The NEC Jazz Orchestra celebrates the centenary of Massachusetts jazz master Jaki Byard, March 3 at Jordan Hall

The NEC Jazz Orchestra under the direction of Ken Schaphorst celebrates the centenary of Jaki Byard during a live concert on Thursday March 3, 2022 at 7:30 p.m. at Jordan Room, 290 Huntington Avenue, Boston. Byard was one of the cornerstones of the groundbreaking Department of African-American Jazz and Musical Studies assembled by Carl Atkins and Gunther Schuller at the NEC in 1969.

The Music of Jaki Byard features the repertoire of Byard’s Apollo Stompers, including “Aluminum Baby”, “Spanish Tinge”, and “Up Jumps One”. Additionally, Carl Atkins, founding chairman of the NEC Jazz Studies Department, will conduct the world premiere of his two-movement piece, “Jaki Stomps” and “Blues for Wor-chester”, written in Byard’s honor. Joining the orchestra are special guests: pianist and NEC faculty member Jason Moran, who studied with Byard in New York, and saxophonist Jed Levy, an NEC alumnus who was mentored by Byard. Admission is free and open to the public. For information visit https://necmusic.edu/events/nec-jazz-orchestra-music-jaki-byard. The concert will be recorded and broadcast internationally on Saturday, April 9 on the NEC website.

Also on March 3, the Jaki Byard 100th Anniversary Roundtable will take place at 1 p.m. in NEC’s Williams Hall. The panel will feature Schaphorst as well as Carl Atkins, Jason Moran and two NEC alumni who studied with Byard: Jed Levy and trumpeter/educator Ingrid Monson. They will discuss Byard’s life and his musical legacy both at the NEC and in the jazz community at large. https://necmusic.edu/upcoming-alumni-events/jaki-byard-panel-discussion

Jaki Byard was born in Worcester, Massachusetts in 1922 and grew up in a family of musicians. As a child, he attended live performances by artists such as Fats Waller, Chick Webb with Ella Fitzgeraldthe Benny Bonman Quartet, Lionel Hamptonand Krupa gene, and listened to radio shows featuring the great bands of Ellington, Basie, Benny Carter and others. After being discharged from the army in 1945, he moved to Boston and was quickly absorbed into the music scene. By the late 1940s he had worked with people like Sam Rivers, Ray Nance, and Earl Bostic. In 1955 he joined Herb Pomeroy’s band as tenor saxophonist and began composing and arranging music for the ensemble. An eventual return to solo piano and a move to New York prompted the recording of his first solo album, Blues for Smoke, in 1960. Soon after, he began his association with Charles Mingus, an important influence and sustainable. He has also performed and recorded with Eric Dolphy and many others. He joined the faculty of the New England Conservatory in 1969 when the Jazz Studies Department was established in 1969 and taught there until 1977.

The Apollo Stompers, a big band of Byard students, was formed in the mid-1970s. He later formed another band of the same name with musicians he knew in New York. He was honored in 1995 during the 100th anniversary of Harlem Week for his work with the Apollo Stompers. He died in 1999.

A founding member of the Jazz Composers Alliance of Boston, trumpeter and composer Ken Schaphors has received composition grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Massachusetts Cultural Council, the Wisconsin Arts Board and Meet the Composer. Established in 1989, the Ken Schaphorst Big Band has featured notable artists such as John Medeski, Uri Caine, Drew Gress, Donny McCaslin and Seamus Blake. Schaphorst has released several albums as a frontman, including Ken Schaphorst Big Band’s 2016 release, How to Say Goodbye. Since becoming chairman of the NEC Jazz Studies department in 2001, Schaphorst has led the NEC Jazz Orchestra in new music and traditional big band repertoire. Under his leadership, the ensemble received critical acclaim for their nationwide recordings and performances, as well as being named Best College Big Band at the 2004 DownBeat Student Music Awards. Schaphorst also founded the Youth Jazz Orchestra from NEC in 2008.

The first fully accredited jazz studies program at a music conservatory, the NEC Jazz Studies Department was established by Gunther Schullerwho quickly incorporated jazz into the curriculum when he became president of the Conservatory in 1967. Schuller hired Carl Atkins to head the department, along with george russell, Jaki Byard and Ran Blake. Among the “world’s most acclaimed and successful” (JazzTimes), the program has spawned many Grammy-winning composers and performers and has an alumni list that reads like a who’s who of jazz, while the faculty included six MacArthur “genius” scholarships. recipients (three are currently teaching) and four NEA Jazz Masters. The basis of his teaching and his success begins with the mentoring relationship developed in the courses between the students and the eminent artists of the faculty. In addition to its two jazz orchestras, small, teacher-led ensembles reflect NEC’s inclusive approach to music-making, with bands focusing on free jazz, early jazz, gospel music, Brazilian music and songwriting, as well as more traditional approaches to jazz performance. Each jazz student is encouraged to find their own musical voice while connecting and collaborating with a vibrant community of creative musicians, and ultimately transforming the world through the power of music.


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Henry R. Wright