Jazz at Amherst College has a storied past. Through the work of student-musicians such as Chuck Stevenson '50, trumpet, (father of Matt Stevenson, trumpet, '05), 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 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), 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, Joe Belmont, Bob Ferrier, Joe LaCreta, Adam Larrabee, bassist Genevieve Rose, and drummer Scott Drewes), Darryl Harper (2007), Dr. Lewis Porter (2007), Gary Smulyan (2007), Paul Lieberman (2007), Jason Robinson (2008), Dave Douglas (2008), Frank Newton (2008), Kidd Jordan/William Parker/Hamid Drake (2009), the Dave Pietro Group (2009), world-renowned bassist Dave Holland (2010), the Boston-based Either Orchestra (2011), the John Hollenbeck Large Ensemble (2012) and the Bad Plus (2013), Erik Applegate (2013), Adam Larrabee (2013), Gretchen Parlato (2013), Vijay Iyer (2014), Oliver Lake (2014), Grace Kelly (2014), Stephan Crump '94 & Mary Halvorsen(2015), Dr. David Demsey (2015), JC Sanford Quartet (2015 and 2016), 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), Rob Tapper (2017) and soon to feature Darryl Harper '90 (2017).
In 1999, Andy Jaffe coordinated and hosted the first of the major collegiate symposiums celebrating the Centennial of Duke Ellington's birth. The McBride Jazz Commission Series, begun in 2005, has commissioned twelve 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 we 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 Commissioned Pieces. 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" and this was performed in February, 2015. Alex Lee-Clark, a stalwart on the scene in Boston composed our most recent Commission, "Cocktail Party" and performed on stage with his amazing Funk Band following the performance of this piece in February, 2016.
Today, Amherst College supports a jazz ensemble, several jazz combos, a theory/improvisation course with three levels, and numerous offerings in Jazz History 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 director and lecturer, Bruce Diehl, coordinates both the jazz ensemble and the combo program, and teaches the jazz improvisation/theory course. There are around 10 on and off campus jazz ensemble performances each year while jazz combos have many opportunities to play in concert (in Arms Music Center and at the Jazz@Schwemm's Series in October and March) and gigs (for pay!) on and off campus. Assistant Professor Jason Robinson has brought variety to our course offerings and new insights into the music we call 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 (piano) and Brian Hochman (saxophone), this collection was donated by Professor Barry O'Connell and is now available for our student community.