Jazz & Contemporary Improvisation

The Department of Jazz and 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.

All jazz classes are taught by a resident, highly-esteemed faculty, representing a wide range of backgrounds–from sidemen and apprentices of jazz luminaries, to performers and scholars dedicated to the art of improvisation. 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.

Having a music school embedded within a top research university presents endless possibilities. Students can choose to pursue a traditional conservatory path, focusing almost exclusively on music studies, or they can avail themselves of expansive coursework outside their area of study. Approximately 20-25 percent of jazz and contemporary improvisation students elect to double major, and all can take advantage of unlimited opportunities to interact and work with dancers, poets, filmmakers, scientists, engineers, and architects. If you can imagine the collaboration, it can happen at Michigan.

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.

Jazz and contemporary improvisation students work in state-of-the-art facilities, including the Earl V. Moore Building, which recently received a $29.5 million expansion and renovation, and have access to cutting-edge audio and video recording studios, allowing for the highest quality documentation of their creative work. All SMTD students receive unprecedented entrepreneurial and career planning support through the school’s EXCEL program (Excellence in Entrepreneurship Career Empowerment & Leadership), poised to become the nation’s top program for funding student entrepreneurial ventures in the performing arts.

The University of Michigan is renowned for developing excellence. Combining the focus and rigor of a conservatory with the academic breadth and depth of a major public research university, an SMTD education is a transformative experience. Musicians receive a comprehensive program of instruction, performance and pedagogy, as well as the inspiration and knowledge of a liberal arts course of study, instilling the values of innovation and inclusion. Our graduates excel as artists, scholars, educators, entrepreneurs, technologists, designers, and arts administrators, and also as fully-engaged citizens eager to make a difference in their field and community.

This is one of the most inclusive and intellectually stimulating communities I have ever been a part of. Every day I find myself learning new things from playing in ensembles and with other students, and all of the professors aim to give their students a long-lasting, positive, and creative relationship with music.

Ryan Schildcrout (BFA '21, Jazz Studies)



Born and raised in Detroit, GERALD CLEAVER (BM ’92, music education and percussion) is arguably the most important drummer of his generation.  He has forged a career that spans the broadest scope that modern jazz has to offer.  He has performed with artists ranging from Jacky Terrasson, Hank Jones, and Tommy Flanagan to Roscoe Mitchell, Henry Threadgill, and Charles Gayle.  He is also a bandleader and has six recordings as a leader.  He received the Hall of Fame Award Alumni Award from the University of Michigan SMTD.

Here are just a few of our celebrated alumni:

MATT BAUDER (BFA ’98, Jazz and Contemporary Improv) saxophonist and composer, has performed with Anthony Braxton and Arcade Fire
AMY BORMET (BFA ’06, Jazz Studies) pianist and composer, founder and director of the Washington Women’s Jazz Festival
VINCENT CHANDLER (MM ’12 in Improv, BFA ’10 in Jazz Studies) trombonist and composer, has performed with Joe Henderson and The Roy Hargrove Big Band. Professor at Wayne State University
DAVID COOK (BFA ’97, Jazz and Contemporary Improv) pianist and musical director for Taylor Swift; formerly with Justin Timberlake
JEREMY KITTEL (BFA ’04, Jazz Studies) award-winning fiddler and jazz violinist
COLIN STETSON (BFA ’97, Jazz and Contemporary Improv) internationally recognized woodwind artist, has performed with Tom Waits, Arcade Fire, and frequently performs as a solo bass saxophonist
SACHAL VASANDANI (BFA ’00, Jazz and Contemporary Improv) vocalist and bandleader, Mack Avenue Records recording artist and Downbeat Magazine Critic’s Poll for “Rising Star Jazz Vocalist”. Faculty at Temple University
VULFPECK (Theo Katzman BFA ’08, Jazz and Contemplative Studies; Joey Dosik BFA ’08, Jazz and Contemplative Studies; Woody Goss BFA ’11, Jazz and Contemplative Studies; Melissa Gardiner BFA ’08, Jazz Studies)

Ways To Connect


734.764.0593 (SMTD Admissions)
734.763.5461 (Events Line)
734.764.2538 (SMTD/UMS Ticket Office)


Andrew Bishop (Chair), Ellen Rowe (Professor), or


Department of Jazz & Contemporary Improvisation
Earl V. Moore Building
1100 Baits Drive
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-2075