CM’s Guide to the Jazz Studies Major

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Jazz Studies brings together unique, diverse students with a common interest—you guessed it—jazz. Whether you were inspired by the variety and sound of Carl Fontana or the wildly-influential John Coltrane, your individualized sound develops as a jazz student throughout your college career. Who know? The next music professors, composers and Grammy-award winning artists may actually be your college peers.

What you’ll be doing

Students have the opportunity to perform, arrange, compose and expand their repertoire. Lower-division classes (for freshmen and sophomores) include instruction in jazz performance, world music performance and musicianship. All these classes help form a well-rounded artist by improving rhythm, music theory and ensemble performance. They also allow for unique experiences in and out of the classroom. For example, for students living in the L.A. area, your golden opportunity may be at the Catalina Jazz Club. “This was a really incredible experience because Catalina’s is a famous club where many well-known jazz musicians have played, including Dizzy Gillespie, McCoy Tyner and Arturo Sandoval,” said University of California, Los Angeles sophomore Sarah McKagan. Forget doing grunt work at a hospital—this is the kind of work you’ll be doing.

The classes you’ll take

Jazz Studies also provides a wide variety of classes, but these aren’t your regular “Introduction to blah, blah, blah” classes. Classes include African American Musical Heritage and Jazz Theory and Improvisation, and combine both learning and performing. “I love performing in ensembles! UCLA has so many ensembles and so far I’ve really enjoyed being in the Latin Jazz Band, the Jazz Orchestra, Mingus ensemble and Combos,” said UCLA sophomore Jade Elliott. Many classes require ensemble experience, so it essentially serves as a chance to practice what you love and get a good grade doing it.

More unique Ethnomusicology/Jazz Studies classes include Style and Analysis on Early Jazz through the Swing Era and a Traditional North American Indian Music class. “A combo consists of four-seven instrumentalists that work together in creating arrangements and music pieces. I particularly enjoyed this [combo] class, due to the fact that my professor contained a vast knowledge of rhythm,” said UCLA sophomore Kimiko Daniels. These classes assist in extending jazz vocabulary and musicianship with your ensemble for future coffeehouse gigs (or Carnegie Hall performances).

Ethnomusicology is an enormous aspect of the program, providing the background for western and non-western understanding. “I have loved taking Sitar lessons and plan to continue,” said UCLA junior Sahara Grim. “I was really pushed far past my comfort zone. When I look back, I am thankful because I’ve learned that I am truly capable of more than I give myself credit for.” Your wide-range of classes will ensure that you become the best possible musician you can be.

Internships for this major

For jazz studies students, it’s not as easy to Google “where can I find a jazz internship?” like journalism students. Recording studios, music libraries and coffee houses are not eagerly awaiting interns. It’s not like there’s a Capitol Hill for jazz majors. You have to search these opportunities and get your name out there, either through friends, professors or successful gigs. For instance, students in Los Angeles intern with recording studios. One student worked as an assistant, where he met Lady Gaga (casually) and personally assisted John Mayer in his recording room. Beyond that, students can intern with Chamber Orchestras and Philharmonics, like the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra or the New York Philharmonic; they’re always looking for the next rising star.

Career Opportunities

1. Performer/Artist (Instrumentalist, ensemble, band)

From Adele to Zayn and everybody in between, you hear these talents all over the radio, news feeds and Snapstories. Even Jazz musicians can make it big, like modern jazz artist Esperanza Spalding. “Something very inspiring to me about Esperanza Spalding is her ability to understand the rich history of jazz, while moving in a more contemporary direction with her own compositions. It goes to show that music has endless possibilities in what is possible. I feel this is something important for young jazz musicians to remember,” said Grim. Artists influence aspiring artists, and one day you could too.

2. Educator (K-12, University, Conservatory)

Whether you decide to teach on the side, full-time, at a community college, university or conservatory, music education remains imperative. Educators, like students, began as performers and music enthusiasts. They have diverse backgrounds, from piano and violin to tabla and jazz orchestra. Somewhere along the way, they decided that they wanted to share their love for music with students and inspire them to achieve their own dreams. Now that’s what I call dedication to music and its ability to inspire.

3. Film Scoring (Arranging, Conducting, Composing)

Without music, movies would just be dialogue and one action scene or love scene for two hours. Movies just wouldn’t feel complete without music scores to create a certain mood or effect. The people who compose music for movies are the heroes behind the hero. Hans Zimmer, who composed the scores for The Dark Knight, Inception and Gladiator, even performed at Coachella this year. These Oscar-winners never have to worry about obnoxious paparazzi, even though they’re wildly successful. So if you want to be a musician without compromising your personal life, then consider working on film scores.

4. Songwriter (Lyricist, Jingle Writer, Freelancer Writer)

Beyoncé might be Queen B, but her sister Solange sure knows how to write an amazing song. She helped Beyoncé write her songs “Get me Bodied” and “Upgrade U,” (from her iconic B-Day Album). These talents cumulated into A Seat at the Table (and “Cranes in the Sky”), which launched Solange to her #1 hit on the R&B charts. Being a songwriter means you’ll be in the background, but one day you’ll get to break through with those amazing musical talents and all those bomb AF songs you kept for yourself.

5. Ethnomusicology Field Researcher

Your first thought is probably: “What the heck is that?” People all around the world love music, but that doesn’t mean they all love the same type of music. Ethnomusicologists investigate different music preferences around the world. “If your focus is academia, and scholarly research, then perhaps the best route would be to find a mentor you respect and become a TA. In addition, there are several well-known ethnomusicological journals, like the Society for Ethnomusicology (SEM), or Analytical Approaches to World Music (AAWM),” said Yuba College Professor and Table player William Rossel. These unique, intersecting interests allow for broad career opportunities, unlike so many other professions.


“Based on my experiences up to this point, I would recommend that students who are trying to enter the music/arts world should work hard, be nice to others, reach out to those who are one step ahead of you and further and maintain that connection and be creative and resourceful. Because sometimes opportunities lie in the places you wouldn’t first expect, which makes life that much more interesting!” – Sara Sithi-Amnuai, B.A. Ethnomusicology, Jazz Studies—Trumpet Performance 2017

“We talk about world music, but very often when ethnomusicologists say that, they mean everything but European classical music, jazz and American popular music. Having to teach European classical music put me in touch with that repertoire. It makes it possible today for me to think that broadly about music.” – Tim Rice, Ethnomusicologist & Professor, Ph.D Ethnomusicology 1977

“Coming to the U.S. as a teen, I was lucky to be mentored by several experienced film composers and jazz pianists and be exposed to the worlds of jazz, classical and film music on a very high level.This showed me the variety of musical avenues dedicated musical artists have available for them if they really follow their dreams and dedicate themselves to their art.”– Tamir Hendelman, Jazz Orchestra Performer, Professor, Recording Artist, B.M. Music Composition Eastman School of Music 1993

Freshman at UCLA majoring in English and Math/Economics and writing with College Magazine.
I run 5ks and do cleanses to feel healthy; I tell stories to feel good.
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