History of the OFA Jazz Program and Bands

Jazz at Harvard was initiated in 1971 by Director of Bands Tom Everett when he first arrived at the University. Passionate that exposure to this unique American art form be part of students’ education, he created a rag-tag jazz band of primarily Harvard [marching] Band recruits. Everett taught Harvard’s first jazz course in the Extension School in 1973, and

Benny Carter and Tom Everett
Benny Carter and Tom Everett in 1988
soon formed a second student jazz band. The Office for the Arts began supporting the developing jazz program in 1976, and in 1978, they funded the first undergraduate jazz history course at Harvard, taught by Everett. Visiting scholars and musicians in both the Music Department and the Department of African and African-American Studies supplemented the fledgling jazz scene at Harvard. WHRB 95.3 FM Harvard Radio supported the music with jazz programming and in 1994, the Dudley House Jazz Band was formed.

With the 2001 appointment of jazz scholar and musician Ingrid Monson as Quincy Jones Professor of African American Music, jazz at Harvard became fully recognized. Tom Everett retired in 2013 after 41 years as Director of Bands. Vijay Iyer joined the faculty in 2014 as Franklin D. and Florence Rosenblatt Professor of the Arts in the Department of Music. In 2017, Esperanza Spalding and Claire Chase also joined the faculty. 

In 2015, Grammy Award-nominated Yosvany Terry was appointed Director of Jazz Ensembles and Visiting Senior Lecturer on Music. He conducts the Monday Band. Professional artists who performed in the Harvard Jazz Band during their college years include saxophonists Joshua Redman ’91, Don Braden ’85, Anton Schwartz ’89, vocalist Sara Lazarus ’84, pianist Aaron Goldberg ’96 and guitarist Miles Okazaki ’97.

The artistic path of many visiting artists has been influenced by their Harvard experience. For example:

*In 2003, trombonist Roswell Rudd met trumpeter Dave Douglas at Harvard. They have subsequently toured together exploring the compositions of Thelonious Monk and Herbie Nichols.

*Trombonist/composer J. J. Johnson's last works for brass were commissioned by and premiered at Harvard in 1996.

* Soon after a 1990 Harvard residency brought attention to trumpeter/arranger Buck Clayton, he received the National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Masters Award.

Herbie Hancock
Herbie Hancock, 2014 Harvard Jazz Master. Photo: Mark Olson
* Carla Bley, who now arranges primarily for big bands, had her first commission in 1986 for that format at Harvard.

* In 1980, Bill Evans, with John Lewis, performed one of Evans' last concerts for the premiere of Lewis' "The Gates of Harvard." A later recording received two Grammy nominations.

Over the years, the Jazz Band has focused on the literature of Duke Ellington and complete retrospective concerts of the music of Charles Mingus, Charlie Parker, Gerry Mulligan, Lee Konitz, Benny Carter, Buck Clayton, Clark Terry, J. J. Johnson and Julius Hemphill. Other literature has ranged from the classic arrangements of Count Basie and Fletcher Henderson to the modern jazz of Gil Evans and Charles Mingus, the contemporary ensemble improvisations of Barry Guy and Lester Bowie, and the jazz-rock of Michael Gibbs and Russ Gershon '81.

An Alumni Jazz Band was formed in 2006. It is a big band from the classes of 1979 through 2013 that includes entrepreneurs, physicians, IT specialists, academicians, and professional musicians.

Harvard Jazz Band alumni/ae have remained active in jazz either by an occupation in music, through their children becoming involved, or by simply remaining jazz fans and supporters.

The Office for the Arts maintains a non-circulating video and audio recording archive of visiting artists in jazz, which is available to students and scholars through the Morse Music and Media Collection, Lamont Library.