The first college or university in Arkansas to offer a bachelor’s degree in music with an emphasis in jazz is now the first to offer a master’s degree in the same subject.
The University of Arkansas at Monticello, whose jazz ensembles have attracted national attention in the jazz community, is now offering a master of music degree in jazz studies. The first 10 students began the program July 6 with an intense two-week on-campus program called Gateway, which accounts for six of the program’s 30 academic hours.
The two-week session included a week-long jazz camp and playing lessons from five world-class jazz musicians brought to campus by UAM jazz faculty Gary Meggs, Les Pack and Claude Askew. The guest artists for the first summer program included Mike Williams, lead trumpeter for the Count Basie Orchestra, Alex Norris, a freelance jazz trumpeter based in New York City, David Kane, a pianist who performs out of Washington, D.C., Paul Henry, bassist for the U.S. Air Force jazz band Airmen of Note, and Harry Watters, trombonist for the U.S. Army Blues.
“These guys are all people Les, Gary and I have met through the years,” said Askew. “We were incredibly lucky to get musicians of this caliber to come here.”
Also assisting with the program are two of UAM’s most accomplished student musicians, graduate assistants Bass Deese and Jake Miller. Both are members of Jazz Band I, the school’s premier jazz ensemble.
The low-residency program requires 18 hours to be completed online – nine hours in the fall semester and another nine in the spring. The final six hours will be completed during a second two-week summer session called Capstone, which requires a jazz recital or special project.
“The program is designed for band directors and educators,” said Pack. “It’s not a performance-based program. That’s how we’re able to offer so much online.”
UAM has three jazz bands, led by Jazz Band I, which won the prestigious Elmhurst Jazz Festival in suburban Chicago last winter. Gary Meggs, a world-class saxophonist, created the program and conducts Jazz Band I. Meggs recently retired from the active faculty tospend a year touring with the Glenn Miller Orchestra, but will return to campus as an adjunct faculty member. Meggs will teach one class online each semester while touring.
“Having a graduate program in jazz studies will only strengthen what is already a nationally-recognized program,” said Dr. Jimmie Yeiser, provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs. “Claude Askew, Les Pack and Gary Meggs are world-class musicians in their own right and their connections in the jazz world will allow us to bring some incredible musical talent to our campus.”