The mission of the Princeton University Jazz Program under the direction of Dr. Anthony D.J. Branker was to educate and expose the university and greater communities to the artistic and historical significance of jazz by presenting artists and repertoire that are representative of the wide spectrum of styles and conceptual approaches found throughout the music’s evolution. Students involved in jazz performance now have numerous opportunities to concertize, participate in master classes, study privately, and to pursue independent projects. They also have the opportunity to participate in academic courses from the music department curriculum that encourage the study of the historical, social, theoretical, stylistic, and creative issues that pertain to the jazz idiom. In 2008, Princeton University received a multi-million dollar gift to enhance the study and performance of jazz, significantly expanding the university’s ability to support performances and develop innovative research and teaching in this uniquely American and broadly influential art form. As a result of this generous contribution to the development of jazz studies at the university, Dr. Branker was able to establish the Certificate Program in Jazz Studies at Princeton University.
During Dr. Branker's 27-year career at Princeton (1989-2016), the ensemble program featured two 17-piece big bands (Concert Jazz Ensemble & Jazz Ensemble II) as well as an ever-changing variety of small groups, which have included the Jazz Composers Collective, Jazz Vocal Collective, Free to Be Ensemble, Crossing Borders Improvisational Music Ensemble, Ornette Coleman Ensemble, Lee Morgan Ensemble, Bill Evans Ensemble, Art Blakey Jazz Messengers Ensemble, Standard Deviation Ensemble, Freddie Hubbard Ensemble, Sonny Rollins Ensemble, Joe Henderson Ensemble, Sounds of Brazil Ensemble, Monk/Mingus Ensemble, Herbie Hancock Ensemble, Birth of the Cool Ensemble, John Coltrane Ensemble, Miles Davis Ensemble, Fusion Ensemble, Kenny Dorham Ensemble, Ron Carter Ensemble, Bebop Ensemble, American Songbook Ensemble, Tadd Dameron Ensemble, Horace Silver Ensemble, Ralph Bowen Ensemble, Modal Ensemble, Pat Metheny Ensemble, New Voices Collective, Wayne Shorter Ensemble, Afro-Latin Ensemble, Swingtet, Ellington/Strayhorn Ensemble, Afro-Groove Ensemble, Horace Silver Ensemble, Ensemble X, New Orleans Ensemble, Jazz Saxophone Quartet, Avant Garde Ensemble, Hard Bop Ensemble, Jazztet, and the Jazz Vespers Ensemble. Qualified students have had the opportunity to pursue further studies in jazz performance through the Music Department’s Certificate Program in Musical Performance.
In an effort to provide ensemble members with the opportunity to learn from recognized jazz masters, Princeton’s national award-winning jazz program has been fortunate to sponsor master class residencies and feature its ensembles in concert performances with such internationally renowned jazz artists as Clark Terry, Phil Woods, Terence Blanchard, Slide Hampton, Jimmy Heath, Gilberto Gil, Jon Faddis, Conrad Herwig, Oliver Lake, Frank Foster, Benny Carter, Ted Curson, Orrin Evans, Stanley Jordan, Bobby Watson, Bob Mintzer, Ralph Peterson, Steve Nelson, Antonio Hart, Freddie Hendrix, Don Braden, Kendrick Scott, Brice Winston, Fabian Almazan, Joshua Crumbly, Jacky Terrasson, Jonny King, Walt Weiskopf, Valery Ponomarev, Bryan Carrott, Michael Philip Mossman, Rick Margitza, Ralph Bowen, Mark Gross, Jim Ridl, Clifford Adams, Jeffery Smith, Guilherme Franco, Renato Thoms, Marc Bernstein, Alison Crockett, and Winston Byrd. The program has also been fortunate to feature Maria Schneider, Geri Allen, Omar Sosa, David Binney, Victor Lewis, Fabian Almazan, Edward Simon, Matt Penman, Eric Harland, Robin Eubanks, Bill Frisell, Jamie Baum, Fred Hersch, Joanne Brackeen, Dr. Billy Taylor, Roy Hargrove, Hugh Masekela, Barry Miles, Kenny Davis, James Williams, Craig Handy, Jeremy Pelt, Gene Bertoncini, Jim Black, Bruce Williams, Scott Lee, Bruce Barth, Eddie Allen, Alison Crockett, The Free Tallinn Trio with Jaak Sooäär/Anto Pett/Anne-Liis Poll, The Respect Sextet, Artur Majewski, Kadri Voorand and Her Trio, and Wilson “Willie Tee” Turbinton as guest lecturers in master class situations.
Over the years, the award-winning Concert Jazz Ensemble has dedicated itself to the performance of the historically significant music of Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn. They have presented such works as: “The Far East Suite” and “New Orleans Suite” with the Juilliard Jazz Orchestra; Ellington’s extended orchestral composition, “A Tone Parallel to Harlem” with the Delaware Valley Philharmonic Orchestra and the Princeton University Orchestra; “New World A Comin’” with the Princeton University Orchestra; “The Sacred Concert Music of Duke Ellington” with the Princeton University Chapel Choir as well as with the University Glee Club and Gospel Ensemble; the all-Strayhorn program of big band music entitled, “A Lush Life: The Music of Billy Strayhorn”; as well as the Ellington/Strayhorn collaborative adaptation of Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s “Nutcracker Suite” and Edvard Grieg’s “Peer Gynt Suites Nos. 1 & 2.” Princeton’s jazz groups have also undertaken a number of stylistically diverse and challenging projects in concert programming. They have presented Lalo Schifrin’s “Gillespiana Suite” written for trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie, as well as such programs as “Hotter Than That: Louis Armstrong and the Early Years of Jazz” - featuring music from Armstrong’s Hot Five and Hot Seven Recordings, Jelly Roll Morton and Fletcher Henderson; “Jazz and the Latin Tinge” - spotlighting classic works from the Latin jazz orchestras of Mario Bauzá, Dizzy Gillespie, Chico O’Farrill, as well as the Brazilian and Afro-Cuban based compositions of Milton Nascimento, Arturo Sandoval, Duke Ellington, and Charles Mingus; “Jazz Meets the Symphony Orchestra” with the Princeton University Orchestra featuring works by Duke Ellington, McCoy Tyner, and Clare Fischer, with orchestral arrangements by Todd Beaney and Anthony Branker; and “A Love Supreme: The Spirit and Sound of John Coltrane’s Music” featuring tenor saxophonist Ralph Bowen, the world premiere of a commissioned work for big band by composer and trumpeter Michael Philip Mossman, and a performance of John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme suite.
Between 2003 and 2006, Princeton’s jazz program worked in collaboration with The Commission Project (TCP) from Rochester, New York to present new works for big band. Jazz composers who received TCP commissions to write for the University Concert Jazz Ensemble have included Jimmy Heath, Bob Mintzer, Michael Philip Mossman, and Ralph Bowen. Of these commissioned works, Bob Mintzer’s “March Majestic” has been made available through Alfred Publishing and appears on recordings by the Bob Mintzer Big Band (Old School, New Lessons) and the Yellowjackets (Altered State), and Michael Mossman’s three-movement “John Coltrane Suite” has been performed by university and conservatory jazz programs throughout the United States and is published by RGM. Randy Bauer, a Ph.D. recipient and graduate of Princeton’s composition program was named the winner of an Honorable Mention Award in the 2004-2005 ASCAP Foundation Young Jazz Composers Award Competition for his composition, “Wide-Eyed Wonder.” This work was also made possible thanks to a commission from The Commission Project® and was premiered by the University Concert Jazz Ensemble in 2003. Through funding from Sons of Sound Records, the university jazz program commissioned trombonist Conrad Herwig to compose the Afro-Latin influenced “Reflections of a Man Facing South,” a suite that was premiered by the Concert Jazz Ensemble in 2007. In 2009, the Concert Jazz Ensemble collaborated with the University Sinfonia and the vocal ensemble Fuma Sacra to present the world premiere of “In Another Time,” a five-movement work by composer Laurie Altman. Recently, in 2013, the University Jazz Program and University Orchestra commissioned composer David Sanford to create “Teatro di Strada,” a joint work that was premiered by the Princeton University Orchestra and University Concert Jazz Ensemble featuring tenor saxophone soloist Ralph Bowen.
Under Dr. Branker's direction, Princeton has offered a number of outstanding jazz performance groups. In 2015, the University Free to Be Ensemble traveled to Poland to collaborate and perform original music with jazz studies students from the Stanislaw Moniuszko Academy of Music in Gdansk. In 2014, the University Concert Jazz Ensemble and University Jazz Vocal Collective embarked on a performance tour of Italy to such cities as Rome, Ferentino, Florence, Ponsacco, and Milan. The University Jazz Composers Collective traveled to Australia in 2012 to perform and collaborate with students in the jazz studies program at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music. They also took part in a jazz-in-the-schools residency initiative sponsored by the Office of the U.S. Consulate General in Sydney that brought them to Winmalee High School in the city of Blue Mountains, Australia where they performed with jazz students in school’s big band and presented a program of original compositions. The University Jazz Composers Collective has participated in three tours to Estonia (in 2014, 2011, 2006) that were sponsored by the Department of State of the United States of America, the U.S. Embassy in Estonia, and the Estonian Academy of Music & Theatre. The ensemble presented performances at the Estonian Academy of Music, Lindakivi Kultuurikeskus (Cultural Center), Philly Joe’s Jazz Club in Tallinn, Geneva Night Club in the city of Narva (which was recorded for broadcast on Estonian National Radio), as well as additional concerts at Theatre No. 99 and Philly Joe’s Jazz Club in Tallinn where they performed original music created by students in the ensemble and collaborated with students from the jazz studies program at the Estonian Academy of Music & Theatre, Estonian jazz vocalist Kadri Voorand, and guitarist Jaak Sooäär, chair of the jazz department at the academy of music. The Jazz Composers Collective was also featured in performance on Estonian National Television (ETV) and took part in Jazz-in-the-Schools master class presentations at Heino Elleri Nimeline Tartu Muusikakool in Tartu, Estonia and Õismäe Russian Lyceum (Russian-speaking High School) in Tallinn. In addition, the University Jazz Composers Collective traveled to Hong Kong, China in March of 2008 for a series of performances, including a night at the Vibe Jazz Club, and the University Crossing Borders Improvisational Music Ensemble collaborated with the experimental jazz quartet Amparo from the Royal College of Music in Stockholm, Sweden in concert at Princeton University.
In 1999, the University Monk/Mingus Ensemble was named winner of Down Beat magazine’s Student Music Award for “Best College Jazz Instrumental Group” and Ensemble X was selected by Down Beat as the winner of “Outstanding Performance” honors in the jazz instrumental group category in 2003. The jazz program received its third national prize from Down Beat in 2007 when pianist Julia Brav was awarded “Outstanding Performance” honors in the “Best College Jazz Soloist” category. In addition, Ms. Brav was selected to the International Association for Jazz Education (IAJE) Sisters in Jazz Collegiate All-Star Quintet and performed with the group at the IAJE 35th Annual Conference in Toronto, Canada and at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC.
The University Concert Jazz Ensemble has been featured in performance at the International Association for Jazz Education International Conference in Washington, D.C., the National Endowment for the Humanities Paul Robeson Institute at Rutgers University, Down Beat MusicFest U.S.A. National Finals (Oakland, California), and has received numerous awards at intercollegiate jazz festivals held at the University of Notre Dame, Villanova University, and Rowan (Glassboro) University. In addition, several students from the Concert Jazz Ensemble were named winners of prestigious “Outstanding Soloist” awards at Down Beat’s Musicfest U.S.A. National Finals and at the Notre Dame Intercollegiate Jazz Festival. The University Afro-Groove Ensemble was featured at the 2004 New Jersey Music Educators Association (NJMEA) State Conference and at the 4th Annual North Texas Jazz Festival with two members of the group receiving “Outstanding Soloist” awards. In addition, the University Jazztet has performed at the Trenton2Nite Women in Jazz Festival, the Princeton JazzFeast Jazz Festival, as well as for numerous Jazz-in-the-Schools programs in the greater Princeton area.
Princeton’s jazz program, in partnership with the Princeton Public Library, was the proud recipient of a 2006-2007 Looking At: Jazz, America’s Art Form grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities in collaboration with Jazz at Lincoln Center, the American Library Association and Re: New Media. The Looking At: Jazz project series was dedicated to exploring the cultural and social history of jazz through the presentation of six compelling documentary films, accompanied by viewing and discussion programs, essays by eminent scholars, and live performances for the community that featured the Princeton University Concert Jazz Ensemble, Swingtet, and Afro-Latin Ensemble.
The Princeton University Jazz Program has also produced fourteen recording projects under Dr. Branker's direction. They include: Telling Stories (Free to Be Ensemble), Love Is What It Is (Jazz Vocal Collective), Onwards (Jazz Composers Collective), Blue/Yellow Dances (Jazz Composers Collective), Expanding Horizons (Jazz Composers Collective), Yesternow: The Princeton University Jazz Program 1989-2004 compilation CD (Concert Jazz Ensemble, Monk Mingus Ensemble, Ensemble X, Hard Bop Ensemble & Afro-Groove Ensemble), It’s All About the Groove (Afro-Groove Ensemble & Fusion Ensemble), Sounds From The Free-Thinking (Monk/Mingus Ensemble) with guest trumpet soloist and former Mingus band member Ted Curson, Music From the Sacred Concerts of Edward Kennedy Ellington (Concert Jazz Ensemble and Chapel Choir), What’s Going On? (Ensemble X), Mosaic (Concert Jazz Ensemble & Hard Bop Ensemble), The Sacred Concert Music of Duke Ellington (Concert Jazz Ensemble, Glee Club and Gospel Ensemble), Mean What You Say (Concert Jazz Ensemble), and 7 Steps 2 Heaven (Concert Jazz Ensemble).