Learning to sing jazz at the Ionian University

A question that has long been exhausted in major international music circles, but remains very much alive in Greece is: Can jazz and improvisation actually be taught? The Ionian University on Corfu will be providing the answer to this question. For the past nine years it has been toiling to fill a very large gap in the country’s musical education system with the creation of a full program of studies that may, in the future, extend to the postgraduate level. The department is staffed by young scholars and artists who run the educational and theoretical program, as well as seminars and concerts. The newest addition to the staff as of this year is the American jazz singer Katharine «Katchie» Cartwright, who comes due to a collaboration between the Ionian University Department of Music Studies and the Fulbright Program. The addition of the acclaimed vocalist is meant to bolster the department, which has decided to extend its courses to include classes on jazz, vocal techniques and improvisation. Cartwright also holds a doctorate in ethnomusicology from the City University of New York with a specialization in the improvisational traditions of the world and has worked as visiting assistant professor at Hunter College/City University of New York. She serves as chair of the International Association for Jazz Education’s Sisters in Jazz mentoring program and on the board of the International Women in Jazz, and is an active member of the International Association of Schools of Jazz. She performs and gives workshops internationally and is currently a Fulbright senior specialist in US studies and music. Young Greek and foreign musicians received a taste of her teaching skills last July at the Summer Jazz Academy organized on Corfu by Ionian University assistant professor Dimos Dimitriadis (saxophone), who also heads the jazz department. Classes this academic year will be held in the form of seminars that will take place in November and May and which will also be open to a small number of musicians who are not enrolled at the university. «With its collaboration with Katchie Cartwright and the Fulbright Program, the Ionian University aims at organizing the first program of studies in jazz singing at the highest possible academic level,» Dimitriadis says. Efforts to put this department together have been ongoing since 1996 – and are finally bearing fruit. Other initiatives that have been achieved over this period include the establishment of the Ionian Jazz Ensemble, which has performed all over the country and released a self-titled album. There is also the Free Improvisation Today Ensemble, a program which will be yielding its first graduates within the next two or three years. The postgraduate course, which should be up and running quite soon, will include specializations in jazz. «For a department that has been in operation for just nine years, the result is impressive,» says Dimitriadis. The greatest advantage the Ionian University enjoys over older, established music schools is that it is a young school and has young, talented staff, he says. The older music schools of the world are burdened by a long, conventional tradition which translates into a rigid educational environment, «orthodox» methods of teaching jazz and a focus on «modern jazz» of 1945-1960, all of which mean that little thought is given to the future or complexity of the genre, he says. The Ionian allows daily contact and free association so different musical traditions and schools of thought can come together.