[JPL] NU's new jazz studies director generates big buzz
drjazz at drjazz.com
Sun Dec 2 23:56:56 EST 2007
NU's new jazz studies director generates big buzz
By Howard Reich
Tribune arts critic
December 2, 2007
Last May, music students at Northwestern University took to the streets
to protest the school's suspension of its jazz studies degree program.
They organized on the Internet too, launching a feisty Web site to decry
what they saw as the beginning of the end of jazz on the sprawling
Little did they know, however, that a seemingly moribund program --
which had educated no less than singer-pianist Patricia Barber,
trumpeter Orbert Davis and guitarist John Moulder, among others -- was
about to be reborn.
Or at least it appears that way from a remarkable development
Northwestern's School of Music announced last week: the hiring of one of
the country's most admired jazz musicians and accomplished educators as
director of jazz studies and professor of music.
Though clarinetist-saxophonist Victor Goines may not be a household name
(not yet, anyway), in jazz he holds a unique position, in that he has
played a pivotal role in both the Wynton Marsalis Septet and the Jazz at
Lincoln Center Orchestra since 1993 and created the jazz studies program
at The Juilliard School in Manhattan, in 2000.
Pair those credits with the prowess of his playing and the depth of his
roots in the culture of New Orleans, where he was born 46 years ago, and
it's not hard to understand why the jazz world is buzzing about Goines'
impending move here. He stands to become a force not only at
Northwestern but in Chicago jazz, simply by dint of his reputation and
level of achievement.
"He's a fabulous player and a very articulate educator," says Richard
Dunscomb, chairman of the music department at Columbia College Chicago.
"I have the greatest respect for Victor as a musician, a leader and a
human being," says Antonio Garcia, director of jazz studies at Virginia
Commonwealth University, in Richmond, and a former NU jazz-faculty member.
"I think his work speaks for itself," says Wynton Marsalis, who has
known Goines since they both were in kindergarten in New Orleans.
Goines' appointment has generated enthusiasm, says Marsalis, because of
"his ability to play with virtuosity and feeling, because of his
seriousness and dedication."
Quelling the protests
Even the students who protested last May appear to be embracing the news.
"We couldn't have asked for a better candidate," says recent NU grad
Mike Lebrun, who was a key student organizer of the demonstrations on
the streets and on the Web.
For Goines, the decision to accept the post -- and the high expectations
that are gathering around him -- owed to several reasons, starting with
the metropolis to the south of Northwestern's Evanston campus.
"There are really very few places in the United States that have such a
strong history in jazz," says Goines. "New Orleans does, New York always
has been, and Chicago has a very strong tradition in it.
"The fact that Chicago has all of these systems in place around it makes
it an environment that supports jazz," says Goines, referring to the
city's networks of clubs, concert series, celebrated musicians,
promoters, record labels and whatnot.
"You have a great body of musicians who are not only still there today
but those who moved from Chicago," adds Goines.
It will take time to tell what kind of impact Goines will have on music
in this city, though his plans to perform in Chicago's clubs and
collaborate with its musicians augurs well. If he proves half as
effective here as he has been in Jazz at Lincoln Center and Juilliard,
in New York, he could emerge as a center of gravity for a range of
The broad acclaim that Goines' appointment has inspired is the perhaps
inevitable result of natural talent developed through a lifelong
immersion in music.
He took up the clarinet at age 8 at his mother's suggestion, for she
believed that playing a woodwind instrument would help her young son's
struggles with asthma. She was right about that, says Goines, who not
only noticed benefits to his breathing but quickly recognized the
importance of music to him. Like most young clarinetists in the late
1960s and '70s, he was trained classically, his interest in jazz sparked
when he was in 9th grade, visiting the Marsalis home.
The Coltrane influence
"Wynton was playing a recording of [John] Coltrane, 'Countdown,' and he
was practicing on trumpet along with the recording -- he played
Coltrane's entire solo, on trumpet, along with Coltrane!" remembers
Goines, still somewhat incredulous at the feat.
"And that's when I said to myself: 'That's what I want to do -- but will
I be able do it? I want to be able to play like John Coltrane.'"
Dedicating himself to playing both jazz and classical, Goines emerged as
a top student musician at St. Augustine High School, a revered center
for music and black culture in New Orleans.
"He was one of our best clarinetists at the time," recalls his teacher,
Carl Blouin. "He ate, slept and dreamed music."
Though Goines earned a music degree, and a deeper mastery of classical
technique, at Loyola University New Orleans, in the early '80s, he still
had a ways to go as a jazz player.
"There was something that was lacking, through no fault of his own,"
remembers Ellis Marsalis, Wynton's father and an esteemed New Orleans
musician and educator.
Goines, explains Ellis Marsalis, had not yet applied as much energy to
mastering the elusive art of jazz improvisation as he had to vanquishing
the technical challenges of the clarinet and the intricacies of European
art music. But a decade-long stint studying and performing with Ellis
Marsalis, as well as a graduate music degree from Virginia Commonwealth
University in 1991, apparently trained him well. By '93, Goines held a
chair in one of the most celebrated ensembles of the decade -- the
Wynton Marsalis Septet, which in essence was the nucleus of the Jazz at
Lincoln Center Orchestra (then known as the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra).
Goines' progress was apparent by the mid-1990s, for the brilliance of
his playing in Marsalis' epic suite "In This House, on This Morning"
(which began its national tour at Quinn Chapel on the South Side of
Chicago in '94) and in Marsalis' orchestral suite "Blood on the Fields"
(the first jazz work to win a Pulitzer Prize, in 1997) announced Goines
as a potentially major figure in jazz. The seeming effortlessness of his
technique and the radiantly warm tone of his sound on clarinet,
saxophones and flutes certainly distinguished him from peers.
Juilliard's evolving effort
When The Juilliard School decided to venture into jazz, it selected
Goines as its first director.
What had started as a small-scale effort to create an Institute for Jazz
Studies at Juilliard, in 2000, became a full-fledged program granting
undergraduate and graduate degrees by 2007, when Goines stepped down.
Though he had planned to devote himself more fully to touring,
performing and recording, he found himself pursued by Northwestern the
day after his departure from Juilliard was announced.
The NU program had been in something close to stagnation since 2005,
when its longtime coordinator, Don Owens, retired. School of Music Dean
Toni-Marie Montgomery conducted an extensive, national search for a
replacement, but candidates with top-notch performing, education and
administrative credentials were few, she says, and those who were
offered the job turned it down. They "declined, just acknowledging the
amount of work that was going to be necessary to bring the program to
the level where it should be," says Montgomery.
With no new jazz majors and no director, Montgomery felt she had no
choice but to suspend the degree program.
That move sparked the aforementioned protests.
"I'm just happy that Dean Montgomery was able to ... keep the wolves off
of her heels long enough to identify someone of the caliber of Victor
Goines," says Ron McCurdy, chairman of the jazz studies department at
the Thornton School of Music at the University of Southern California
and a consultant to Montgomery on the recent search for a jazz director
The hiring of Goines -- who will remain a member of the Jazz at Lincoln
Center Orchestra -- points to major change, says Montgomery.
Her goal, she says, is to make NU's jazz curriculum "a premier program"
among "the top five in the nation."
"Because of our location, [just] miles away from Chicago, and the
excellent tradition that exists in Chicago, we should have a stellar
jazz program," says Montgomery.
If she and Goines succeed, music in Chicago will be the richer for it.
hreich at tribune.com <mailto:hreich at tribune.com>
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