Wayne State University

Ensuring Detroit's great tradition of jazz continues

Ensuring Detroit's great tradition of jazz continues
A high school student during a performance at the end of J.C. Heard JazzWeek@Wayne.

With one of the oldest jazz studies programs in the country, Wayne State University has a tradition of celebrating the education of this distinctly American art form. This tradition is on full display at the J.C. Heard JazzWeek@Wayne in July and the Detroit Jazz Festival in September.

JazzWeek@Wayne launched in 2007 as a partnership between the Department of Music at Wayne State and the Detroit Jazz Festival to build community and support for the future vitality of jazz in the city and beyond. The partnership was extended in 2012 to include the family of the late, great jazz drummer J.C. Heard. Heard performed and toured the world with legends like Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Lena Horne, Coleman Hawkins, Cab Calloway and many others. After settling in Detroit in 1966, Heard formed a big band and placed special emphasis on recruiting young musicians and mentoring them through the experience.

The program that bears his name gathers burgeoning jazz performers from around the region for a week of intensive rehearsal and instruction from Wayne State Jazz Studies faculty members and eminent guest instructors from the Detroit jazz scene. At the end of five days of practicing and performing with approximately 30 of their peers, the most musically advanced participants are tapped to play at the internationally revered Detroit Jazz Festival.

“It’s a great experience to come to JazzWeek to perform and learn from different artists,” said Xavier Bonner, a recent graduate from the Detroit School of the Arts. “This is the place you want to be if you’re a musician.”

The 2015 Detroit Jazz Festival will be the first to feature an ensemble of JazzWeek alumni, made up of talented young performers who developed their chops in the program.

Since 2012, Heard’s family, including son Eric and wife Hiroko, have provided the financial support required to keep the program free of charge for each year’s cohort of young musicians. With their assistance, the Detroit Jazz Festival and Wayne State are developing the next generation of amazing talent that will help grow the city’s jazz tradition.

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