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2020 Spring Semester


Eight Giants of Jazz

Instructor: Frank Johnson

Tuesdays • 3/17-5/5 • 10:15 AM-12:15 PM

Class size 8-24 students
15 seats remaining
Location: Jewett 293

The course is an examination of the music and lives of eight historic and influential jazz musicians. Each week we will discuss the work of a major figure of the post-war period. We will consider the musician’s career, evolution of their musical style and their influence on both contemporaries and future artists.Classroom


Charlie Parker: A survey of the legendary alto saxophonist who revolutionized jazz and permanently altered the small group combo. The selections will include an early side with the Jay McShann band from Kansas City and his groundbreaking recordings from 1945-1953.

Thelonious Monk:  A pianist whose unique style earned him both devoted followers and early detractors. The selections will include both trio and small group settings. Monk’s status as a composer is admired by other musicians, particularly fellow pianists.

Miles Davis: The trumpeter and bandleader had a long and evolutionary career that spanned bebop, cool, hard bop, post-bop and fusion. The selections will include his very early recordings, his development as a leader with his first great quintet, an orchestral recording, his second great quintet and his movement to jazz-rock fusion.

Charles Mingus: Besides being a brilliant bassist, Mingus was an influential composer and bandleader who blazed his own path for nearly forty years. He was an iconoclastic figure whose recordings produced some of the most memorable music in jazz history.

John Coltrane: 53 years after his death Coltrane continues to be an almost mythical musician who transformed the parameters of jazz in his ten short years as a leader. Selections will include his brief time with Monk, the emergence of his great quartet and collaboration with Duke Ellington.

Art Blakey: The drummer and bandleader of the Jazz Messengers, the group that for forty years was the quintessential hard bop ensemble. The Jazz Messengers became an academy for two generations of musicians and a proving ground for emerging group leaders.

Wes Montgomery: In a relatively brief career, Wes revolutionized jazz guitar with his unique and broadly appealing sound. He has set the standard for jazz guitar for the past 60 years. The selections will include his quartets as well as collaborations with other prominent musicians.

Sonny Rollins: The only surviving member of this distinguished group of musicians, Sonny has long been recognized as one of the greatest tenor saxophonists of all time. A brilliant improviser, he has a very accessible style even as he pioneered innovations such as piano-less ensembles.

Frank Johnson has a lifelong passion and interest in African-American music: jazz, blues, rhythm & blues, soul, and Afro-Latin. He has a collection of over 4,000 albums covering these genres. In addition, he has a personal library of over 250 books on African-American musical styles, musicians and cultural influences. Frank is a graduate of the University of Maine with a degree in Political Science and Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government Program for Senior Executives of State and Local Government.