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ANNIVERSARY of JAZZ at MIT (1963 - 2013)



By Culturekiosque Staff

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS, 24 APRIL 2013 — In celebration of the 50th anniversary of Jazz at MIT, Chick Corea, NEA Jazz Master, recipient of 18 Grammy awards, composer and keyboard virtuoso, is composing a work for the MIT Festival Jazz Ensemble (Frederick Harris, Jr., director). The piece will be premiered on 27 April 2013 at Kresge Auditorium in Cambridge, Massachusetts in a Gala Concert that will also feature jazz pianist Steve Kuhn.

Chick Corea, a native of Chelsea, Mass., has strong ties to MIT, where as a junior in high school he rehearsed and played  trumpet and piano in a jazz sextet he formed with Joel Karp MIT ‘62 and Rich Orr MIT ‘62, trombones; MIT graduate students Ed Kane and Roger Eiss, on trumpet and bass; and Boston resident Lennie Nelson on drums. This was one of Corea’s first bands. It gave him the opportunity to write some of his first arrangements. "It was a lot of fun," he said in a recent interview.

Corea is one of the major pioneers of fusion, and his far-ranging influence since the 1960s includes post-bop, Latin, free-form and avant-garde jazz, as well as classical. He is a rarity in his proficiency and distinctiveness on both piano and synthesizers, and is one of the first players to fully exploit the potential of electronic instruments.

Career highlights include collaborating with Miles Davis on Bitches Brew, considered the first successful rock-fusion album, and forming the landmark 1970s fusion band Return To Forever. Spain, La Fiesta and Now He Sings Now He Sobs are among his many well-known compositions.

Corea's trademark style is a colorful lyricism filled with dominant chords, chromatic and diminished scale runs, and rapid-fire phrasing. He's also renowned for unique electronic voicings, experimental techniques such as plucking the strings of his piano and a percussion-like approach to many pieces.

Just as Chick Corea has influenced many young musicians during his illustrious career, he was himself inspired by the founder of the MIT Jazz program — Herb Pomeroy. "Herb Pomeroy and his band and the musicians he collected around him provided the first really deep, professional, great live jazz playing for me," Corea said. It was Pomeroy who offered him his first professional club date as the opening act for the Herb Pomeroy Big Band at the Stables club on Huntington Ave., Boston. "I think it was on a Sunday," Corea recounted, "and that was my first big gig in a jazz club. It was great. So, Herb and his band provided a lot of inspiration to me…

Herb was one of the first elders that I really looked up to, and who was anaccomplished and great player, arranger and band-leader. He set a very good example for me. He was a kind, straight-ahead, down-to-earth, communicative, helpful guy. And made me feel comfortable right away. So I thank him for that."

Well aware of Pomeroy’s talents as big band leader, trumpet player and composer, the first director of music at MIT, Klaus Liepmann, made the decision to hire Pomeroy in 1963 to lead the MIT student-led jazz band — then called The Techtonians. Under the leadership of Herb Pomeroy, the jazz program at MIT flourished. The Festival Jazz Ensemble, as it was renamed) rose to national prominence with its participation at the Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland and in the Notre Dame and Villanova Jazz Festivals. Herb Pomeroy also further developed the jazz program by bringing Everett Longstreth to lead a second jazz band at MIT, which he did for 32 years. Pomeroy was also a member of the faculty at the Berklee College of Music. He was hired by president, Lee Eliot Berk, son of Berklee’s founder Lawrence Berk ‘32, an MIT alumnus.

Herb Pomeroy’s legacy continues to enhance the jazz program at MIT to this day. Thanks to the generosity of his family, the Pomeroy music library, recordings, and personal papers are now a part of the MIT Institute Archives.

Other composers who have written for the MITFJE include Magali Souriau, Guillermo Klein, Jamshied Sharifi, Kenny Werner, George Schuller, and Mark Harvey. 

Today, in addition to the Festival Jazz Ensemble, which has been directed by Frederick Harris, Jr. since 1999, the MIT Jazz program offerings include three jazz combos; (coached by Boston bassist Keala Kaumeheiwa), the MIT Vocal Jazz Ensemble (led by Pulitzer Prize winning composer and MIT Institute Professor John Harbison), and courses in jazz history, harmony, arranging, composition, and improvisation (taught by Dr. Mark Harvey).

Admission to the Gala Concert at Kresge Auditorium in Cambridge is free in advance and $5 at the door. Tickets are available at www.mitmta.eventbrite.com.

To view a short video about the 50th Anniversary of Jazz at MIT, please click here

Headline image: Chick Corea

Related Culturekiosque Archives

Interview Archive: Chick Corea in Tokyo

The Chameleon: An Interview with Chick Corea in Paris

Miles The Painter: Interview with Miles Davis

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