Archive for Saturday, April 21, 1990


April 21, 1990


No more marching band. No more basketball band. No more Rock Chalk Revue. Just jazz.

Ron McCurdy, who's run the Kansas University jazz program since 1982 and the basketball band since 1976, is leaving to become the jazz coordinator at the University of Minnesota.

"The older you get, you're going to go in different directions professionally," said McCurdy, an associate music professor. "When I was a graduate student, it was a really big thrill to be right down on the court with the band. Now I really want to go forward in my profession. I have to let something go."

In a recent interview, McCurdy said the Minnesota job was an opportunity to let him concentrate on teaching jazz and researching aspects of the American-bred music. He said he's also looking forward to the cultural environment that the Minneapolis-St. Paul area offers.

"The metro area's got two major symphonies, theaters and jazz clubs galore," he said with an eager smile.

RIGHT NOW, it's an open question how McCurdy will be replaced. The chair of the music department, Steve Anderson, wouldn't comment on what, if any, plans his department may have.

But it's clear McCurdy won't be leading pep bands for the University of Minnesota Gophers. The music department there wants him to bring together its jazz program and hire teachers and teaching assistants, a Minnesota official said.

"When we decided to hire a coordinator, the jazz program was being run out of the hip pocket of the head of the band," said Karen Wolff, chairman of the Minnesota music department. "We needed someone to take this program on and shape it. We felt Ron McCurdy was precisely the individual for it."

McCURDY SAID the Minnesota program is in line with the growth of academic jazz over the last 20 years. Rather than learning how to play in the seedy nightclubs of old-time New Orleans or Kansas City, musicians are now studying jazz along with classical composers.

"What has happened is there's been a shift from clubs to the classrooms," McCurdy said. "In earlier times, people like Charlie Parker learned the music by listening to Lester Young play for years and years."

The demands of the music job market have also influenced music programs. Musicians, McCurdy said, need to be versatile.

"There are a lot of people with a classical background playing jazz," he said.

When McCurdy came to KU as a graduate student in 1976, he said, he took over the marching and pep bands as part of his responsibilities. He became an assistant professor in 1982, when he began running the jazz program. Two years ago, he dropped the marching band.

"I INHERITED the pep band and the marching band as a graduate student," he said. "It took a long time for a strong jazz program to develop. When I came here there were no improvisation classes, no combos and no jazz singers."

As McCurdy's teaching and scholarly responsibilities grew, they squeezed out his interest in working with the bands. But he admits the basketball band gave him considerable visibility in the community.

"I think more people know me for football and basketball than anything having to do with jazz studies," he said.

He also led the band that played for the Rock Chalk Revue. He said he liked working with the campus groups to arrange the music, sometimes spending all of his Christmas break finishing the scores. The revue served to fill his developing jazz program as well.

"I used it as a recruiting tool,'' he said. "I'd pick out the best ones and call them in to sing with the Jazz Singers."

But in the end, McCurdy, who plays the trumpet and keyboards, grabbed an opportunity to work in the Minnesota jazz program.

"I'll have a lot more time to do everything," he said.

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