The OFA Jazz Program, together with the Harvard Jazz Bands, brings artists of distinction in this uniquely American art form to Harvard. Whether world-renowned masters or emerging artists, they are honored and connected to students through clinics, rehearsals, and performance over a period of weeks. While at Harvard, artists are encouraged to pursue musical areas that have not previously been available to them and share this process with Harvard students, public school children, and public audiences. New works are often commissioned. In certain cases, eminent artists are named "Jazz Master in Residence at Harvard University." The goal of the program is threefold: to provide an opportunity for undergraduates to work directly with classic repertoire and masters of the art form; to honor artists who have made a significant contribution to American music; and to increase public awareness of the artist's music. Guest musicians—often isolated from the liberal arts environment—and students, both benefit from this educational exchange.
A remarkable array of significant artists has played with the Harvard Jazz Band, from Benny Carter to Roy Haynes to Joe Lovano. Over the years, the Jazz Band has focused on history, styles, and the literature of Duke Ellington and Charles Mingus and complete retrospective concerts of the music of such artists as Charlie Parker, Gerry Mulligan, Julius Hemphill, and Herbie Hancock. Other literature has ranged from the classic arrangements of Count Basie and Fletcher Henderson to the modern jazz of Gil Evans, the pop and free jazz elements of Lester Bowie, and the fusion-flavored creations of Michael Gibbs and Russ Gershon '81. Two eighteen-piece ensembles comprise the heart of the program. Students, who also have opportunities for improvisational and combo experience, play in local jazz festivals, concerts, and dances on campus, while studying the history, styles, and literature of jazz and developing listening and improvisation skills. The Monday Band is directed by Yosvany Terry; the Sunday Band by Mark Olson.
The Office for the Arts maintains a recording archive (search for "Jazz Office for the Arts") of visiting artists in jazz, which is available to students and scholars through the Morse Music and Media Collection, Lamont Library. "The Tom Everett Collection of Jazz Manuscripts," at the Eda Kuhn Loeb Music Library, houses works commissioned by the Harvard Jazz Bands. It is named for the long-time Harvard Bands Director and founder of Jazz at Harvard.