Music students at Tulane University will, this coming fall, be treated to a special opportunity to learn from one of New Orleans’ pre-eminent cultural figures. The renowned jazz saxophonist, composer, music educator and Congo Nation Big Chief Donald Harrison Jr. will join the music department for the 2013-14 school year as jazz artist in residence, teaching six master classes to young studio musicians each semester, as well as theory and improvisation classes.
Harrison is a graduate of the prestigious Berklee College of Music, and a co-founder of the Tipitina’s internship program, where he worked with now well-known artists, including trumpeter Christian Scott and Troy "Trombone Shorty" Andrews. As a musician, he is noted for an innovative style that fuses modern jazz with funk, R&B and traditional New Orleans street sounds, particularly the Mardi Gras Indian tradition in which his family is steeped.
“His personality, his status as an educator, his investment in training young musicians…” said Tulane Center for the Gulf South director Joel Dinerstein, “we’re very happy.”
Music department assistant professor Matt Sakakeeny, whose book on the New Orleans brass band tradition (“Instruments of Power: Brass Bands in the Streets of New Orleans”) is forthcoming from Duke University Press in fall 2013, sees Harrison’s hire as part of an increased effort, on Tulane’s part, to engage with and promote its city’s culture. In part, Sakakeeny said, that focus is a direct response to the demand of students who choose Tulane because of strong interest in the culture as well as in the school.
“Enrollment in music is way up, in jazz studies and across the board,” he said. “As a faculty, we’re struggling to accommodate the huge interest.” Sakakeeny's own undergraduate class on the history of New Orleans music is capped at 45 students; because every semester it fills up, with a long wait-list. He recently was asked to add another section.
“It’s a response to the students who’ve come here post-Katrina, who are much more engaged with the city. The student interest in local music and culture is so high that we’re struggling to meet it,” he said. “It’s very exciting.”
Another recent addition to Tulane jazz studies is Adam Benjamin, a Grammy-nominated pianist recognized as a Rising Star in Jazz by DownBeat magazine for six straight years. He moved to New Orleans after a stint at Cal Arts this year to become a professor of practice at Tulane. He joins the pianist Jesse McBride, who came to Tulane as a visiting professor in 2007.
Benjamin and Harrison will work with McBride and other accomplished local musicians who are instructors at Tulane, including Detroit Brooks, Delfeayo Marsalis, Leah Chase, guitarist John Dobry, electric jazz bassist Jim Markway and sax player Allen Dejan. They teach both Tulane music students and children attending the brand-new Trombone Shorty Music Academy, housed on campus through a partnership with the Center for the Gulf South (which itself offers a freshly minted, regionally focused major, in Musical Cultures of the Gulf South.) College-level music students at Tulane also can assist with the middle- and high school Academy pupils to fulfill the service learning requirement in the liberal arts degree program.
“A lot of what we’re trying to do,” in terms of attention to regional culture and the New Orleans community, Sakakeeny said, “you can see through the Trombone Shorty Academy. Underscoring the significance of local music, outreach into the community, and working with this world famous jazz musician who’s a very accomplished culture bearer. It’s win-win.”
© 2013 NOLA.com. All rights reserved.