About Us

Jazz at Amherst College has a storied past.


A young man playing an upright bass

Through the work of student-musicians such as Chuck Stevenson '50, trumpet (father of Matt Stevenson, trumpet, '05 and grandfather of Will Fishell, trumpet, '21), Fred Karlin '56, as well as Robin McBride '59 and David Lahm '63, underground jazz ensembles were formed with various students taking on leadership positions. The 16--managed by Robin McBride--was such a group, as was the Amherst Jazz Orchestra, lead by Jim Myers. Through the work of Don Abrams and the noted pianist, author, and Ellington Scholar Andy Jaffe, jazz studies have flourished at Amherst from the 1980s to the present. Current Amherst grads "on the scene" include David Lahm '63, John Kordalewski '76, Freddie Bryant '87, Darryl Harper '90, Bill Bares '94, and Stephan Crump '94. Many members of the Northampton-based Inner Orchestra while in college were musicians in Amherst jazz groups, both large and small, and trumpet/vocalist and composer (while at Amherst) Mara Levi '02 continues her musical activities with compositions in her signature "smart" folk-rock style.  Jason Blynn '04 has made it on the Pop scene as well, as one-half of the wildly successful Pete and J Duo.  Michael Kohl '06 continues to impress with his wide array of works composed and performed with his vocal group XXY.  Members of the jazz combo Blue Nomads continue their musical associations to this day.  Alex Rodriguez '07 has spent time with jazz radio programming for WBGO, and Sam Friend '10 splits musical time between New York and New Orleans. Recent alums from our jazz performance program include Will Savino '14, who specializes in Game sound tracks; Ian Stahl '14 is establishing himself in the California area as an up-and-coming audio engineer at his studio Coyote Run and Dan Langa '18, who composes contemporary classical music.

Guest performances and master classes have included such artists as John Blake (Spring '97), Avery Sharpe (Spring '97), Steve Turre (Spring '98), Gunther Schuller (Winter, '99), David Lahm '63 (Spring 2000), Jon Hendricks (Spring 2000), Stephan Crump '94 (Fall 2000), Dave Ballou (Fall, 2000), John Hollenbeck (Fall 2000), Jon Mele (Winter 2000), Joe LaCreta (Spring 2001), Robin McBride '59 (Spring 2002), John Stowell (Fall, 2002), Ingrid Jensen (Fall, 2002), David Lahm '63 (Fall, 2002), Uri Caine Ensemble (2002), William Parker Ensemble (2002), Nathan Childers (2002) and Dr. Wayne Goins (Spring 2003), Joe LaCreta (2004), Freddie Bryant (2004), Rob Tapper (2005, 2008), Kristina Ploeger (2005), Walt Weiskopf (2005), Nathan Childers (2005), David Springfield (2006), Jeff Holmes (2006), David Sporny (2006), Guitar Summit 2007 (including guitarists Freddie Bryant '87, Joe Belmont, Bob Ferrier, Joe LaCreta, Adam Larrabee, bassist Genevieve Rose, and drummer Scott Drewes), Darryl Harper '90 (2007), Dr. Lewis Porter (2007), Gary Smulyan (2007), Paul Lieberman (2007), Jason Robinson (2008), Dave Douglas (2008), Anthony Davis (2008) Frank Newton (2008), Kidd Jordan/William Parker/Hamid Drake (2009), Vijay Iyer/Rudresh Mahanthappa (2009) Cosmologic (2009), the Dave Pietro Group (2009), Peter Evans (2009), Dafnis Prieto (2009), the Dave Holland Quintet (2010), Theo Bleckmann/Ben Monder Duo (2010), the Boston-based Either Orchestra (2011), Ayn Inserto (2011), Christine Jensen (2011), the John Hollenbeck Large Ensemble (2012), Myra Melford (2012),  Steve Coleman and the Five Elements (2012), Marcus Miller (2012), the Bad Plus (2013), Erik Applegate (2013), Adam Larrabee (2013), Gretchen Parlato (2013), Vijay Iyer (2014), Oliver Lake (2014), Amherst Jazz Orchestra (2014), Grace Kelly (2014), Stephan Crump '94 & Mary Halvorsen(2015), Dr. David Demsey (2015), JC Sanford Quartet (2015 and 2016), Danilo Perez (2015), Jeff Holmes Quartet (2015), Ryan Keberle and Catharsis (2016), Archie Shepp (2015), Jeff Holmes Big Band (2017), Anat Cohen Quartet (2017), Tyshawn Sorey Trio (2016), Jeff Holmes Big Band (2017), Chris Merz Quartet (2017), Rob Tapper (2017), Darryl Harper '90 (2017), Theo Croker (2017), Mark Zaleski Band (2018), Helen Sung (2018), Phil Scarf (2018), Haneef Nelson (2018), Ed Orgill (2018), Sara Jacovino (2018), Nicole Mitchell (2019), Christian Scott (2019), Sara Jacovino Quartet (2019) Stephan Crump '94 (2019), Jen Chapin (2019), Chris Cheek (2019) and Ben Kono Group (2019), Jihye Lee (2019), Noah Garabedian (2019), Samirah Evans (2019), Chris Humphrey (2019), Jihye Lee Ensemble (2020), Jen Allen Trio (2020), Regina Carter (2020 Zoom), Alexa Tarantino (2020 Zoom), Zaccai Curtis (2021 Zoom), the Pete Robbins Quartet (2021 Zoom), Jen Allen (2021 Zoom), Helen Sung (2021), Christian Sands (2021), Pete Kenagy (2021), Rich Greenblatt (2021), Ryan Keberle (2022), Freddie Bryant '87 (2022), Spin Cycle (2022), Jason Moran (2022), Rick Dimuzio (2022), Erica Seguine (2022), Lakecia Benjamin (2022), Charles Nichols (2023), Alex Lee-Clark (2023), Rob Tapper (2023), Emmet Cohen (2023), the Amherst Jazz Orchestra (2024), and Terri Lynn Carrington (2024).

In 1999, Andy Jaffe coordinated and hosted the first of the major collegiate symposiums celebrating the Centennial of Duke Ellington's birth. The McBride '59 Jazz Commission Series, begun in 2005, has commissioned nineteen pieces written exclusively for the Amherst College Jazz Ensemble. The first, "City Scapes" by Nathan Childers, and the second, "The Art of the Matter" by David Springfield, were received well by audiences in our Spring Concerts of '05 and '06, and the ensemble had the powerful experience of interacting with these wonderful composers. Spring 2007 found a wonderful piece composed by Santiago Cerda, a Chilean composer of important status in the Santiago region of Chile, entitled "Andes Jazz Suite." Our 2008 McBride Commission composer David Rivello wrote "A Series of Short Prayers".  Local composer Frank Newton was selected to create the next piece, which premiered on May 4, 2009.  Newton titled the piece "Into the Light," and it was fantastic!  UCONN-based Earl MacDonald composed our 2010 piece, "Smoke & Mirrors".  A quizzical piece, "Down the Rabbit Hole," was composed by Ayn Inserto for our 2011 piece.  Our 2012 Commission Composer was McGill Professor Christine Jensen, and her piece "Blue Yonder" was presented on February 24, 2012.  Erik Applegate, a wonderful bassist who teaches at U of Northern Colorado, composed "Phosphorescence" for our February 16, 2013 performance.  UMASS Professor of Jazz Studies Jeff Holmes composed "Ten for 10" in honor of our tenth year of the Commission Series.  This was performed during a two-day celebration of Jazz at Amherst in March 2014.  New York-based trombonist and composer JC Sanford composed the 2015 Commission entitled "Trash Me Hamster," which was performed in February, 2015.  Alex Lee-Clark, a stalwart on the scene in Boston, composed "Cocktail Party" and performed on stage with his amazing Funk Band following the performance of this piece in February 2016.  Iowa-based Christopher Merz gave us "Two Weeks From Everywhere" for our 2017 Commission.  Boston-based composer Omar Thomas composed "Orchids" for our 2018 Commission. Trombonist Sara Jacovino composed "Mammoth Interruption" for our 2019 piece. NYC-based Jihye Lee gave us "Try Out" for our 2020 piece, which was great! Amidst the chaotic environment of 2021, composer Jen Allen penned "On the Precipice" for our Jazz Ensemble to premiere. Our Jazz Combos also played tunes (Easy Peasy and Prickly Pear) composed by Jen Allen from her album "Sifting Grace" as part of their semester's repertoire. Boston/Iowa-based composer Brian Martin gave us "The Faro Shuffle" for our 2022 piece, and coming to us from Virginia Tech, '59 was composed by Charles Nichols for the 2023 piece. For 2024 (the 20th anniversary of this series!), Prof. David Sanford from Mt. Holyoke College composed "Variations on a Theme by Lewis Spratlan". 

Today, Amherst College supports a jazz ensemble, several jazz combos, a theory/improvisation course with two levels, and numerous offerings in Jazz History, Jazz Composition, Jazz Film Study, and Creative Improvisation courses. Private instruction is available for all jazz musicians, and the scene in Amherst and the Pioneer Valley continues to thrive. The current jazz performance director and senior lecturer, Bruce Diehl, coordinates both the jazz ensemble and the combo program (collectively known as the Jazz Performance Program), and teaches the jazz improvisation/theory course track.. There are 4-5 on and off-campus jazz ensemble performances each year, while jazz combos have many opportunities to play in concert both in Arms Music Center and theJazz@Friedmann Room (formerly the Jazz@Schwemm's Series) in October and March as well as gigs (for pay!) on and off campus.  Professor Jason Robinson has brought variety to our course offerings and new insights into the music we call jazz since he joined the Department in 2008.  The addition of Professor Darry Harper '90 gives us a chance to broaden and increase the depth of our offerings in jazz-related courses. 

McBride CollectionMcBride Collection

Amherst received a generous donation of over 2000 jazz LPs from Robin McBride '59. This jazz collection contains albums covering numerous jazz artists--from Armstrong to Zawinul--and encompassing all major periods in the history of jazz.

This collection is available for students and faculty at Amherst College as well as in the Five College system. The McBride collection is a symbol of the commitment and dedication that Robin McBride has to Amherst College and to the continued study of Jazz as the true art form that it represents.

Brehm '03-Hochman '03 Collection

Recently, a wonderful collection of CDs was donated to the Music Department to be used by the jazz musicians within the Five Colleges.  Named after two graduates of the program, Brett Brehm '03 (piano) and Brian Hochman '03 (saxophone), this collection was donated by Professor Barry O'Connell and is now available for our student community.

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Emmet Cohen working with Jazz Combo Haleakala 359.57 KB