JAZZ: UA Adds New Sound to School of Music

Jazz Concentration Adds Gravitas to Department of Music

By Mary Fracchia
The Razorback Reporter

From the dirty, back-alley entrances of New Orleans nightclubs to the pristine and proper soundstage at Lincoln Center, jazz has evolved from background music in brothels into acceptance as America’s classical music. Now jazz is taking its place at the UofA as an academic study, a subject alongside the weighty research of nanotechnology, antiquities and astrophysics.

The university recently established jazz as a course of study, and students can enroll to earn a Bachelor of Music in Performance with a Jazz Studies concentration.

Guitar Instructor Felipe Antonio tunes his guitar in preparation of a lesson with a student in the Billingsley Music Building. (Photo/Mary Fracchia)

The United States has been a cultural melting pot and some artists and musicians say there is no better representation of this diversity than jazz.

“Jazz has a very important place in the history of music and American music, especially in Arkansas. We are sitting in the cradle of American music,” said Jake Hertzog, area jazz coordinator and senior instructor of guitar.

Jazz offers a unique glimpse into American history, coming into being over two world wars and the Great Depression.

“When they study our civilization 2,000 years from now, there will only be three things that Americans will be known for: the Constitution, baseball and jazz music. They’re the three most beautiful things Americans have ever created,” writer and essayist Gerald Early said in an interview from Ken Burns’ award-winning documentary series, Jazz.

Many call jazz America’s classical music. Born in New Orleans, jazz came of age at cozy clubs in Chicago, New York and other big cities. Uptown New York City became the annointed jazz capital of the world.

Chris Teal, a UA adjunct who teaches drum set, jazz improvisation, beginning jazz combo, and popular music, is director of jazz for the UA Community Music school.

“People aren’t going out and listening to Duke Ellington and the Cotton Club,” Teal said. However, there are many artists today whose music is influenced by jazz. Contemporary hip-hop, a pillar of popular music and culture in America, contains elements of jazz. Collaborations of artists such as Kamasi Washington and Robert Glasper with Kendrick Lamar take jazz as a historical concept that “people used to do” and turn it into a process that people bring into music and culture, Teal said.

The UA jazz program allows students interested in performing or composing jazz to be recognized officially as jazz musicians on their diploma, said Joon Park, assistant professor of Music Theory.

“It’s been a program that we’ve wanted to do for a long time,” said Ronda Mains, Music Department chair and flute instructor. “When I first became chair, we tried to get some things going and we just didn’t have the personnel to do it.”

Creating this program shows the importance that jazz has not only to the music department and the UofA as a whole, but also recognizes the important cultural element to the state of Arkansas, Teal said.

The idea for this new concentration, approved in July 2019, started in the 1970s, Hertzog said.

Members of the Community Music School, led by Chris Teal, practice on a Tuesday night at the Suzuki Music School of Arkansas. (Photo/Mary Fracchia)

“At some point in the few years leading up to 2016, the faculty as a whole and the music department thought ‘well maybe we’d like to take those few jazz classes and actually make a jazz degree of some kind,’” Hertzog said. 

In 2016, a jazz historian, a jazz theorist, jazz guitarist and saxophonist were brought in by the department and joined a second group to create the eight-person jazz faculty, Mains said.

With the right people for the job, the department began to create the program.

“We worked for three years as a team to do the various levels of the approval process for creating a new degree,” Hertzog said.

The team worked to create the new degree at the university while simultaneously working to have the program recognized nationally.

For the program to comply with the rest of the department, it needed to be accredited, Hertzog said.

“The National Association of Schools of Music is the accrediting body, and they have basically said that our program meets their standards, and thus we are allowed to operate it and most importantly advertise it,” Hertzog said.

This process is something that should have happened a long time ago in order to put the UofA on the same level as other institutions such as the University of North Texas, Teal said.

A program focused on studying jazz is very beneficial to the music department because jazz is “America’s classical music,” Teal said. “I think that it represents such a diverse background and we’re trying to continue that tradition.”

Throughout history, the UofA has hosted famous jazz musicians, including Dizzy Gillespie, Wynton Marsalis and Duke Ellington.

Instruments are set up in Lewis E. Epley Jr. Band Hall at the UofA. (Photo/Mary Fracchia)

Jazz influences an array of styles and genres, as well as different groups of people and social histories, showing that “when you talk about jazz, you actually talk about the entire history of the United States,” Park said.

Jazz also allows musicians considerable flexibility.

“I think the reason we would want to base this out of jazz is that it’s a music that’s really improvisatory,” she said. “It helps students build a lot of skills that they don’t necessarily get from the way classical music is traditionally taught. I think it’s really part of a bigger reconsideration of sort of how Eurocentric traditional ways of teaching not just music, but the arts in general at the college level.”

Jazz opens lots of doors for musicians to be versatile through improvisation while also gaining many of the skills available through a classical concentration, Chris Teal said.

The program is still in its beginning stages, but current students are able to begin enrolling in the classes. It is possible for them to count as prerequisites courses they already have taken that match the concentration track, Hertzog said.

Classes for this new degree include “jazz improvisation, jazz ranging, jazz pedagogy, jazz history, jazz analysis,” Hertzog said.

Besides classes, both music and non-music majors have the opportunity to join various ensembles.

Fernando Valencia is a former member of the UA Latin Jazz Band and he is now coach of the Latin American Ensemble.

Programs like these ensembles allow students go in many different directions, as well as electives that began the jazz program at the UofA, Kimberly Teal said.

These ensembles are open to students of all majors and skill levels.

“I think that whether people know it or not, the sounds and the harmonies and rhythms of jazz are becoming more and more like part of the soundtrack of American music and pop culture again,” Chris Teal said. “It’s sort of like pulling that thread of influence and saying ‘OK what did this person do to get that sound?’ and you’re gonna find more and more they’re getting it from jazz and jazz throughout history.”


A Twitter-Fueled Media Gets Tested Amidst Impeachment Inquiry

By Mary Fracchia
The Razorback Reporter

The United States is facing the potential that a third president could be impeached, but this would be the first in the era of social media.

The co-founder and editor-at-large for Vox Media told a UA audience that social media distort views of events.

“[Twitter] warps our perception really bad,” Ezra Klein said in his October presentation as part of the UA student-sponsored Distinguished Lecture Series. “I’ve moved much more towards reading books in the past couple of years because I think it helps move upstream and think about things with more scale, and look away from the news, which feels to me like it’s gotten Twitter-fied.”

Klein referenced the Covington Catholic High School situation that arose in January between a group of high school students and a Native American man, saying it was “objectively a story that didn’t matter.”

“I did not care which side of that story you came down on, I just don’t care,” Klein said. “It just doesn’t matter, like nobody even got hurt. In D.C. that day, people were murdered. In D.C. that day, people were assaulted. In D.C. that day, women were raped and the whole country was obsessed with this Covington thing and so social media really values conflict that keys into peoples’ identity.”

Journalists often find news tips on Twitter. In many cases, those tips might not actually be news, Klein said, and reporting on what they think people care about, rather than what actually constitutes news.

“Twitter is driving too much of our coverage, and so we’re covering the wrong things, and we’re covering things that even if we cover them well, they’re negative,” he said.

His experience has enabled him to “translate Washington” for a collegiate audience, Sydney Nichols, a UA student and Marketing Co-Director for the Distinguished Lectures Advisory Committee, said in introducing Klein.

As he spoke to UA students about Washington and the media – including social media’s role in politics as the Impeachment case against President Donald Trump unfolds – Klein said:

“I think there is a lot of substitution scrolling through Twitter for reading even the stories linked on Twitter, and headlines are often a very bad guide to stories.”

Before founding Vox, Klein worked as a columnist and editor for the Washington Post, a policy analyst at MSNBC and a contributor for the online news service, Bloomberg.

Klein told the UA audience that the process of impeachment is going to be shaped by “a lot of non-news news events,” meaning that people are going to make news of things that are not.

“You’re getting very different stories on Fox News and MSNBC. In a way that was not true during Nixon,” Klein said of congressional hearings on the Watergate scandal that led to President Richard Nixon’s resignation in 1974. “There was no Fox News for Nixon.”

Social media platforms such as Twitter allow users to view short paragraphs of information in seconds, rather than reading or watching a full news story from a media outlet. However, this new trend could be detrimental to journalists who work to report the news fully.

Klein referred to Twitter as a “substitution” for the news, and said that the headlines often can be a bad guide to the articles.

The audience is not necessarily in the wrong, Klein said, but rather the journalists, who are on Twitter most of the time.

Upscale Residence Hall Helps Students Expand Their Creative Abilities

Upscale Residence Hall Helps Students Expand Their Creative Abilities

By Mary Fracchia
The Razorback Reporter

Music echoes through the halls and the smell of fresh timber and acrylic paint still is strong upon entering Adohi Hall, the newest residence hall on the UA campus.

First-year students in five majors now have the opportunity to be a part of state-of-the-art living-learning communities.

“Our Assistant Vice Chancellor for University Housing, Florence Johnson thought it would be great to partner with creative majors as the plans for Adohi Hall were in the beginning stages,” said Stephanie Adams, associate director for Academic Engagement for University Housing. “So faculty members were brought in to discuss amenities and services that would benefit students living there.”

Retention and GPA data for living-learning community students is tracked by University Housing and then compared to students who do not participate, Adams said. Research shows that retention from freshman to sophomore year is higher, but found little to no change in GPA.

Music is in its fourth year and previously was housed in Humphreys Hall, Adams said.

This is the first year that the UofA has offered living learning programs in four more majors.

Approximately 80 students are enrolled in the Adohi learning center, Adams said. Architecture has the most – 18 students. The other four concentrations have 8-10 students in Adohi.

The goals of living-learning communities focus on interaction among students and faculty and one another, Adams said. Enrollment allows students to engage with faculty in their respective fields to get connected with their particular department, learn about opportunities available to them and talk about ways to be successful. Engagement among students allows them to create study groups and bonds with students of the same major very early in their college careers, Adams said.

“The purpose of having this facility and making us live together and cohabitate is having some interdisciplinary action between the different living-learning communities,” said Tyler Osterman, Peer Ambassador for the Music living-learning community.

Adohi Hall opened in fall 2019. It can accomodate 708 students, and is coed. Additionally, it serves as the location for the Architecture and Design, Art, Entrepreneurship and Innovation, Music and Theater living-learning communities, Adams said.

Many resources are available to living-learning community participants and Adohi residents, Adams said. This “creative community” maker’s space includes 3D printing, a laser cutter, an area for drawing or acrylic painting, three sewing machines, movement studio, recording studio, performance area and seven practice rooms. With the touch of a button, two of the practice rooms allow students to change the type of audience sound the room simulates.

This environment was created with insight from faculty partners in order to make it useful for residents, she said.

“We know between architecture, art, theater and music, usually their practice spaces in academic buildings shut down after 6 p.m. and they still need to practice,” Adams said. “We wanted to be able to allow them to practice where they live.”

Enrollment in the living-learning community adds no additional charges to students. The only fee is the price of housing in the residence hall: $4,283 for a single room and $5,353 for a double room in Adohi. Living-learning community students are the second group behind honors students in the housing selection process and are given priority for Adohi Hall, she said.

Living-learning community residents in Adohi live in “pods” of rooms, which are the traditional dorm layout and share one bathroom, Adams said. The pods house 10-12 residents. Living-learning community student pods are located on eight floors in Adohi.

In addition to living in the residence hall where the community is housed, living-learning community students must also enroll in the zero-credit seminar that is offered, she said. This seminar meets bi-weekly and can include programming featuring effective study habits or inviting faculty to come and speak to students.

First-Gen Students Work, Borrow to Pay For College

First-Gen Students Work, Borrow to Pay For College

By Mary Fracchia, Mary Hennigan and Elena Ramirez
The Razorback Reporter

Aaron Alamo, a junior at the University of Arkansas, is the first in his family to attend college.
His mother, a first-generation immigrant from Mexico, didn’t receive a good education. 

“She really wanted us to have a good one, so she moved to the United States,” Alamo said.  “She didn’t really have that opportunity.”

Aaron Alamo, a first-generation student, describes the importance of being a first-generation student. Video by Mary Hennigan.

Alamo, like many first-generation students, is accumulating student loan debt, now about $20,000. Alamo’s debt burden is above the median debt load of $14,072 for first-generation students at the UofA in the 2016-17 year, according to College Scorecard, a U.S. Department of Education database. That’s close to the median debt load for all UofA students that year.

While this is a significant burden, Alamo said it motivates him to stay in school. Although he wanted to come to college for a better future, he is worried about the prospect of making payments.

About one-quarter of all University of Arkansas students are the first in their families to attend college, according to UA Office of Institutional Research data. The university’s $14,072 in median first-generation student loan debt is higher than the statewide debt for first-generation students, $9,421 in 2016-17, according to College Scorecard. 

Interviews with a variety of first-generation students show they are paying for college through a combination of part-time jobs, scholarships, and in some cases, with family support. Alamo, for example, pays for the remaining college costs with earnings from his part-time job as a dispatcher at J.B. Hunt Transport Services, Inc. 

As a first-generation student, Kathryn Archila, a UofA senior, said she had difficulty understanding which scholarships to pursue and how to navigate the loan process. She collected $6,000 of federal student loan debt at University of Central Arkansas in Conway, she said.  She will have more debt attending the UofA because she is taking more classes. 

Archila said she has two part-time jobs, one at Target and the other as a teacher’s assistant. She plans to become a music teacher in Rogers after graduation. She decided to stay in Rogers, her hometown, where she makes a weekly commute to Fayetteville.

A graph displaying the top 10 colleges in Arkansas with the highest first-generation debt for 2016-17 by Mary Fracchia.

Brandon Davis, who graduated in May, plans to begin paying off his $40,000 student loan debt in November, he said.

“I look at student loans as an investment in your future,” Davis said.

Davis graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism in four years, and currently works part-time for KNWA-TV, he said.

“I would not trade my four years at the UofA for anything,” Davis said. “[The debt] is there, but you can’t take away those four years of memories and all the people I met along the way.”

A graph comparing first-generation debt and UofA enrollment by Mary Hennigan.

Not all first generation students have student loan debt. Kevin Azanza said he is excited to be the first in his family to afford to go to school  “My school is paid for by scholarships, my parents and by me. I have [looked into private loans] but that is definitely one of the last things I want to go to when it comes to paying for school,” Azanza said. He has no loan debt.

He works part-time as a customer service associate at Walmart Inc. He has classes three times a week and commutes from Rogers. Azanza transferred to the UofA after paying two years of out-of-state tuition at Northwest Arkansas Community College, or NWACC. Azanza is majoring in both communications and political science.

Another first-generation student is Victoria Toan, a UofA senior, who paid for this semester a few weeks ago, she said.

Victoria Toan discusses how she started saving for college at age 16. Video by Mary Hennigan.

Toan started saving for college after getting her first job at 16 years old. “If college is something you want to do, you start saving as early as you can,” Toan said. In addition to working for her college, Toan received a FAFSA scholarship and a Cherokee Nation scholarship, she said. Toan’s parents would not pay for her college, she said.

“I’m grateful for that,” Toan said. “It gave me a sense of responsibility. Graduating without student debt feels great.” 

Visiting Professors Bring New Insights to Arts & Sciences

Visiting Professors Bring New Insights to Arts & Sciences

Each year, the Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences hosts two visiting professors to teach and mentor students. This year, the program welcomes Jonathan Lethem and John Yau.

John Yau and Jonathan Lethem
Photo: University Relations

The McIlroy Family Visiting Professors Endowment Program entered its 13th year at the UofA and welcomed two renowned teachers to enhance and strengthen the northwest Arkansas artistic and cultural community.

For the 2019 fall semester, John Yau and Jonathan Lethem are the participating professors.

Each year Fulbright College recruits and selects the visiting professors from faculty nominations, said Andra Parrish Liwag, director of communications for Fulbright College. 

The son of Chinese emigrants, Yau is a Brooklyn College graduate and acclaimed poet. He is known for his first poetry publication, Crossing Canal Street, as well as for his art criticism. Yau is accomplished in his field, acquiring multiple awards including the Lavan Award from the Academy of American Poets, and a New York Foundation for the Arts Award. Yau resides in New York City, and teaches at Rutgers University.

Jonathan Lethem is known for more than a dozen novels featuring the western, science fiction and graphic genres. Lethem served as both the second Roy E. Disney Chair in Creative Writing at Pomona College and a guest director at the 45th annual Telluride Film Festival. His work can be found in The Paris Review, The New York Times and Harper’s, according to University Relations.

Participation in the program consists of serving as a professor for a semester, resulting ultimately in a performance or multiple performances, and an exhibition or master class. The participant also will serve as a mentor and adviser, Liwag said.

Founded in 2006, the McIlroy Family Visiting Professor endowment was created through the generosity of Hayden and Mary Joe McIlroy and the Walton Family Charitable Support Foundation. The original commitment of $1 million was matched and created a total investment of $2 million.

“These artists-in-residence offer important opportunities for our students and the surrounding community to learn from and interact with some of the best visual and performing artists working in the field,” Liwag said.

Fulbright is the largest UA college, encompassing 16 departments and 43 academic programs and research centers, and the McIlroy Family Visiting Professors endowment program is available to students in fields of study pertaining to the arts and sciences, Liwag said.