Distinguished Professor of Jazz at UNC Wilmington

Percussionist and Educator Joe Chambers Chosen as Distinguished Professor of Jazz at UNC Wilmington
5/12/2008 4:17:37 PM
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Internationally known jazz drummer, composer and educator Joe Chambers has been selected as the first Thomas S. Kenan Distinguished Professor of Jazz in the Department of Music at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. His appointment on the music faculty begins with the fall semester for the 2008-09 academic year.

In addition to being an experienced educator, Chambers is a legendary performer in the field of jazz. He has worked with some of the most historic figures on the jazz scene in the last several decades and is also a recognized composer whose works have been performed at Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center.

“Joe is the model of a distinguished professor where both performance and teaching are concerned,” said Frank Bongiorno, chair of the Department of Music. “He brings a depth of experience in both areas that is unmatched for most university faculty.”

The Kenan Distinguished Professor of Jazz was established in August 2007 through a grant from the C.D. Spangler Foundation of Charlotte. The Foundation granted UNCW $667,000, which was matched with $333,000 from the State of North Carolina’s Distinguished Professors Endowment Trust Fund to create a $1 million endowment. It is the first endowed professorship in the Department of Music.

Bongiorno said that much of Chambers’ teaching will be one-on-one with students, in a master and apprentice situation, but that he will also teach in small groups as well as give presentations and performances on and off campus, including direct involvement with the annual Jazz Festival and summer workshops.

A faculty member in Jazz and Contemporary Music Program at The New School in New York City since 1990, Chambers subscribes to the theory of the “cosmopolitan” musician, believing that musicians should not only be trained in the field they are working in, such as jazz, but be able to survive as working musicians by performing in many different genres of music.

“The whole idea of jazz education, in my opinion, is that jazz is the center point that the musician is moving out of, incorporating the experience of jazz and the music and art of jazz,” Chambers said. “However, like all areas of art and music, it is a highly competitive field, so the idea of focusing on just being a jazz player is not a good approach. Jazz musicians should have the skills to play in a studio orchestra or go to a Broadway show and play in the pit. These are areas that jazz students can easily branch out to.”

That philosophy fits well with the approach to music education at UNC Wilmington.

“Joe really embraces the vision we have always had here in the music department at UNCW,” Bongiorno said. “We want our students to have a well-rounded background so that they can be successful, regardless of the musical area or specialty they pursue.”

Over the past 15 years, the UNCW Jazz Program has received accolades and awards on the national and international levels in recognition of the high performance quality of its ensembles, as well as the quality and talent of individual students and faculty within the program.

Bringing Chambers to UNCW brings yet another strength to the program, said Chancellor Rosemary DePaolo.

“Attracting a performer and educator of his stature is evidence of the high profile of our jazz program, and the respect it is gaining throughout the world of music education,” she said. “I am extremely pleased that our students will have the opportunity to benefit from Joe’s skills and years of experience as a master performer.

“We are so grateful for the generous funding from the C.D. Spangler Foundation and the State of North Carolina that has allowed us to fund this distinguished professorship for our jazz program.”

Chambers and his wife, Ruth, will be relocating to Wilmington in the near future. Born in Asheville, N.C., Chambers also has family in the state and said he looks forward to living in North Carolina and being a part of the UNCW music department.

“Coming to Wilmington is like icing on the cake for me,” he said. “The department has a strong program in classical and orchestral percussion, which will enable me not only to teach but also give me the opportunity to branch out into other areas, like writing for orchestra and possibly big band, as well as to advance percussion for jazz drummers. These are the things that impress me about the music program.”

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