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.
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.
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 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.
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