Grad student researchers get awards at Rutgers Institute of Jazz Studies

outside Rutgers Arch

Two PhD candidates in York’s Graduate Program in Music are among the half-dozen international scholars awarded study grants this year by the Morroe Berger – Benny Carter Jazz Research Fund. The awards enabled Bonnie Brett and Ryan Bruce to advance their doctoral research with a visit to the prestigious Institute of Jazz Studies at Rutgers University in Newark, New Jersey.

The Institute of Jazz Studies (IJS) is the world’s foremost archive and research facility in the field of jazz. Its comprehensive holdings comprise original scores, recordings, personal papers, photographs and memorabilia from a host of leading jazz artists, as well as archives of record companies and jazz-related institutions and organizations from 1920 to the present. In support of its mission to document, preserve and disseminate the history of jazz, the IJS develops conferences, broadcasts, publications, exhibitions and educational programs, and supports the work of individual researchers through the Morroe Berger – Benny Carter Jazz Research Fund.

York PhD candidate Bonne Brett inspects the gown worn by Ella Fitzgerald at the 1977 Montreux Jazz FestivalBrett, who recently returned from her trip to Rutgers, and Bruce, who visited last fall, found the experience invaluable. They had high praise for both the IJS collections and the staff who assisted them in their research.
PhD researcher Bonnie Brett inspects the gown worn by Ella Fitzgerald at Montreux ’77
“To me, the Institute of Jazz Studies, and my association with it, is all about archivist Tad Hershorn,” said Brett. “Tad literally ‘wrote the book’ on Norman Granz, who was [jazz singer] Ella Fitzgerald’s manager and a very influential producer at the time. Tad’s research was incredibly informative and he personally was so helpful that I’ve come to view him as a mentor and friend.”

For Brett, a well-known performer and recording artist who has taught jazz vocals in the Department of Music at York, the IJS’s Ella Fitzgerald collection was a treasure trove. The iconic singer is one of several performers Brett is researching as part of her studies on the great American songbook. Her dissertation will focus on transcriptions and analyses of Fitzgerald’s first four full-length scat solos.

In the Ella Fitzgerald collection, Brett found boxes of scores and sheet music, and many packages from hopeful songwriters begging Fitzgerald to perform their work. Brett was also able to touch the gown Fitzgerald wore for her legendary performance with Tommy Flanagan at the 1977 Montreux Jazz Festival, a show that was recorded on video.

“I know how the gowns I wear for my own performances hold my energy before and after a gig,” Brett said. “It was deeply moving to be in such close proximity to her personal belongings.”

York PhD candidate Ryan Bruce
Ryan Bruce
Bruce, a graduate of York’s master’s in musicology program (MA ‘09) and an accomplished alto sax player, combed the IJS for information on renowned jazz pianist Thelonious Monk and two saxophonists who played his music extensively: Charlie Rouse and Steve Lacy. Bruce’s thesis looks at Monk’s music in the context of musical and social changes in the jazz scene of the 1960s, and how his esthetic is reflected in the work of his followers, Rouse and Lacy, during this pivotal period.

Bruce spent five days immersed in the archives, shuttling between the stacks, files and photocopier, and bringing home a full dossier of materials to review.

“The librarians were incredible,” Bruce said. “They would always come up and ask about my work, run back to storage, and return with additional materials they thought might help. As a research trip, it was exciting and inspiring – and a lot of fun!”