Jazz Studies and Contemporary Media

Teaching Philosophy

The Eastman School of Music Jazz Studies and Contemporary Media Department is committed to:

  • Preparing today’s most talented jazz students for their future roles in public performance, media, and education;
  • Providing a comprehensive jazz curriculum spanning the great traditions of the past to the the cutting edge developments of the present;
  • Guiding each student toward the discovery of his or her artistic voice as a performer, composer, arranger, and/or teacher;
  • Serving local, national, and international educational constituencies and their audiences with world-class performances of jazz and contemporary media music.


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The Jazz Studies and Contemporary Media (JCM) department of the Eastman School of Music is committed to finding and educating the next generation of jazz musicians who will shape the course of music in contemporary and future media. Beginning with the admissions process, the potential Eastman student passes through a pre-qualifying series of events that identifies the most outstanding candidates. This in includes both classical and jazz auditions, plus ear training and theory placement exams. From well over 100 submitted tapes in any given year, approximately 40 students are invited to Eastman for a live audition. When the process is finally completed, about 10% of the original pool of applicants are offered admittance. The entire JCM enrollment is approximately 50, in a student body at Eastman that numbers more than 800.

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Once admitted, JCM students have the opportunity to obtain the most comprehensive education in jazz available today. The core faculty is in residence and works with students on a daily basis. This day-to-day instruction is augmented by frequent master classes and guest appearances by top international artists. The Eastman JCM curriculum has been designed and modified over the years to enable all students — both performance and writing skills majors — to maximize their creative efforts along all stylistic paths. Since the early 1970 when composer Rayburn Wright, pianist Bill Dobbins, and saxophonist Ramon Ricker comprised the JCM faculty and developed the first jazz degree programs, the philosophy within the department has remained the same. The goal is to graduate professional caliber musicians who are comfortable within the large sphere of jazz-based musical styles, and who are capable of creating their own strong voice in any musical setting. The faculty believes that the way to accomplish this is to expose students to both the classical and jazz traditions, with emphasis on the repertoire and disciplines associated with the learning of improvisation skills.

JCM Performance Workshops (see more information under “Current Students” and “Ensembles” sections) provide the ideal environment in which students hone these skills and participate fully in the jazz education experience. JPWs, as they are called, supply the curriculum with a cutting-edge course of contemporary performance and preparation for recording. By combining the experiences of small ensembles, improvisation studies, writing skills, theoretical work, and aural training into an intense and focused ongoing workshop atmosphere, the study of jazz is approached from a holistic point of view.

The strength of Eastman’s Jazz Studies and Contemporary Media degree program lies in the hard work expected of each student in every aspect of study, coupled with the individual attention received from faculty. The sheer scope of material covered in the curriculum sustains the discipline level, while the faculty members as mentors provide personal encouragement as the coach the necessary skills. In a manner tested by time but rare in today’s style of education, the JCM apprentice can gain true confidence and attain the mastery needed for an artistically rewarding professional career.