Stevie Wonder, Bill and Camille Cosby to Help Oberlin Dedicate and Celebrate the Grand Opening of the Litoff Building April 30-May 1


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A two-day celebration marking the grand opening of the Litoff Building will include a concert by singer-songwriter Stevie Wonder, an evening with comedian Bill Cosby, and a host of performances by Oberlin Jazz Studies alumni, faculty, and students. A complete schedule of events is forthcoming, but other highlights of the weekend (Friday, April 30 and Saturday, May 1) include jazz films at the Apollo Theatre, a panel discussion, workshops, and an honorary degree ceremony.

Jazz is a vital part of Stevie Wonder's musical soul. His collaborations with Herbie Hancock on Gershwin's World, which won the 1999 Grammy Award for Best Jazz Instrumental Performance, also earned Wonder a Grammy Award for “St. Louis Blues"; his arrangement won for Best Male R&B Vocal Performance and Best Instrumental Arrangement Accompanying Vocals. All in all, he has collected 25 Grammys throughout his acclaimed career, the most ever won by a male solo artist.

The Oberlin Conservatory of Music's premier jazz education program has captured Stevie Wonder's attention and inspired his participation: he will headline a concert celebrating the grand opening of the Litoff Building and the achievements of Oberlin's legendary jazz studies program on Saturday, May 1, at 8:30 p.m., in Finney Chapel. Admission to the ticketed event, which will also include performances by graduates of Oberlin's Jazz Studies Department as well as faculty and students, will be determined by lottery for members of the Oberlin College community. Overflow seating will be provided on a first-come, first-serve basis (no tickets required) in Warner Concert Hall and at the Apollo Theatre; the concert will be streamed live at both overflow venues.

Stevie Wonder will also be presented for an honorary doctor of music degree during a public ceremony that will take place on Friday, April 30, at the Tappan Square Bandstand at 4 p.m. In the event of inclement weather, those with rain tickets (indoor seating is limited) will be admitted to Finney Chapel for the ceremony.

Also receiving honorary degrees are Dr. Bill Cosby and his wife, Dr. Camille Cosby. Widely respected for their philanthropy and activism in support of education, Bill and Camille Cosby will be awarded honorary doctor of humanities degrees.

Bill Cosby's list of honors is distinguished: he received a Kennedy Center Honors Award in 1998; the Presidential Medal of Freedom, America's highest civilian honor, in 2002; and in 2009 he was awarded the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor.

The contributions of producer and educator Camille Cosby in celebrating the richness and diversity of our cultural heritage include the Tony Award-nominated Broadway play Having Our Say, which she coproduced, and the National Visionary Leadership Project, which she cofounded to preserve and disseminate the histories of distinguished African American elders.

Bill Cosby's relationship with Oberlin dates back to 1984, when he performed at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts to raise scholarship funds for minority students at Oberlin. In 1992, he narrated the Oberlin admissions video, Follow the Morning Star: Breaking the Color Barrier in Higher Education. The video was updated and reissued in 1997, again with Dr. Cosby's narration.

During the weekend of Litoff activities, Bill Cosby will present “An Evening with Bill Cosby," Friday at 8:30 p.m. in Finney Chapel. As with the concert by Stevie Wonder, tickets to “An Evening with Bill Cosby" will be determined by lottery for members of the Oberlin College community. Overflow seating, on a first-come, first-serve basis (no tickets required) will be available in the conservatory's Warner Concert Hall, where the event will be streamed live.

All of these celebrations honor the achievements of a legendary jazz studies program, made manifest in the Litoff Building, and the people who brought both to fruition. The cornerstone event for the weekend is the building's dedication ceremony, which takes place on Saturday, May 1, at 11 a.m. at the site. Following the ceremony, an open house and public tours will be available.

The Litoff Building, says Dean of the Conservatory David H. Stull, will be “the premier facility of its kind anywhere in the world. It is brilliantly conceived to emulate who we are and what we stand for.

“The Litoff Building is about bringing us together, pursuing great art, fostering harmony within our community, and reminding all of us of the imperative need to steward our environment," says Stull. “It will constantly inspire us in our mission to seek perfection while achieving excellence. It is highly innovative in both form and function, which is emblematic of the conservatory's approach to all of its endeavors."

The Litoff Building
The Litoff Building, designed by the architectural firm Westlake Reed Leskosky, is the innovative home for the Oberlin Conservatory of Music's acclaimed Department of Jazz Studies and highly respected academic programs in music history and music theory. It promotes green building practices and sustainable strategies and planning opportunities. Its design intention is to achieve the first Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Gold rating for a facility exclusively dedicated to music. Oberlin's commitment to environmental sustainability is reflected in the building's award-winning architectural design. The Litoff Building is a crucible for Oberlin's innovative curriculum and extensive intellectual resources--which includes gifted and dedicated Grammy Award-winning faculty members, the largest privately held collection of jazz recordings and ephemera in the U.S., and a robust bank of innovation and creativity.

The Donors
The lead gift for the project, from Cleveland businessman Stewart Kohl '77 and his wife, Donna, is said to be the largest private gift in support of jazz education at a U.S. college and honors Phyllis Litoff, a close friend of the Kohls who died in 2002. With her husband, Mel, Phyllis Litoff owned the famed Greenwich Village jazz club Sweet Basil, and the two were founders of the Greenwich Village Jazz Festival. The Kohls' gift was followed in short order by a record donation from the Kulas Foundation, and three significant major gifts from three Chicago alumni: Clyde McGregor '74, a member of Oberlin's Board of Trustees; Joseph Clonick '57; and James Neumann '58, who with his wife, Susan, have donated to Oberlin their collection of more than 100,000 jazz recordings--the largest privately held jazz recording collection in the United States--and a vast array of related posters, ephemera, and iconography.

Jazz at Oberlin
With the landmark album Jazz at Oberlin, released by the Dave Brubeck Quartet in 1953, “jazz" and “Oberlin" became linked in the public consciousness. Recorded live in Finney Chapel when the group played to a full house on March 2 of that year, the album was a huge success for Brubeck, helping not only to launch his career but also to change the way jazz was experienced as an art form. Professor of African American Music and Chair of the Jazz Studies Program Wendell Logan has called the Oberlin-Brubeck concert “the watershed event that signaled the change of performance space for jazz from the nightclub to the concert hall. Nationally known jazz bands had come to Oberlin before, but mainly to play at dances. The trend of going to a jazz concert simply to listen was a novel idea, and the Brubeck concert was a major factor in starting that trend."

The Brubeck concert and album presented an audience largely uneducated in jazz with some of the genre's finest players, all performing at the top of their games. “I always considered Jazz at Oberlin a breakthrough album for the quartet," Brubeck said in an interview with Oberlin about the 50th anniversary of the recording. “It caught [Paul] Desmond and me in the early days when we were beginning the concept of 'jazz goes to college' as a concert performance."

While a jazz concert played to a full house is a regular occurrence at Oberlin today, such was not the case in 1953, when its concert halls were filled with Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms, but not with Basie or Baker. In 1953, most music schools and conservatories across the country were dedicated exclusively to classical music. Jazz was played clandestinely; its following was underground.

There was no jazz department at Oberlin in the 1950s. Students such as James Newman '55, who were instrumental in bringing the Dave Brubeck Quartet to Oberlin, listened to jazz records on a jukebox in the student recreation center. The concert's success inspired them to form the Oberlin College Jazz Club, which brought Brubeck back to campus the following year, and hosted concerts by other jazz greats, among them Count Basie, Chet Baker, and Teddy Charles in a group that featured Charles Mingus on bass.

Another James Neumann, Class of 1958, hosted a jazz program on the college's radio station, WOBC. During the course of his lifetime, he would come to amass the largest privately held jazz record collection in the United States He and his wife, Susan, have given Oberlin that collection, which also includes posters, ephemera, and historical iconography. The James and Susan Neumann Jazz Collection will prove extremely useful to scholars and aficionados alike, and will be housed in the Litoff Building, which in spring 2010 will become the home of Oberlin's jazz studies department, as well as its departments of music history and music theory.

Wendell Logan launched the study of jazz at Oberlin in 1973, the year the art form was first incorporated into the curriculum. The following year he founded the Oberlin Jazz Ensemble (OJE). Composed of classical performance majors as well as jazz majors, the OJE made an extended tour of major cities in Brazil at the invitation of the United States Information Agency, recently performed to acclaim in the U.S. Virgin Islands, and frequently appears at collegiate festivals throughout the United States. The OJE, recipient of numerous outstanding performance awards at the Notre Dame Jazz Festival and Cleveland's Tri-C Jazz Festival, issued a CD in 1998 featuring works by such legends as Jimmy Heath, Slide Hampton, and Duke Ellington.

The OJE is but one rich component of Oberlin's four-year curriculum in jazz studies, which became an official major in 1989, and which leads to a bachelor of music degree with possible majors in performance and composition.

Throughout 37 years of Wendell Logan's extraordinary leadership, Oberlin's jazz studies department prepares undergraduate musicians for careers as professional jazz musicians and for advanced study in jazz with a premier performance education that is grounded in the history and theory of both jazz and classical music. This dual approach provides a solid musical foundation, a rich understanding of diverse styles and genres, and exposure to a variety of pedagogical resources. Today 70 students from across the United States and internationally are enrolled the program. Jazz performance majors participate in ensembles during all four of their Oberlin years, and they perform in recitals during their junior and senior years.

Smaller student ensembles, such as the Oberlin Jazz Septet, have been featured at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts under the auspices of its Conservatory Project Series, and at the Detroit Jazz Festival. Student jazz ensembles have also embarked on performing and educational outreach tours, often during Oberlin's winter term; these tours have included gigs at such acclaimed venues as Birdland and Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola in Manhattan, Chris' Jazz Caf in Philadelphia, and Jazz Aspen Showmass.

Principal private study for Oberlin's jazz performance majors is offered in saxophone, trumpet, trombone, piano, guitar, percussion, and double bass.

Students can also major in jazz composition, and included among their courses of study are jazz aural skills, jazz keyboard, jazz theory, basic arranging and composing techniques, improvisation, and TIMARA (Technology in Music and the Related Arts). Oberlin's undergraduate musicians also take liberal arts courses in the College of Arts and Sciences, and many are enrolled in Oberlin's acclaimed double-degree program.

Logan's colleagues on the faculty--Gary Bartz (saxophone), Marcus Belgrave (trumpet), Peter Dominguez (bass), Robin Eubanks (trombone), Bobby Ferrazza (guitar), Billy Hart (drums), and Dan Wall (piano)--are renowned, award-winning composers, arrangers, and performers who also teach and coach ensembles while maintaining active performing and recording careers throughout the world. Their collective history of making music with the legends of jazz carries its own legacy, which they share freely with their students.

Oberlin's Jazz Faculty Octet was featured at the 1991 and 1996 International Association of Jazz Educators conferences held in Washington, D.C., and at the 1996 conference in Atlanta. The group's CD, Hear and Now, released in the 1990s, features original compositions by Logan, Ferrazza, and the late pianist Neal Creque.

In 2007, the faculty took to the studios again, releasing another album of original music, Beauty Surrounds Us, on the Oberlin Music label. Alumnus Leon Lee Dorsey produced the disc at his Manhattan recording studio.

A watershed moment in the history of jazz at Oberlin will take place on May 1, 2010, with the dedication of the Litoff Building. With his wife, Donna, Stewart Kohl '77, a member of Oberlin's Board of Trustees, donated the lead gift of $5 million to construct this new, much-needed facility for the program. Other donors soon followed, among them Chicagoans Joseph Clonick '57, Clyde McGregor '74, and the aforementioned James Neumann with his inestimable collection.

At 37,000 square feet, the Litoff Building promotes green building practices and sustainable strategies and planning opportunities. Its design intention--to achieve the first Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Gold rating for a facility exclusively dedicated to music--is remarkable given the engineering innovation required to attain such an appellation while meeting the exacting acoustical standards of a music building. The Litoff Building will serve as a pioneering model for sustainability and energy efficiency for music facilities of its type with stringent acoustical requirements.

Oberlin's jazz alumni have contributed greatly to the world of jazz. This listing, by no means comprehensive, provides an inkling of the ways in which an Oberlin education has influenced the great art form of jazz:

  • Pianist and composer Stanley Cowell '62
  • Keyboardist Ted Baker '83
  • Bassist, composer, and arranger Leon Lee Dorsey '81
  • Pianist, arranger, and producer Allen Farnham '83
  • Pianist and arranger Lafayette Harris '85
  • Flutist Paul Horn '52
  • Bassist and member of Preservation Hall Jazz Band Ben Jaffe '93
  • Composer and pianist Jon Jang '78
  • Writer, composer, and saxophonist James McBride '79
  • Trumpeter, trombonist, and composer Michael Mossman '82
  • Percussionist Neal Smith '96
  • Trumpeter and jazz historian Richard M. Sudhalter '60 (1938-2008)

The Oberlin Conservatory of Music and Oberlin College
Awarded the 2009 National Medal of Arts by President Barack Obama, the Oberlin Conservatory of Music is renowned internationally as a professional music school of the highest caliber. Praised as a “national treasure" by the Washington Post, the conservatory, founded in 1865 and situated amid the intellectual vitality of Oberlin College since 1867, is the oldest continuously operating conservatory in the United States. Oberlin's alumni enjoy illustrious careers in all aspects of the music world. They have achieved prominence as solo performers; chamber, orchestral, and jazz musicians; composers; conductors; and music educators, scholars, and administrators.

Ranked consistently among the nation's top liberal arts schools, Oberlin College is committed to rigorous academics, artistic and musical excellence, and social justice. Founded in 1833, Oberlin was the first institution of higher education in America to adopt a policy to admit students of color (1835) and the first college to award bachelor's degrees to women (1841) in a coeducational program. Oberlin's distinct history of challenging intellectual and social conventions shapes the student experience today, which fosters strong bonds among a diverse community of bright and talented students from around the world. Oberlin's combination of a leading liberal arts college and a world-class music conservatory creates an unparalleled learning environment.

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