When it comes to appreciating the arts at CSULB, Jazz at the Beach offers quality at an affordable price.
Jeff Jarvis, director of Jazz Studies at the Bob Cole Conservatory of Music, has led “Jazz at the Beach” since joining the university in 2005 and his pride is obvious.
“Jazz at the Beach started out strong in 1974, but years later after the passing of its founder, John Prince, the jazz program fell on hard times. So there was much work to do in order to reinvigorate the program when I arrived in 2005. Thanks, in no small part, to the hard work of our students and the support of the Bob Cole Conservatory administration, we now enjoy a reputation as one of the finest jazz programs anywhere,” said Jarvis who is the Music Director Emeritus of the Central New York Jazz Orchestra and a part-owner of Kendor Music, Inc., the first educational music publisher to provide jazz charts written especially for students.
He feels one reason students compete to learn at CSULB is Jazz at the Beach’s recordings and performances, including its latest CD titled “High and Mighty” featuring covers of such classics as “Night and Day” and “A Nightingale Sang in Barkley Square.”
Professional recognition has been consistent including the program’s recent receipt of five Downbeat Magazine awards naming the Concert Jazz Orchestra for the second year as Best Large Jazz Ensemble in the Graduate College category. And Christine Guter has led the vocal jazz program to four consecutive Downbeat wins in the Graduate College Vocal Jazz Category. Jarvis thinks one reason for Downbeat’s salutes is the quality of the program’s performances.
“I still perform professionally (his solo recordings as a jazz trumpeter and composer have placed high on the national air play charts) and, when I do, I find myself wishing some of the pro bands sounded as good as our big bands at CSULB,” he said.
Performance plays a big role in the success of Jazz at the Beach.
“When I wrote a mission statement for our program at the Cole Conservatory, the crux was in one sentence—we want to create gainfully employed music professionals and that isn’t limited to the jazz idiom,” he said. “A student emerging from CSULB’s Jazz at the Beach is positioned to be successful in other types of music as well.
“Look at the Disney College Band that performs at the Magic Kingdom every summer,” he added. “Not only is membership a big honor but participants make lifelong connections with other performers. Each year our students win positions in this band, and about half of the professional Disneyland Band is comprised of CSULB grads. And when I am called to play in a professional big band, I often find there are at least five or six members with a CSULB connection. My main thing is not to turn out a bunch of blazing jazz players who make $50 a gig. My plan is to use jazz as a vehicle for them to play whatever type of music turns out to be the most lucrative for them and aesthetically rewarding as well.”
CSULB students are serious about what they do and know they will not skate their way to a degree, according to Jarvis, who tries to create an atmosphere as close as possible to what they can expect on the outside.
Students face a rigorous series of performances.
“We do four concerts a year here on campus with our two top big bands and we always draw a big crowd,” he said.
He founded a program called Jazz Forum where students perform in the amphitheater in front of the practice rooms five Fridays every semester. Another program based in The Nugget on campus performs four times a semester. And, each year brings a tour which saw the band travel to Colorado last year for a music festival and before that a performance at Lincoln Center.
Jarvis feels there are plenty of advantages to studying jazz in Long Beach.
“One of the main selling points when I talk to potential students about coming to CSULB is not having to move once the student graduates,” he said. “What better place to begin your career than Southern California?”
Undergraduates spend their first two years taking the same classes that the classical students take such as musicianship and theory, Jarvis explained.
“Once they become juniors, students begin to take more jazz-specific courses such as jazz arranging, improvisation, jazz history and jazz pedagogy,” he said. “For the graduates, it is more of the same but much more difficult.”
Jarvis feels there is plenty of potential in Jazz at the Beach, which provides tremendous performance opportunities around the country.
“We’re really enjoying ourselves and I want to continue to offer our students the best education they can possibly get and have a little fun, too,” he said. “Our groups are right up there with Eastman, University of Miami and University of North Texas or any of the big conservatories that cost 10 times as much as we do. Where are students going to get this kind of jazz education for $7,000?”