Author: Evans, Bill

Bluegrass Comes To the Jazzschool Institute in Berkeley

Do you know about the Jazzschool in Berkeley? Itís easy to miss the building when you go to look for it, as the entry way is just one narrow door but hereís a big hint as to the Jazzschoolís location: itís almost directly across from the Freight and Salvage Coffeehouse, just a few doors down from the Berkeley Repertoire Theater at 2087 Addison Avenue in downtown Berkeley.

Now that youíve found it, go through the door and head down the flight of stairs to find yourself in an unexpected musical world. The Jazzschool Cafť is immediately in front of you, serving some great food and caffeinated beverages and look to the right, and youíll find a well-stocked CD and bookstore. At night, the cafť seating area turns into a performance space, hosting faculty, student and touring musicians in concert 10 to 15 nights per month.

Walk past the stage area and youíll be midst of the heart and soul of the Jazzschool: its classrooms, which are populated at various times during the week by ensembles of all kinds, vocal and instrumental classes as well as jazz history and English classes.

Whatís this all about? The Jazzschool was founded in 1997 by jazz pianist Susan Muscarella, who has devoted her life to the institution, which has greatly expanded its programs in the last five years. Today, the Jazzschool is actually three schools in one. The Jazzschool Institute offers training to the aspiring professional musician and is a degree- granting program that graduated its first four-year graduates last December. The Jazzschool Community Music School offers instruction at all levels to the general public through evening classes, workshops, artists-in-residency and public performances. Finally, the Jazzschool Community Music School for Youth offers similar programming, but geared towards school-aged musicians.

The exciting news for bluegrass fans is that the Jazzschool is developing classes and programs for acoustic musicians, including for-credit college-level classes integrated into the Instituteís four-year degree curriculum. I had the honor of teaching the first course in this direction this semester: a two-credit hour bluegrass ensemble course that mixed students with jazz and acoustic backgrounds in one ensemble. In the fall semester, Iíll be teaching the bluegrass ensemble class once again, offering for-credit private lessons and also teaching a history survey course of 20th century American Roots Music, a course that will help degree candidates fulfill humanities and writing requirements.

Susan Muscarella has big plans for the American Roots program in the future, with private instruction on all bluegrass instruments, more history and ensemble classes and interactive experiences with students from the jazz side of the program. Iím incredibly pleased with the ensemble that was created in the inaugural semester of this program and I want to invite you to come hear the band at the Freight and Salvage Coffeehouse on Wednesday, May 22nd at 8 p.m. Weíll be part of a Jazzschool triple bill featuring the schoolís jazz fusion band and their Gypsy jazz ensemble.

To learn more about the Jazzschool, visit To learn more about the Jazzschool Bluegrass Ensembleís Freight and Salvage show, visit:

Hope to see you there!

All the best,

Bill Evans

Posted:  4/26/2013

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