UCO Jazz Studies

Musicians wishing to take their jazz studies to a higher level will soon be able to do so at UCO. In the fall of 2007, the University of Central Oklahoma will begin offering graduate studies in jazz. It will be the only one of its kind in the state and has already aroused a tremendous interest. The Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education recently gave approval to UCO for the new program.

The Master of Music in Jazz Studies will have two distinct areas of specialization. The first area will be in Performance and will include a final Master’s Recital for each graduate student. The other area, Commercial Music Production, will be unique for a graduate program. This will teach students how to quickly compose, arrange, transcribe and adapt to varying musical demands. Technical aspects of modern music production, such as recording techniques, mixing and mastering techniques, and incorporating software/hardware components and much more will be taught in this area. After four semesters of coursework, the student will complete a commercially viable CD album.

Brian Gorrell, head of the Jazz Studies Division for the UCO School of Music, said Dr. Kent Kidwell and Lee Rucker deserve much of the credit for getting the program going. It took several years of planning and preparation.

“They built the jazz program up and I just stepped in and did my little part,” Gorrell said.

A native Oklahoman and graduate of UCO, Gorrell has been part of the teaching team since 2000.

“I am drawn to jazz music in particular, because it is the ultimate form of self-expression for me as a musician. (With jazz) you are not only the performer, but also the composer and arranger all at the same time. You truly take the music where you want it to go. Jazz is a great example of musical democracy. Every musician gets a chance in the ensemble to be an individual and to have self-expression. But you must also be connected to the group and do your part to make the others sound as good as possible.”

He stated that jazz music is America’s only original contribution to art music. “It is uniquely American and great artists like Wynton Marsalis have done much in the last few decades to get the negative stereotypes and skewed perceptions changed,” said Gorrell. He went on to say that Jazz music was damaged for many decades by the false perception this music was only played in bars or night clubs.

From a young age, Gorrell spent his life pursuing his love of music. Equally proficient on both saxophone and keyboards, Gorrell has already produced many albums. As a former pianist for the Lawrence Welk Orchestra, he has a long list of well-known musicians for whom he has accompanied.

“I’ve been influenced by many different musicians. My first huge influence was probably David Sanborn on the alto saxophone. Later I was really drawn to John Coltrane on tenor saxophone and also Michael Brecker. Then I discovered Charlie Parker, Phil Woods, Dexter Gordon and many other great saxophonists. I also am a huge fan of Bill Evans, Keith Jarrett, and Herbie Hancock – all great on the piano.”

As the Director of Recording Services at the Jazz Lab, Gorrell says the local community definitely gives its support.

“Edmond has been tremendously supportive of live, jazz music. We have live music no less than three days a week and the community has sustained us for almost five years now. We are so happy to be in a town that seems to appreciate and support the arts.”

Gorrell went on to mention that the Edmond Jazz Festival on Memorial Day is always a big hit and lots of fun.

“Mark Neighbors, who owns Parkway Mens Store and Cleaners, has been one of our biggest supporters. He has shown a long term commitment to supporting the arts and is an invaluable advocate. Also, David Hornbeek, the architect who designed the Jazz Lab is another huge supporter. He is a member of Tres Amigos which is a group that brings in many great world class artists to Edmond.”

With the support and interest of the Edmond community, the new masters program in Jazz will be a welcomed addition to the university. Dr. John Clinton, the interim dean of the College of Arts, Media and Design, reported that the master’s program will help cement UCO’s reputation as having one of the best jazz programs in the country. He also stated that the success of the program additionally lies with the university’s administration and President Roger Webb, who have supported the program for years.


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