Jazz program moves on with new faculty hires after director Jordan’s death

When Marvin “Doc” Holladay started the jazz program at Oakland University in the late ’70s, it was the first of its kind in the state of Michigan.

“Oakland was known nationally for their jazz program,” said Jackie Wiggins, chair of the music, dance and theatre department.

Though it never went away, the program faded during the late ’80s after Holladay left OU until professor Danny Jordan revitalized it.

When Jordan died in May following a long illness, Wiggins said replacing him became “a bit of a challenge.”

New this year to the MTD department are four jazz instructors who are looking to pick up where Jordan left off. Miles Brown was chosen as the new director of the program.

“We’re just in the stages of building up the program,” said Brown. “I’m trying to attract more interest.”

Brown, who’s played since grade school, has a master’s degree in classical bass performance from the Mannes College of Music and is in the process of earning his doctorate in jazz performance studies from the Eastman School of Music where he earned his bachelor’s degree.

Last year Brown served as the Gussman Director of Jazz at Cornell University.

As the jazz program’s only full-time faculty member, he also led two jazz ensembles and four jazz combos.

He also plays in a 20-member chamber orchestra called Alarm Will Sound.

Joining Brown are Jiana Hunter, Tad Weed and jazz drummer Sean Dobbins. Applied instructors Hunter and Weed teach jazz vocals and piano, respectively.

Hunter both attended and taught at The School for the Creative and Performing Arts in Cincinnati and has a Master of Music degree in jazz studies performance from Western Michigan University.

She also teaches at the Mosaic Youth Theatre of Detroit.

OU is one of several schools where Weed teaches jazz piano. He is also in the Oakland Jazz Quartet with Brown, Dobbins and Mark Stone, who plays steel drums and vibraphone and is director of OU’s world music program. The quartet will have their first performance Feb. 6 at 8 p.m. in the Varner Recital Hall.

Dobbins joins Regina Carter as an artist in residence.

The Detroiter has performed, toured and recorded with a slew of local and national acts and is currently touring the Caribbean with famed pianist Johnny O’Neal.

Stone said all four are extremely talented musicians in their own right, but also have the “ability to communicate that knowledge with our students.”

“It’s exciting to see a high level of jazz brought back,” Stone said. “Having these guys join the faculty has been uplifting and rejuvenating.”

One of Brown’s plans for the jazz program is to implement a jazz minor, provided there’s enough interest.

He’d also like to see “a lot more community involvement” through playing at high schools and other local venues.

Currently, Brown is only scheduled to be at OU for one year as a visiting professor, but he likes the university so far and hopes to stay.

“Ideally, I’d be here for a long time,” said Brown, whose wife’s family lives in Livonia.

This semester, Brown teaches a jazz theory class and is in charge of the OU Jazz Band, a 21-student jazz ensemble.

They’ll be teaming up with the Jazz Singers to perform Wednesday at 8 p.m. in Varner Recital Hall.

Auditions to be in the ensemble are open to all OU students until Jan. 4. Those interested should contact Professor Brown at [email protected].

Stone said the chance for students to work alongside their professors who are also performers is an important aspect of jazz.

“One thing all of these guys are rooted in is the tradition of mentorship,” Stone said. “I hope they inspire our students in the way that they inspire me.”