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New Endowed Position Strengthens Stony Brook’s Jazz Chops

Thomas manual
Thomas manual
40 Under Forty honoree Tom Manuel ’16 is joining Stony Brook’s Department of Music as Artist in Residence.

It’s one thing for a musician to be an accomplished performer. To become an “Artist in Residence” at a university, however, requires the knowledge and/or vision to make a greater contribution to the university’s academic life.

That’s something that Tom Manuel ’16 has in spades.

Manuel — an accomplished trumpeter who earned his Doctor of Musical Arts in performance from Stony Brook University two years ago — is the president and founder of the Jazz Loft, a unique museum and performance space in downtown Stony Brook that has already become a home away from home for the University’s student jazz combos and big band. Now, Manuel is joining the University as an Artist in Residence — a position created through an anonymous gift — and his new colleague, Professor of Jazz Studies Ray Anderson, couldn’t be happier.

“Having Tom Manuel, we have an artist,” said Anderson, a five-time honoree as “Best Trombonist” in Downbeat Magazine’s Critics Poll, and Stony Brook University’s Professor of Jazz Studies. “To have somebody who’s not only a scholar of the music – and incredibly well-versed in its history and all of the important points about where the music came from and how it developed – but somebody who plays the music and works professionally, that’s exceptional and unusual, and it makes a huge difference in how well you’re able to excite people and get them to appreciate what the aesthetics really are.”

For Perry Goldstein, chair of the Department of Music in Stony Brook’s College of Arts and Sciences, Manuel’s scholarship — developed through his years of performing, teaching music in Long Island schools, and building the Jazz Loft’s collection — makes him an ideal figure to complement Anderson’s achievements as a performer.

“Jazz is a ripe area for scholarship,” Goldstein said, “since it’s got such a rich history, and it’s really a uniquely American art form.”

For Manuel himself, being able to join Stony Brook’s music department as an “Artist in Residence” in jazz represents a unique opportunity.

“Long Island is a very important place – Stony Brook especially – for jazz education in America,” Manuel said. “The first not-for-profit organization for jazz, the International Art of Jazz, was started here in Stony Brook; the first concerts were held on the campus of Stony Brook University. Some of the first jazz programs — that were recognized educational programs — in the country were started in Huntington, East Meadow and at Ward Melville [High School].”

And, while Manuel’s early activities as Artist in Residence will include teaching jazz history classes and trumpet lessons and supervising small ensembles, he envisions innovations that will add to Suffolk County’s proud jazz history. Working alongside Anderson, Manuel has designs on building something new at Stony Brook.

“We really envision, without sounding cliché, a 21st-century jazz program,” Manuel said, “where Stony Brook can continue to be innovators and lead rather than follow. We’re planning some courses that are pretty unorthodox and some approaches that are pretty untraditional, in the spirit of jazz. I think that people will really look at Stony Brook and say, ‘Wow, look at what they’re doing there. Maybe we should do that.’”

So what, exactly, is a “21st-century jazz program?” For Manuel, it’s a program that recognizes the realities of playing, recording, and promoting music in the 21st century, while remaining grounded in the best traditions of jazz.

“The days of just being a recording musician are over,” Manuel said. “The days of just being a teacher are over. The days of just being a touring musician are over. With the 21st century comes the need for versatility, and I think the Jazz Loft is a great example. Here was a vacant building that was available. Here was an opportunity for a not-for-profit to be born. Here was an opportunity for a performance and education and preservation venue to be born.”

Not only is the Jazz Loft an example of searching out and seizing opportunities, but it will also serve as a source of opportunities for Stony Brook students under Manuel’s direction.

“One of the things we want to do is teach students, ‘Well, how do you start a not-for-profit? How do you write a contract? How do you plan a gig? How do you sustain a gig?’ The beautiful thing about the collaboration between the Jazz Loft and the University is that we have this wonderful platform to do that,” Manuel said. “Students can sign up for a combo and produce their own concert here. They can learn the process of having to develop and execute a contract. They can learn the process of how to do proper PR to fill the room.”  

With the resources of the Jazz Loft and the breadth of education that Manuel aims to offer, jazz at Stony Brook will become more accessible to a wider array of students.

“Versatility is key,” Manuel said. “For so long it was, ‘Well, choose.’ ‘I’m interested in law, and I’m interested in music, and I think I can make a better living in law, so I’m just going to stop music.’ I think the message needs to be — especially with the changes in technology — ‘Well, no. You are talented, and you do like music, and you’re interested in law as well. There’s a whole new world of copyright law that exists, especially with the internet, with iTunes, and with all these different sites and servers that are streaming and producing and sourcing media. There’s a wonderful opportunity for someone to bring two worlds and two passions together, while still maintaining their musical talent.”

For the anonymous donor, that’s music to his ears.

The Stony Brook University Music Department has a world-class reputation in Classical Music, with the Emerson String Quartet’s yearly residence adding to their cachet,” the donor said. “With Tom Manuel, Ray Anderson, and The Jazz Loft, we’ve  great expectations to make Jazz Music at Stony Brook, likewise, a Center of Excellence.

“Endowed faculty positions always add something to the University,” added Dexter A. Bailey Jr., senior vice president for University Advancement, “and in this case, we have the opportunity to build on proud traditions in both American music and in Suffolk County’s cultural history. We are grateful to be able to bring Tom Manuel onto our faculty as Artist in Residence, and excited to see — and hear — the results.”

— Elliot Olshansky

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