Joe Eckert, professor of saxophone and director of Jazz Studies, is featured in the September issue of DownBeat magazine. He discusses the value of music education, with an emphasis on building community. DownBeat is the “granddaddy of American music magazines,” covering the best of jazz and blues.
Founded in 1873 as a “values-centered” institution, TCU has more than 10,000 students on its Fort Worth campus. About 350 students are enrolled in programs for one of seven degrees in music performance and education, or in a piano pedagogy degree that is offered at the undergraduate and graduate levels.
Although TCU music students currently cannot focus solely on jazz, Eckert hopes to change that in the future. “Currently, we try to give our students a really solid background in music through exposure to a broad variety of material,” Eckert said. “In terms of jazz, our aim is to provide a deep understanding of the lineage of the music.” Among the seasoned jazz artists who have come to TCU to work and perform with students are trumpeter Randy Brecker and drummer Peter Erskine.
Many students who pursue jazz studies at TCU go on to teach music at either the middle school or high school level. Much of the focus is on the big-band canon, which is not surprising given Eckert’s 20-year tenure with the U.S. Air Force Band’s Airmen of Note and his background with the One O’Clock Lab Band at the University of North Texas. Participation in the TCU marching band is compulsory—hence the broad exposure to the Rose Bowl audience—and a number of jazz students also perform classical music.
“All that means that our music students are very busy,” said Eckert, “but it makes for a very close-knit community.” Add to that the fact that TCU freshmen and sophomores are required to live on campus, and you have an unusually vibrant student body.
“The community at TCU is strong,” said Joey Carter, a TCU alumnus who teaches jazz piano, percussion and theory. “I think it’s good for the current students in that they have a solid support system while they are in school and then have a tight network of alumni to network with when they get out.”
A relatively low student-to-teacher ratio (15:1) also sets TCU apart, and Carter said a lot of the teaching he does is one-on-one—just as it was when he was a student in the program.
The emphasis on building community also extends to potential future students, principally through the annual TCU Jazz Festival. Since its inception in 1978, the festival has played host to more than 20,000 high school musicians, featuring bands from as far away as Hawaii.
When it comes time to audition potential jazz students, academic standing plays as big a role as musical talent. In fact, students must be accepted to TCU as a whole before applying to the music school. “The university prides itself in maintaining a very high academic standard,” Eckert said. “Prospective students have to be both musically and academically talented.”
The music school might not grab as many headlines as the university’s football team, but it’s clear that this campus values excellence in many forms, including academic, musical and athletic.
— Excerpted from DownBeat magazine, James Hale