Juilliard: More Than Just Classical Music

The famed arts conservatory has a rich jazz presence. Today Juilliard Jazz celebrates its 10th anniversary. The Root talked to artistic director-drummer-producer Carl Allen about the school, touring and teaching, and why those who teach better be able to do, too.

Courtesy of Juilliard
Courtesy of Juilliard

As artistic director of the Juilliard Jazz department, drummer, record producer and entrepreneur Carl Allen leads a prominent group of instructors to teach the next generation of highly educated jazz instrumentalists. He balances his educational duties with work on the road, with artists such as bassist Christian McBride, saxophonist Benny Golson and his own group, the Carl Allen-Rodney Whitaker Project.

After graduating from William Paterson University with a bachelor’s degree in jazz studies and performance in 1983, Allen joined jazz-trumpet great Freddie Hubbard and served as his musical director for eight years. He’s been a sideman on more than 200 recordings.

Juilliard Jazz — conceptualized jointly by Juilliard’s president, Joseph Polisi, and Wynton Marsalis, Jazz at Lincoln Center’s artistic director — began in 2001. From the program’s inception, Allen worked as coordinator of Small Ensembles and gave drumming instruction. He became interim artistic director for the 2007-2008 school year and accepted the permanent post in February 2008.

Today Juilliard Jazz celebrates its 10th anniversary with a concert hosted by Christian McBride and alto saxophonist David Sanborn.

Allen recently spoke to The Root about juggling teaching and touring, making students memorize music and why the maxim, “Those who can’t do, teach” is a lie.

The Root: Why is this 10th-anniversary milestone important?

Carl Allen: This is a chance to celebrate the accomplishments of our alumni. That’s why we’re calling it a “Swingin’ Alumni Reunion,” as opposed to just a 10th-year anniversary. We have about a 100 percent rate where they’re all working professionally, in various capacities. We have people out there playing with Pat Metheny, Terence Blanchard, Michael Bublé and many others.

They check in with us and say that a lot of this is because of the time they had with us. That’s a reason to celebrate.

TR: When the program started, there were 17 students. Now there are 37 in the highly competitive environment of Juilliard. What’s the graduation rate?

CA: I’d say probably 95 percent. Most people are there all the way through.

TR: You’re a touring musician and the artistic director. How do you balance those roles?