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Bachelor of Music in Jazz

Today the Cornish Music Department offers a Bachelor of Music curriculum in jazz with programs of study in three focus areas: instrumental performance, vocal jazz, and composition. The foundation of your education at Cornish begins with the highly personalized attention you receive in weekly, hour-long individual lessons. Your first- and second-year coursework consists of jazz-oriented skills-based courses in music theory, eartraining, rhythm, and piano that are designed to prepare both instrumentalists and vocalists to succeed as practicing artists.

Specialized courses in improvisation, arranging, composition, and Brazilian, African, Latin, and Indian rhythm further refine your skills. A range of courses in music technology—including digital audio, technical production, and music notation software—as well as specialized courses in the music business, provide you with additional practical skills.

Jazz performance class. Photo by Michelle Smith-Lewis.

Cornish Big Band. Photo by Michelle Smith-Lewis.

Jazz at Cornish

At Cornish, jazz is in our blood. One of the first autonomous college jazz programs in the nation, and the largest in the Pacific Northwest, the Cornish jazz program has forged a reputation as one of the most respected programs for creative improvised music in America.

Starting in 1964 with jazz ensemble workshops taught by Stan Keen and Floyd Standifer, the Cornish jazz program has attracted a stellar roster of supremely qualified jazz musicians to its faculty over the years including artists as diverse as Gary Peacock, Gil Evans, Julian Priester, Carter Jefferson, Michael White, Jerry Granelli, Anthony Braxton, Art Lande, Wayne Horvitz, Jay Clayton, Tom Varner, and Jim Knapp. Cornish jazz alumni include violinist and violist Eyvind Kang, guitarist Brad Shepik, saxophonist Briggan Krauss, vocalist Whitney James, drummer Byron Vannoy, pianists Myra Melford and Dawn Clement, and comedian Reggie Watts.

Performance Focused

At Cornish, we’ve eschewed the traditional textbook approach to jazz instruction and instead designed a program from the ground up focused almost exclusively around ensemble play. The Cornish jazz program offers over a dozen different ensembles in a variety of traditions, from bebop to blues, fusion to free jazz. Students have the opportunity to audition every semester for a different ensemble. You can expand your horizons by playing in the Contemporary Big Band, explore African Drumming, or try your hand at the Spontaneous Composition ensemble.

Jazz vocalists have their own performance curriculum with two years of coaching in vocal standards and an audition-only a cappella jazz vocal ensemble. Cornish’s internationally acclaimed faculty members not only coach all ensembles, they play in them—contributing valuable insight gained through their experience as professional artists.

Visiting Artists

From clinics, to weeklong workshops, or semester-long residencies, some of the premier artists working in jazz today pay regular visits to Cornish and offer you the opportunity to take your playing to the next level. Recent visiting artists have included Bill Frisell, John Hollenbeck, Lee Konitz, Rudresh Mahanthappa, Dave Holland, Butch Morris, Peter Brotzmann, Myra Melford, Rufus Reid, Vijay Iyer, Matt Wilson, J.D. Allen, Sheila Jordan, Theo Bleckmann, and Sachal Vasandani.


Every semester the Cornish jazz program offers a dozen different ensembles. Here are descriptions of a few:

  • African Drumming An ensemble dedicated to performing the drum music of West Africa, and in particular Ghana.
  • Blues Ensemble An ensemble that explores the rhythmic, melodic, and harmonic aspects of blues forms and styles through an historical perspective.
  • Contemporary Big Band An ensemble that examines the art of jazz big band performance with a particular focus on exploring contemporary and alternative approaches to big band music from Carla Bley to John Hollenbeck, Gil Evans to Django Bates.
  • Fusion Ensemble Focuses on the performance of the genre of fusion music combining jazz, Latin, and rock styles.
  • Guitar Ensemble An ensemble exploring both traditional and contemporary repertoire for guitar ensemble, both traditional classical nylon-string and contemporary amplified electric guitars.
  • Jazz Ensembles Ensembles of mixed and flexible instrumentation at a variety of levels exploring a wealth of approaches to performing creative improvised music; focus is on the performance of both contemporary and traditional repertoire.
  • Jazz Vocal Ensemble The Jazz Vocal Ensemble is an a cappella ensemble class for singers; a challenging forum to expand individual musicianship and ensemble skills, including timbre, dynamics, melodic and harmonic motion, rhythm and phrase-shaping through the performance of improvised and mixed-genre compositions.
  • Latin Ensemble Explores the musical languages of Latin America and the Caribbean. Students learn to listen and to express themselves in these languages and, working in an ensemble context, perform in traditional and contemporary styles.
  • Spontaneous Composition An advanced ensemble exploring the foundations and concepts of playing free jazz, with a focus on group improvisation.
  • Tango Ensemble A performance ensemble dedicated to the exploration of music from the tango tradition of Argentina, with an emphasis on understanding the musical forms, performance practices, conventions, and repertoire of both traditional tango music and Nuevo tango.