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Ford Center for the Fine Arts

Professional Musicians Engage with Students through Mirza Jazz Residency

Steven Bernstein during Mirza Jazz Residency at Knox College

by Tyler Price '19

Knox College students recently had the opportunity to collaborate with world-renowned jazz artists during the Jerome Mirza Jazz Residency. The Steven Bernstein Quartet was on campus from November 5-8, interacting with students in a variety of ways, including performances with the Knox Jazz Ensemble and Cherry Street Combo, classroom discussions, and one-on-one lessons.

The Mirza Jazz Residency culminated with a free concert on November 8 at the Orpheum Theatre.

“Steven, Kenny, Tony, and Briggan (the members of the quartet) were unbelievably positive, supportive, and encouraging of every student they worked with, and their passion and joy translated into every interaction, rehearsal, and ultimately, to the concert itself,” said Nikki Malley, associate professor of music and director of jazz studies at Knox. “I was particularly thrilled to see how Steven got to know the student musicians so quickly and so well, and how he found the perfect places to feature different students in the selections we played.”

While on campus, Bernstein fielded questions from students in Malley’s Musical Improvisation course. During his discussion, Bernstein explained how music is not what is played or printed, but “what people hear..., and everybody is hearing something different.”

Zach Barnes '19, who plays piano with the Knox Jazz Ensemble, was among the students who spent time with Bernstein and his quartet. Barnes said he appreciated working with a musician of Bernstein’s caliber and added that “he’s doing a lot of subverting expectations, as far as what the song should sound like, what the groove should be, who’s soloing.”

Bernstein was asked what he thought about working with Knox jazz students.

“It’s interesting because I work at a jazz school where people come from all over the world and are so myopically interested in jazz,” said Bernstein, a professor at The New School in New York City. “Then I come to a school like this with students who are just trying to figure out where they are in life and learn things, and I think they become much more engaged as a result.”

Malley, who also chairs Knox’s Department of Music, feels this year's guest artists offered a unique experience for students.

“No one plays like Steven, and no band sounds like his quartet,” Malley said. “Steven and the band have an amazing way of fusing and juxtaposing such a wide range of historical and cultural styles that they really defy description.”

Malley added that one of the highlights of this year’s residency was a new event: the Steven Bernstein Quartet’s open jam session at Jazz House. “Over the course of an hour, they played (without ever stopping!), constantly rotating students in and out of the group. They moved between wild avant-garde free jazz and pop tunes. Somehow it all worked. It all made sense.”

In addition to the successful residency, the Knox’s jazz program was recently awarded grant funding totally more than $75,000.

The amount includes $62,500 from the Jerome Mirza Foundation for three years of residency funding. For Malley, this news opens up some bright opportunities for future Mirza residencies, which will last five days with a Friday evening concert. “This new expanded structure will allow us to add educational, rehearsal, and workshop experiences with the residency artists, and will likely allow us to do more educational outreach in area schools during the week,” she said.  

In addition, the jazz program is to receive a $10,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts and a $3,500 grant from the Galesburg Community Foundation.

The Jerome Mirza Jazz Residency at Knox College is part of the Knox Jazz Year, a year-round series of festivals, speakers, and performances. The Mirza Jazz Residency is funded by the Jerome Mirza Foundation of Bloomington, Illinois. The foundation, which supports programs in education and the arts, was created by a bequest from Jerome Mirza, an attorney who served as president of the Illinois State Bar Association and Illinois Trial Lawyers Association and wrote several books on personal injury law. Mirza's daughter, Candace Mirza of Wilmette, Illinois, is a 1981 Knox graduate.

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#"I was particularly thrilled to see how Steven got to know the student musicians so quickly and so well."—Nikki Malley, director of jazz studies

Knox College

Printed on Saturday, June 22, 2024