As I look back at my life and career in music I often site many of the landmark opportunities, concerts, shows, workshops, residencies, and positions that have brought me to where I am today as globally performing jazz artist and educator. So when I ponder all this I realize, and must give huge credit to my opera singing mother, and Juilliard graduate (Edith Gordon) who pushed me to go to Juilliard which paid great dividends for me. I was already playing jazz drums with many great young players like Kenny Kirkland and Rodney Jones by 17 years old, but going to the Juilliard School was the biggest and most important part of my development. Rubbing shoulders with the best classical orchestral players in the world created roundness in my musicianship and experience. My mother insisted I go to Juilliard when accepted. I did not really know the value. I just wanted to play jazz.
And Juilliard had no jazz department, and this was strange to me as many other schools did. So I entered The Juilliard School in 1975 and began studying as a percussion major with the greatest timpanist in the world named Saul Goodman. This guy was nearly 50 years the timpanist in the New York Philharmonic, and head of the percussion program at Juilliard. I began rubbing shoulders with these incredible musicians and conductors like Leonard Bernstein, Sir George, Solti, and Herbert Von Karajan. Weekly a different conductor would come and conduct the Juilliard Orchestra in addition to the main conductor Sixten Ehrling. In this period the school president and Dean were Peter Mennin, and Gideon Waldrop, and the school was run very well except for one problem. NO JAZZ!! There was no jazz program at all. In fact the genre was rather frowned upon. The only jazz players at Juilliard when I was there were Wynton Marsalis, Dan Block, Ken Hitchcock, another percussionist Rob Waring, and myself. We played as much as we could anyway, but it was not what it is today.
About 4 years ago I joined the faculty of The Juilliard Jazz program under direction of the legendary drummer/educator Carl Allen and administrative director Dr. Laurie Carter. I remember when I first arrived how blown away I was by the fact that they finally had a jazz program to develop great young players. I am so impressed with what president Dr. Joseph Polisi has done at Juilliard. Obviously he has great vision, and understanding of all the music. For so many years the jazz door was closed at Juilliard. Even with passed students like Keith Jarrett, and Miles Davis they never opened the door to jazz education until Dr. Polisi’s incredible vision. As it stands now Juilliard accepts only 40 students at a time in the program, but these students are the absolute cream of the crop of young talent in jazz. The level is higher than any I have seen. The students get to perform with many of their heroes in the music like Herbie Hancock, George Coleman, Hubert Laws at the many concerts at school. The faculty including legends like Sir Ron Carter, Kenny Barron, (artist in resident) Benny Golson and Christian Macbride and the rest of the incredible player/educators who teach at there. Additionally the name value throughout the globe makes this program the most valuable in the world. I travel all over the world, and it seems one of the most impressive things for people is the Juilliard name, and the fact that I played with these conductors I named. When you mention that Juilliard name, eyes light up.
The foresight to actually send students out on tour for a week at a time, and to have the students working the summer Juilliard jazz camps creates invaluable experience for these young players. SOmething virtually no other institution does. This is the type of experience I never got until I hit road with Peggy Lee Quintet and the many other jazz luminaries I have worked with over the years. Especially in the educational area, Juilliard really cultivates the students by allowing them to do workshops in the Juilliard School name. Gaining experience teaching, as well as communicating in foreign countries with language barriers, and cultural barriers. Learning to deal with promoters, and local educators in foreign countries is a social art in itself. Congratulations to Dr. Joseph Polisi, Dr. Laurie Carter, and Carl Allen for their free thinking and incredible as I have said “vision” to create this monster program for aspiring jazz players. It is an honor and privilege to be part of this. I highly recommend any aspiring young jazz players of level to apply to The Juilliard School. The greatest music school in the world!
Saul Goodman Carl Allen