in 1968. Her first jazz piano teacher was Wilbert Baranco, a student of Art Tatum’s. She went on to study music composition at UC Berkeley and, in 1984, became director of the Cal Jazz Ensembles. Her preforming career includes time with Sonny Rollins, Sheila E., and Marian McPartland.
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