Conrad Herwig: There's Nothing Else
CH: We just did the fifth annual Mingus High School Competition, with high school bands from all over the country playing Mingus' music. There were several nights at the Jazz Standard and then a whole series of events at Manhattan School of Music, including a brass clinic I did. I've been an adjudicator on the competition and a collaborator on the Mingus educational aspects, which is a lot of fun.
AAJ: Your work as a jazz educator is another very important part of your life, being on the jazz faculty at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey, since 2004, and serving as the Chair of the jazz program since 2011.
CH: Before that I suffered from what might have been called New York City Adjunct-itis. But it wasn't suffering, actuallyit was a blessing. Back when I was in college at North Texas State, I never really considered being a jazz educator per se. I mean, I was a player. Rufus Reid was the first one who recruited me to go into the public schools in Paterson, New Jersey, doing some lectures in elementary schools and high schools, when he was head of the jazz program at William Paterson College. And then he gave me my first job teaching at William Paterson as the adjunct professor of trombone there. Then one thing led to the other, and I was at the New School and NYU and Manhattan School of Music, Long Island University and Queens College, which is where I got my master's degree. Then I got involved in doing master classes and workshops around the country. I've done hundreds of those at different placesschools like Eastman, USC and state universities, you name it. Then in 2004, there was an opening at Rutgers, I applied for it, and I was very fortunate to start as a full-time Assistant Professor of jazz studies.
It's the greatest thing in the world when your job is your hobby and your hobby is your job. It's a blessing. In the early days I was teaching improvisation, composition and jazz trombone and the students kept me on my toes. They're very talented and hungry for knowledge. The one thing I've told my students is that I'm not going to lose my chops teaching you. So, I play in all the classes and I play in the lessons, so we can interact. They're kicking my butt sometimes. They'll call tunes that I haven't played in 20 years. It's a lot of fun.
We work on jazz all day long, that's all we do. We go to lunch and we talk about jazz. I finish up at 4 o'clock. I get in my car, I drive to the City, and I go to the Jazz Standard or the Blue Note or Dizzy's Club or wherever I'm working.
The other thing that's amazing about Rutgers is the other faculty members here. Right upstairs is Victor Lewis. We were next door to each other for five years. I'm drinking coffee with Victor Lewis every dayyou could pinch me. Stanley Cowell is a living legend; he just retired, and now Bill O'Connell is interim professor here. Vic Juris teaches guitar; Joe Magnarelli teaches trumpet; and, of course, we have Ralph Bowen and Kenny Davis. The faculty septet is smokin.' And we have a really good rapport. It's really an amazing thinga dream come true.
There's a long history of jazz and jazz studies at Rutgers. Someone sent me a bunch of clippings of the Rutgers Jazz Festival from around 1969 with Julian "Cannonball" Adderley and Miles Davis. Larry Ridley started the program back then, with Frank Foster and Kenny Barron on the faculty. John Stubblefield directed the Rutgers jazz band, and I think he was the director when the Rutgers band won the Notre Dame jazz festival. Frank Lacy was in that band. They got into a bus, drove to Notre Dame, and they came back with a big old trophy. All the top jazz programs in the country had bands there. And Rutgers won it. Paul Jeffrey was another director of the band; he's down at Duke now. And, of course, William Fielder was a legend. I consider him one of the greatest brass gurus that I've ever met in my life.
One of my goals, now that I'm the Chair of Jazz Studies, is to raise awareness about the program, although it's not a matter of selling something that's an unknown quantity. The program has been in existence for so long.
The fact is, it's not a hard sell at all when you have a school that's 45 minutes from New York and an hour from Philadelphia. We have the great faculty that I mentioned. And there's also a really vibrant jazz scene in New Brunswick. The New Brunswick Jazz ProjectRalph Bowen is the musical directorhas really been opening up venues. We've been bringing in guest artists, and there are gigs for the students every week. Plus, they're able to get on a train or hop in a car and be at the Vanguard in an hour.
Another selling point about Rutgers that it's one of the 25 research universities in the country. And now we're part of the Big Ten, which goes beyond the athletic program, putting us in a consortium with Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State and other major schools. For students who want a college experience that gives them a major university environmentthey get that at Rutgers. It's a stable environment and very vibrant intellectual community. Another thingI guess I'm really on my soapbox nowa Rutgers degree really means something. It's a highly renowned educational institution, and there's an intellectual challenge to our program that students won't get at a school that's in a standalone conservatory setting. Ours is a conservatory program, too, but in the environment of a major research university.
Students selecting a school need to know themselves and what kind of environment they need to thrive, and this ties in with the size of a program, too. I think when I went to North Texas State they had something like 700 jazz majors, with maybe 80 or 90 trombone players auditioning. At Rutgers, we have about 700 students in the whole music school and approximately 50 jazz majors. So, our students have a lot of face time with the professors, and there's a lot of individual attention. So, it's intimate, but, at the same time, there are a lot of opportunities academically and socially, because it's within a university of 47,000 students.