NSU Jazz department offers one-of-a-kind experience for students
TNE Editor

NSU Jazz department offers one-of-a-kind experience for students

Published 10/5/17

Jessica Sudbeck

TNE Writer

Since the 1960s, jazz has been a prominent part of NSU’s culture. Since then jazz has become a beloved part of NSU for students and faculty alike. 

Dr. Lowell Lehman started NSU’s first jazz band. Now a retired professor of music, Lehman was the founder of the Green Country Jazz Festival in the 1970s, which since then has brought nationally and internationally-known music artists to the region.  In 2010, Lehman was inducted into the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame for the many contributions he made while teaching music at NSU.

In 1992, former NSU President Roger Webb and Joe Davis, former NSU jazz instructor, developed the NSU Jazz Lab in hopes of creating a one-of-a-kind classroom experience where music students could join together to develop their skills and enjoy live jazz. The NSU Jazz Lab is home to the jazz studies program, which is currently under the direction of renowned composer, saxophonist and arranger, Dr. Clark Gibson.

“My favorite part of directing jazz is the students,” said Gibson. “It is an honor for me to share this music with these young adults. [The Jazz Lab] is a special place to work. It has been a staple in the Tahlequah and NSU community for a long time.”

Gibson said the NSU Bachelor of Arts in music with a major in jazz studies is one of only two degrees offered in Oklahoma of its kind.  For the last 20 years until last year, NSU was the only college to offer this program in Oklahoma.

“Dr. Gibson is the best director I have ever had in my life,” said Brennan Marcotte, Inola sophomore.  “The jazz program is only going to get better as long as he is here.  I started jazz because music education is my major. I figured it would be good to broaden my horizons as much as possible.  So far it has been a really great time.” 

Located in downtown Tahlequah, the NSU Jazz Lab is open to NSU students, as well as the surrounding community.

“I really enjoy that we can come down here anytime we want, and that we get to play in such a nice venue that is so important [to the Tahlequah community],” said Jess Wiseley, Verdigris junior.  “I have played jazz for the last seven years, and I really enjoy this type of music the most.  We have a jam every Thursday night at The Branch from 7-9 p.m. where different jazz members get to play.  It is free to the public.”

Before pursuing a major in music, students who aspire to join jazz must successfully complete a performance audition for entrance into the applied area of concentration. Concentrations may include piano, instrumental and vocal. Students currently in the jazz program each have their own story.

“I first started getting into jazz because I saw a video of one of my favorite drummers playing with Chick Corea at the Blue Note in Tokyo and was blown away by the skill and the sound of everything going on,” said Christopher Peters, Tahlequah junior. “I asked a friend of mine if he had any jazz CDs I should check out and he gave me Miles Davis's ‘Birth of the Cool.’ As soon as I listened to that, it was game over. I listened to that record so much I was able to sing every melody and solo. It wasn't until I came to NSU that I really started to dig in to the nitty gritty about this amazing genre of music. The more I learn and the more I play, the more I fall in love with it. Each player is expressing themselves with every note that comes out of their instrument and interacting with everyone around them, having an entire conversation without saying a single word.”

Brian Fletcher, Sapulpa junior, has played jazz since middle school.

“Dr. Gibson made me want to pursue a career in jazz,” said Fletcher.  “Jazz is an interesting type of music with different chord changes.  I have been playing music for so long, it is something I really enjoy doing because it is so challenging yet so rewarding.  I have been part of the Jazz Ensemble for a few semesters now.”

The NSU Jazz Ensemble is the prime instrumental performing group of the NSU Jazz Program. The band performs two concerts per year, the first of which will be at 7 p.m., Oct. 26 at the Jazz Lab, featuring renowned artist Kevin Mahogany.  The show will cost $5 and is free to NSU students. The Jazz Lab is located at 315 N. Muskogee Ave.

For more information regarding the NSU Jazz Program or to book an event at the NSU Jazz Lab, call the NSU Jazz Lab office at 918-444-4603.  All profits received from rental of the Jazz Lab go to the NSU Jazz Studies Program to bring more concerts and guest artists to NSU.

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