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Drummer, Performer, Educator Clem DeRosa Dies at 86

DeRosa was founder of IAJE, American Jazz Venues

Clem DeRosa, a major figure in jazz performance and education, died Dec. 20. Succumbing after a long struggle with cancer, he was surrounded by family at his home in Dallas, Texas, where he had moved earlier in the year.

The world of jazz education owes much to DeRosa, as do all followers of big band music. An internationally respected musician, educator, professional conductor/bandleader, composer, arranger, drummer, and author, DeRosa’s career dates back to the 1950s. His greatest legacy was as one of the pioneers of jazz education. He was perhaps the first public school educator to instill a solid jazz curriculum and teaching method. His approach became nationally recognized because it produced young high school jazz bands that sounded astonishingly professional.

Based in Long Island in the mid-1960s, his high school jazz ensembles appeared on the Johnny Carson and Merv Griffin television shows. He appeared at the Newport Jazz Festival with the McDonald’s High School Jazz Ensemble.

Besides his high school work, he taught master classes at such distinguished institutions as Harvard, the Paris Conservatory, the Manhattan School of Music, Juilliard, the University of North Texas, Hofstra, Indiana University, and the Berklee College of Music.

His performance career was equally distinguished, appearing and/or recording with the likes of Jimmy Dorsey, Clark Terry, Phil Woods, Charles Mingus, Ben Webster, John LaPorta, Marian and Jimmy McPartland, Claude Thornhill, and others.

In 1961, he was named the New York State Teacher of the Year. Around this same time, he was co-founder and served on the original faculty of the Stan Kenton Clinics, one of the first formal jazz education programs.

He was a co-founder and past president of the International Association for Jazz Education [IAJE], and was inducted into the IAJE Hall of Fame in 1990. More recently, he was inducted into the National Jazz Museum of Harlem (2008). He received the Manhattan School of Music alumni award for achievements in jazz education in 2009.

His performance skills enabled him to play with major jazz bands from the age of 15. His early musical career was interrupted by Army service during World War II, where he was a member of the Glenn Miller band. Returning from service, he gave up the rigors of a performance career for the stability of teaching, which allowed him to grow and care for his family. Upon his retirement from music education in 1980, DeRosa returned to touring the world as a professional bandleader for the Glenn Miller, Jimmy Dorsey, and Benny Goodman orchestras. He was also a co-author of several books including ones with Mel Lewis, Dick Hyman, Michael Moore, and Ed Shaugnessy.

His latest endeavor was American Jazz Venues, a non-profit organization that he established in 2003. AJV has the singular focus on the health and survival of America’s indigenous musical art form, jazz, and strives to grow a new generation of fans. The musical voice of AJV is the American Jazz Repertory Orchestra, a 16-piece big band that plays faithful renditions of the major jazz tunes of the 20th century. DeRosa’s most recent appearance with his American Jazz Repertory Orchestra was at Villanova University in March, 2011, commemorating the 50th anniversary of Villanova Jazz Festival.

Earlier last year, DeRosa moved from New Jersey to Texas, to be nearer his family. He had announced that he was stepping down from the presidency of AJV, and at the next Board meeting a transition plan was (and is) to be put into place.

A memorial service is being planned for the New York Metropolitan area for mid-May, 2012. Clem DeRosa was 86.

Originally Published