In front of an audience of jazz students, teachers, musicians and other figures from the jazz world gathered in Loyola's Roussel Hall on Monday, April 2, Thelonious Monk Jr., the chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz, confirmed the arrival of the Monk Institute at Loyola University by proclaiming, "The birthplace of jazz and jazz itself have gone through some rough times, but jazz and New Orleans are like steel -- you can't wash them away."
The Monk Institute consists of one of the best jazz graduate studies programs in the world, a Jazz in the Classroom program for high school and middle school students, a community performance program, a jazz masters program, and it produces a National Jazz Curriculum for schools. The Monk Institute announced its recent four-year commitment to New Orleans and a consortium of local universities after having spent several years at the University of Southern California.
The idea to approach the Monk Institute about moving to New Orleans came about after an encounter between institute artistic director and New Orleans native trumpeter Terence Blanchard and John Snyder, the head of the Music Industry Studies program at Loyola. Blanchard mentioned that the institute was leaving USC and being approached by several Ivy League schools. He recommended that Snyder call Tom Carter, the institute's president.
"I cold-called him and told him I read the mission statement of the Monk Institute about their public school outreach program, and that I hated to tell him this, but he had no choice," Snyder says. "If he wanted to go to the place with the greatest need where he would have the most impact, he had to come here. Our public schools have been devastated, and we need help." The conversation went on for an hour. Snyder says that afterward he didn't think it had helped, but adds, "I took some solace in the fact that he said no to me about 20 times. One time wouldn't stick."
Then a week later, Carter called him back to say that maybe they should consider it. A week after that, Snyder was showing Carter and some of his staff what Loyola and specifically the music department and the music industry department had to offer. Snyder pitched his case further by saying, "This is where the action is, and this is the birthplace of the music you champion. When this place is threatened, then you are threatened, and the music is threatened." Carter remembers that Snyder said, "We want you to come down with a hammer in one hand and a horn in the other to rebuild New Orleans."
Blanchard also was enthusiastic. "I wanted to see what we could do to help things along in the city. I was impressed with what Snyder and (music professor) John Mahoney were doing at Loyola. The business program does well, and the jazz program has always done extremely well. It seemed like a good fit."
Blanchard has been the artistic director of the Monk Institute for the last seven years. The Monk Institute itself was founded in 1986 by the family of pianist Thelonious Monk, the "High Priest of Be-Bop," one of jazz music's most beloved players and composers. The institute has several programs. It uses the National Jazz Curriculum to implement lesson plans based in jazz for 5th, 8th and 11th graders. There is also the Jazz in the Classroom program that will hire New Orleans musicians and jazz educators to present clinics, classes and instrument training sessions. Most famously, there is the Institute of Jazz Performance, which selects a small group of talented young musicians to study at the Institute
The Institute will be housed at Loyola but also will involve other area colleges including Tulane, Southern, Dillard, Delgado, UNO and Xavier. Students will be required to serve as mentors and educators in the public schools. Students will also take classes from master jazz musicians, who will also play at community performances. Blanchard says, "They'll get to work with some of the greatest musicians in the world from Clark Terry to Ron Carter to Dianne Reeves." Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter, who serve on the board of directors, will also be working with students.
Blanchard is most enthusiastic about the future for the Institute in New Orleans. "It tells the world that there are people who want to be committed to the city." Snyder echoes this, saying, "It's a psychological boost to New Orleans. It shows that there are people who care. This place has devastation, and they can help. The Monk Institute can be men and women of courage and true to their mission."
In his remarks at Roussel Hall, Hancock added, "Jazz is revered throughout the world, and it all began right here in New Orleans. We're making a major commitment to this city -- embarking on a historic initiative to help restore New Orleans through jazz music. Because when jazz flourishes in New Orleans, New Orleans will flourish again too."