Department of Jazz & Contemporary Improvisation

The Department of Jazz & Contemporary Improvisation offers rigorous training in mainstream jazz as well as the systematic exploration of more open, eclectic forms of improvisation, all taught by a world-class faculty. The combination of traditional and innovative coursework cultivates an unsurpassed level of creativity, resulting in the development of skills that are key to success. Pioneered here at Michigan, this progressive approach to improvisation takes full advantage of the boundless course offerings available across the greater University. The department actively encourages a beneficial sense of community, which supports all students in their musical explorations. The department also offers coursework that explores the broader aspects of creative development through consciousness-based curricula that is at the forefront of jazz education, as well as at the vanguard of the most progressive initiatives in higher education.


All jazz classes are taught by a resident, highly-esteemed faculty, who come from diverse backgrounds and represent a wide variety of styles and pedagogical practices within the jazz tradition. They support a wide range of musical styles within the jazz and improvised music field. With a student-to-faculty ratio of 5:1, the department provides the highest degree of mentoring and oversight possible, and fosters a close and supportive community. Students receive private lessons with their professors each week and, with permission, may study with additional faculty members as well.

Andrew Bishop

Chair of Jazz and Contemporary Improvisation and Professor of Music
Department Chair

Mark Kirschenmann

Lecturer of Jazz & Contemporary Improvisation and Lecturer in the Residential College

Ellen Rowe

Chair of Conducting and Arthur F. Thurnau Professor of Music


jazz percussion strings7


Bachelor of Fine Arts

Bachelor of Music


Master of Music

Doctor of Musical Arts


Performance Opportunities

From large ensembles in celebrated concert halls to chamber groups in intimate recital spaces, performance opportunities across all disciplines abound, with nearly 900 student performances each academic year. Whether your focus is on early, classical, or contemporary music, whether your passion is for jazz, electronic, or world music, there is an ensemble—or in many cases, multiple ensembles—to suit your interests, including specific opportunities for percussion, piano, and organ & carillon. For students in theatre & drama, musical theatre, dance, and opera, opportunities abound in both professionally produced and student-run presentations.

Jazz Ensemble

Jazz Ensemble

Ellen Rowe, director

The University of Michigan Jazz Ensemble is the most competitive of the University’s jazz ensembles. Open by audition only, most seats are filled by majors within the Department of Jazz and Contemporary Improvisation. The ensemble meets twice a week for two hours, performs several times a semester on campus and off.

Jazz Lab

Jazz Lab Ensemble

Dennis Wilson, director

Designed to rehearse, perform, and examine the repertoire of the jazz big band, the Jazz Lab Ensemble explores classic, historically significant repertoire as well as new arrangements and/or compositions. Occasionally non-traditional jazz instruments are used to highlight and expand the diversity of the ensemble. This is also a class that is intended to develop the necessary skills of section lead playing, rehearsal techniques, jazz phrasing and styles. A wide selection of materials is used to attain these goals including the music of classic big bands such as the Thad Jones Orchestra, Count Basie Orchestra, Dizzy Gillespie Band, Oliver Nelson, Duke Pearson and Duke Ellington Orchestra. The ensemble periodically rehearses and performs the music of student arrangers as well. Each year the ensemble performs with guest artists, and student composers are given the opportunity to help compose and arrange a unique selection for the guests.

Chamber Jazz

Small Jazz Ensembles

Small Jazz Ensembles is a course devoted to small group jazz performance. Offered in both the fall and winter terms, students are divided into approximately 6 ensembles, ranging in size from trios to septets.

Creative Arts Orchestra

Creative Arts Orchestra

This is a unique, largely improvisation-based group that invites interaction with other performance fields such as dance, theatre, and music technology.

Show Your Support

Any gift to SMTD helps launch the next generation of artists, scholars, educators, and entrepreneurs who challenge and inspire the world.

You can support the Department of Jazz & Contemporary Improvisation with a contribution to:

Explore our Campus

Meet the people who make up this dynamic community.

Apply Now

Most applications for 2024-2025 are due by December 1 - check for exact dates on the appropriate admissions page below.

Program Costs, Financial Aid & Scholarships

Explore the many options available to make Michigan an affordable choice.