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The New England Conservatory: Jazz at 50

A look at the historic school’s groundbreaking jazz studies program as it enters its sixth decade

New England Conservatory
Former NEC president Gunther Schuller (1925-2015) during one of many visits to NEC

This is a banner year for 50th anniversaries: Woodstock, the Apollo 11 moon landing—and the founding of New England Conservatory’s jazz studies program.

Although degree programs in jazz at colleges and universities are practically a given nowadays, NEC’s department—the first fully accredited jazz program at a classical conservatory in the United States—was radical and new at its founding. Back in 1969, it was possible to learn about jazz at schools such as Towson, Indiana, and Berklee, but full-fledged jazz departments were few and far between; for 20 years, the University of North Texas had been the only U.S. institution of higher learning to offer a degree in jazz studies.

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