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ASU community performs to keep legacy of jazz alive for Jazz Appreciation Month

ASU jazz studies students and faculty discuss the cultural and historical importance of jazz and how the University is working to preserve that legacy


Lewis Nash’s Wednesday Combo performs at The Nash Jazz Club on Wednesday, April 19, 2023, in Phoenix. 

April is Jazz Appreciation Month, which celebrates a genre of music that holds much importance to the many ASU students and faculty who study and perform jazz. 

JAM is meant to celebrate the rich heritage of jazz music and encourage people of all ages to listen to and enjoy jazz music. Jazz was developed in African American communities in the early 20th century. With jazz being influenced by both Western European and African music, including sounds of blues and ragtime, it is known as one of the more uniquely American genres of music.

Today, jazz is played and celebrated across the world. The ASU jazz studies program, for example, works on forming the future of jazz musicians by educating students on its cultural importance and training students to be able to play both classic and contemporary jazz music.

"The jazz studies program at ASU helps in the sense that we are constantly and consistently familiarizing the students with the history of the music with the importance of the music in American and world societies," said Lewis Nash, a professor of practice in the jazz program and renowned jazz drummer. 

"We spend time familiarizing them with the relevance of the music historically, in terms of socially what it meant and means. And we kind of relate certain historical events to what was happening in jazz during at that time," Nash said.

The ASU jazz studies program is comprised of seven small groups, each having about four to seven student players that perform together at least twice a semester. With such a high level of commitment expected in this program, students who participate in the jazz studies program are extremely passionate about music and performance.

"Jazz really speaks to my soul," said Nicholas Macgregor, a senior jazz performance student and jazz drummer. "It's a very emotional genre and a spiritual experience. It's also such a community experience, sharing the music with all of your peers on stage."

The jazz studies program mainly focuses on performing jazz combos. Students get a chance to strengthen their improvisational skills and ability to play in numerous different jazz styles, including bebop, fusion and avant-garde.

The jazz studies program offered at ASU is unique, as many university music programs do not have a specific major to focus on jazz, or really, on American music at all. 

"For a long time, schools of music were all very focused on European music," said Jeffrey Libman, a clinical assistant professor for the jazz studies program and one of the directors at The Nash

"European music is very beautiful. I love that music, but why not focus on American music? Jazz is American music. Jazz is Black music. And there should be the celebration of Black music in the conservatory, in schools of music, etc. It's some of the greatest music the world has ever known," Libman said.

The Nash, which opened in 2012, was named after Lewis Nash due to his connection with the Phoenix jazz scene and to honor his years spent traveling the world as a successful jazz musician. Since then, Nash has been involved in both performing at The Nash and has used his connection with ASU to give students the opportunity to perform at the venue as well. 

On April 19, jazz studies students showcased a series of jazz combos at The Nash for their last show of the semester. Nash also coached and arranged music for two of the combos that played at the concert. The ASU Jazz Combos show was a good chance to expose people of all ages to the talent of local musicians and the rich culture of jazz. 

"For this concert, we select the tunes we want to play, whether that's a personal pick or a familiar song, and we just work out the arrangement and the nuances of the performance," Macgregor said.

All of the group performances played about four songs, about a thirty-minute setlist each, some which were recognizable to the average listener and some which were odes to classic jazz music. Every song included many improvisational moments and solo performances, all of which captured the audience's attention.

"I thought the show was really enjoyable," said Peter Rooney, a freshman software engineering student. "I'm a pretty big jazz fan and I think jazz is just a good genre of music to dance to, to really take in and enjoy. And I thought the performers tonight were extremely talented and just put on a really good show."

Most importantly, the ASU jazz studies program continues to encourage young people to pursue jazz as a career and keep the rich music genre alive.

"There's such an incredible legacy and such a rich history to jazz music, but also, I think that jazz is alive," Libman said. "Jazz is part of that continuum of Black American music. And I myself, as a white person, very grateful for this unbelievable legacy of music and grateful to be able to participate in it."

Edited by Claire van Doren, Jasmine Kabiri and Grace Copperthite.

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