With a gift of $30,000 from the Jerome Mirza Foundation, Knox’s jazz program will be welcoming a series of musicians in residence beginning in the fall of 2013.
“The whole point of the program is to benefit the students, to give them an opportunity to work intensively with a performing artist in the field,” Assistant Professor of Music Nikki Malley said.
Upon the establishment of the Jerome Mirza Foundation, his daughter, Candace Mirza ’81 and other family members and friends sought to honor his memory by funding programs that reflected his interests. One of these was jazz music.
According to the proposal for the Mirza Jazz Residency, an artist will be in residence at Knox for one week each fall for the next three years. Artists will work with students one-on-one, offer master classes, participate in intensive workshops, present to the whole Knox community and, at the week’s end, produce a concert in which the artist will perform with the Knox Jazz Ensemble and the Cherry Street Combo at the Orpheum Theatre.
Such an opportunity is uncommon in a small Midwestern town.
“It’s no secret: we don’t live in Chicago or Boston or L.A., so we can’t go out every night and hear internationally renowned musicians playing down the street,” Malley said. “But what we can do are the things we do, which is have a jazz festival where we bring those artists here, and now, have a jazz residency that brings those artists here.”
When it comes to considering artists that would be well-suited to the residency, Malley hopes to bring musicians who are energetic, dynamic and passionate about working with students. Decisions regarding the first musician in residence will be made in the next one to two months.
Combined with the Rootabaga Jazz Festival, which takes place every spring, the Mirza Jazz Residency should complement the jazz program’s yearly schedule and the department hopes it will put the program on the map.
“I think there will be a long-term benefit in terms of the notoriety it brings,” Professor of Music and Chair of the Music Department Bruce Polay said. “I think we draw a very high quality student who is also open-minded and wants to have freedom to flourish. This is a great opportunity to market that.”
The jazz program will not be the only program that will see benefits from this residency.
“[In] the spirit of liberal arts educational principles,” according to the proposal, “we envision this residency and its structure to be one in which jazz and creative practice are addressed in interdisciplinary ways, reaching out to students and community members from diverse artistic and intellectual fields.”
It seems important to those involved in this project and the jazz program that as many people as possible have the chance to enjoy jazz.
“I think one of the things, as a small liberal arts school, that’s important for us — whether it’s in music or theater or studio art — is that students who come to a school like Knox want to be [well]-rounded individuals,” Malley said. “There are many students who come to Knox who don’t play in the music department and certainly have no background in jazz, but come to Jazz Night. All of a sudden, they develop an appreciation for the music. … It becomes part of their cultural life.”
Although the grant from the Jerome Mirza Foundation will expire after three years, Malley hopes that the residency will be successful enough to either renew this grant or pursue others.
In the meantime, there seems to simply be a good deal of excitement about this new opportunity.
“We will all benefit from this in our department. The college will benefit, the community will benefit,” Polay said. “This is the kind of thing that makes Knox a very unique place.”