Leo Blanco Fills Hole of Conservatory Jazz Master Classes

Meghan Farnsworth, Staff Writer

What came as a surprise last Friday night should not have. After all, Oberlin has a history of showing resistance in the face of persecution, especially that based on racial and gender biases. Sadly, this spirit does not always carry over to the world of music at Oberlin.

Leo Blanco, a Venezuelan jazz pianist, composer and arranger, gave a guest recital accompanied by Oberlin Conservatory faculty members, Peter Dominguez, Professor of Jazz Studies and Double Bass, on jazz bass, and Jamey Haddad, Professor of Advanced Improvisation and Percussion on drums. Featuring the talent and mastery of these three humble, proof-in-the-pudding guys, it was a chance for Oberlin students interested in pursuing a career outside of classical music, especially jazz, to witness matured artistry of unconventional performers with years of experience in their field. Attending a concert featuring an artist proficient in one’s instrument is industry standard for any classical musician. In fact, it’s guaranteed that after the performance, the musician is inspired, fulfilled, and hopeful towards his or her craft, and Oberlin has provided this timeless chance for a range of classical musician types: historical performance, contemporary, and the in-between, i.e. performers of music composed between the time of Beethoven and the Second Viennese School.

What transpired on Friday evening in Clonick Hall is not a testament to the greatness of Oberlin’s support outside of the classical music genre. Instead, it’s an insight into a Conservatory culture that ignores all genres other than classical music.

With about 15 weeks per semester, it is strange to discover that, during this past fall, only three guest and faculty recitals or master classes were offered within the realm of jazz studies: Nation Beat, a faculty recital tribute to Wendell Logan and the New York Gypsy All-Stars. That being said, three concerts of this type is scanty next to the 29 classical music faculty and guest recitals/master classes offered that same semester. Spring semester stayed consistent in terms of jazz guest recitals and master classes numbers: three events, featuring Esperanza Spalding, Cyro Baptista and Ambrose Akinmusire, were offered, while the classical horizons were broadened even more, with 46 total events.

At Oberlin, classical players enjoy a substantial range of studios catering to every orchestral instrument as compared to the jazz studies department’s more limited resources and smaller student-to-teacher ratio. Obviously knowing this, there is a more collective desire for classical music, which is understandable. However, there are other types of musicians who are just as passionate about their art as classical musicians are, and six concerts a year is a lackluster effort at driving their artistic endeavors, especially in light of the commitment Oberlin appeared to make to its Jazz department with the construction of the Kohl Building during the 2009–2010 school year.

However, Leo Blanco’s appearance and the addition of jazz all-star Herbie Hancock to this year’s list of Artist Recital Series is a beautiful beginning to what may be the start of a new outlook at Oberlin, one more accepting and attentive toward musical genres outside of the classical music spectrum. It is a revelation that has been realized late in the game, perhaps, but it is better realized now than never.