Achievements celebrated at annual Honors Dinner

Carol Colburn Grigor, recipient of the Samuel Simons Sanford Award

Left to right: Benjamin Polak, Peter Salovey, Samuel Simons Sanford Award winner Carol Colburn Grigor, and Robert Blocker

The Yale School of Music held its annual Honors Dinner on Sunday, May 7, welcoming students and alumni, faculty and staff, and distinguished guests to the Yale Commons for an evening of celebration. After thanking recently retired staff members for their service and acknowledging the University officers who were in attendance, YSM Dean Robert Blocker presented Carol Colburn Grigor ’69MMA CBE with the School’s highest honor, the Samuel Simons Sanford Award. Grigor, Blocker, said, “is one of America’s most generous … most thoughtful philanthropists.” Composer and former Edinburgh International Festival director Jonathan Mills congratulated Grigor via video.

Willie Ruff, recipient of the Nathan Hale Award

Left to right: Benjamin Polak, Peter Salovey, Nathan Hale Award recipient Willie Ruff, and Robert Blocker

Dean Blocker, with University President Peter Salovey and Yale Provost Benjamin Polak at his side, presented longtime YSM professor Willie Ruff ’53BM ’54MM, who will retire at the end of the semester, with the University’s prestigious Nathan Hale Award. “He’s changed all our lives,” Blocker said, before attendees were shown a video tribute to Ruff’s life and work. In a nod to the man who indirectly inspired him decades ago to study at YSM, Ruff said, “I thank, most of all, Charlie Parker.” The jazz office in the Yale School of Music’s Adams Center for Musical Arts was recently named in Ruff’s honor.

Left to right: Benjamin Polak, Peter Salovey, Ian Mininberg Distinguished Service Award winner Warren Lee, and Robert Blocker

Blocker presented the Ian Mininberg Distinguished Service Award to pianist Warren Lee ’00MM and the Cultural Leadership Citation to retiring Yale Collection of Musical Instruments curator William Nicholas Renouf ’71MMA. The Collection’s director, William Purvis, accepted the Citation on behalf of Renouf, who was unable to attend the Honors Dinner. Before presenting student prizes, Blocker referenced an impressive number of awards and successes earned and realized this year by students, faculty, and staff. He recognized longtime YSM faculty pianist Peter Frankl, who plans to retire in the fall, for his dedication to the School community.

At the end of the evening, Blocker told the students in attendance, “Claim the future. It belongs to you. You will make us better.” What follows is a list of the student prizes awarded during YSM’s 2017 Honors Dinner. MORE

Published May 9, 2017
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Willie Ruff retires having given “conservatory without walls” a home at Yale

By Lucile Bruce

Willie Ruff

Willie Ruff was born in 1931 in Sheffield, Alabama, a rural town on the south side of the Tennessee River. As a child, he showed an aptitude for music and immersed himself in the musical resources of his community. A neighborhood boy shared his drum set with young Willie and they became lifelong friends. The pianist at church became his piano teacher. But the best music he heard was the drumming in the African Pentecostal church half a block from his house. “We would sit on the ground outside the church and listen to the people playing those drums,” Ruff recalled. “It was the most exciting, the most moving music. I heard them in my sleep.”

Across the river from Sheffield stands Florence, the hometown of W.C. Handy, the “Father of the Blues.” Handy visited Ruff ’s elementary school classroom, played for the children, and accompanied their singing. “W.C. Handy was a big presence in my world,” Ruff recounted. “When I saw him on stage in my school, talking about the importance of our musical heritage, I said, ‘I want to do that.’ I think I have.” MORE

Published May 1, 2017
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Convocation 2016 Celebrates “Transcendent Yale Legacy”

YSM Dean Robert Blocker | Photo by Harold Shapiro

YSM Dean Robert Blocker | Convocation 2016

In his Convocation address, titled Music: A Transcendent Yale Legacy, School of Music Dean Robert Blocker told incoming and returning students, faculty, staff, and guests that “transcendent qualities are born and nurtured by people. Yale University and the School of Music are a collection of voices, a community and society of mutual learners. We, along with our predecessors, came here to better prepare ourselves to repair the world.

“It may surprise some of you to know that when the Yale Corporation voted to establish a School of Music in 1894, they also approved a Bachelor of Music degree that was open to women and men,” Blocker said in his remarks during the September 8, 2016, ceremony. “Cynics might say that not offering a Bachelor of Arts in Music retained the exclusivity of Yale College as a male enclave, but I find it a lot more interesting and compelling that music was Yale’s very first commitment to diversity and inclusivity.”

Celebrating the “transcendent voices” that have shaped the School’s legacy, Blocker recognized Ellen and Carl Stoeckel, Helen Hagan, Elaine Toscanini, Aldo Parisot, and Willie Ruff, among others.

“These transcendent musical voices of Yale and their cultural leadership transform lives, enrich communities, and bring hope to a broken world,” Blocker said. “Yale’s sons and daughters entrusted some of humankind’s treasures to us so that the transcendent qualities of character and mind, of light and truth – Yale’s motto, lux et veritas – can live through each of us and can bring hope to our planet. That is our responsibility, and it is our joy.” MORE

Published September 12, 2016
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Alumnus Jeff Fuller joins YSM Jazz Initiative

Jeff Fuller | Photo by Studio Duda Photography

Jeff Fuller | Photo by Studio Duda Photography

Bassist and composer Jeff Fuller ’67BA ’69MM is joining the Yale School of Music’s recently announced Jazz Initiative as an ensemble coach. He’ll work alongside Grammy Award-winning saxophonist Wayne Escoffery, who will teach a course in improvisation and coach jazz combos.

As a performer, Fuller has worked with such acclaimed jazz artists as Mose Allison, Dizzy Gillespie, “Papa” Jo Jones, Gerry Mulligan, and Clark Terry, among others. He’s a leader of the New Haven-based Brazilian jazz trio Sambeleza, has toured with ensembles led by Paquito D’Rivera and Hilton Ruiz, and has composed and arranged music for the salsa band Irazú, whose recordings have featured Arturo Sandoval and Tata Güines. Fuller has received commissions from the New Haven Symphony Orchestra and Hartford Symphony Orchestra and has had his music recorded by the Haven String Quartet. His first CD of original music, The Call from Within, was released in 2014. His second, Shoreline Blues, came out in May 2016.

Fuller, who studied composition at the Yale School of Music with Bülent Arel, taught composition and jazz theory and conducted jazz ensembles at ACES Educational Center for the Arts for many years. He currently teaches and leads the Premiere Jazz Ensemble at Neighborhood Music School.

Professor Thomas C. Duffy who directs the University’s bands and oversees the YSM Jazz Initiative, said Fuller brings to the program “expertise with combos, big bands, Latin jazz, and traditional jazz” and expertise in Cuban and Brazilian rhythms. Fuller has been “a major figure in the jazz scene since I arrived here in 1982,” Duffy said.

A key component of the Initiative is the Yale Jazz Ensemble, which is being reconstituted after being suspended two years ago. Formerly an extracurricular undergraduate organization, the Yale Jazz Ensemble, under Duffy’s direction, will be open to all Yale students. MORE

Published August 31, 2016
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Dean Robert Blocker Announces YSM Jazz Initiative

blockerI am pleased to announce that an anonymous gift will enable the School of Music to continue and expand its legacy of jazz studies at Yale. This initiative will also strengthen our collaborative efforts with the Yale College Dean’s Office and the Department of Music, as well as the New Haven community.

Professor Thomas C. Duffy has accepted the responsibility of administrative oversight for this initiative. As we announced in April, the Yale Jazz Ensemble, which had to be suspended two years ago due to a lack of qualified players and adequate rehearsal space, will be reconstituted this fall under Tom’s direction. The School of Music has provided modest support for the Yale Jazz Ensemble through the years, though it had until now been an extracurricular undergraduate organization. Going forward, the group will be open to all Yale students. Tom will announce auditions in the near future.

Other aspects of this initiative include an improvisation course that will be taught by Grammy Award-winning jazz saxophonist Wayne Escoffery. Undergraduate jazz combos will be auditioned and coached by professional jazz artists, including Mr. Escoffery. We are currently in conversations with some of these individuals and will announce their names when appointments are finalized. Additionally, distinguished saxophonist Carrie Koffman will teach private lessons in saxophone. These new colleagues will help us build on the School’s rich history of jazz education, which began nearly fifty years ago. MORE

Published July 29, 2016
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In memoriam: Phyllis Curtin, soprano

Phyllis Curtin

Phyllis Curtin

Renowned American soprano Phyllis Curtin passed away on Sunday, June 5 at age 94. From 1974 to 1983, she taught voice at the Yale School of Music, overseeing the opera program. Curtin also served as Master (now Head of College) of Branford College from 1979 to 1983. Curtin was the first female Master of Branford College.

During her career on the stage in the 1950s and 60s, Curtin performed for the New York City Opera, as well as in many world-renowned opera houses such as the Metropolitan Opera, the Lyric Opera of Chicago, the Vienna State Opera, Covent Garden, and La Scala. Her repertoire included Verdi’s Violetta and Alice Ford, Strauss’ Salome, as well as Mozart’s heroines, for which she received much praise. The New York Times recently asserted that, “Ms. Curtin was noted for the purity of her voice, the sensitivity of her musical phrasing and the crystalline perfection of her diction.” MORE

Published June 11, 2016
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[ in the press ]

The Duke, Dizzy & Eubie return to Yale in film, jazz event Friday

Conservatory-vNew Haven Register | By Joe Amarante

Willie Ruff, the music faculty member at Yale who was playing jazz with the greats back when there were dance halls in many towns, is jazzed up about Friday’s event at Morse Recital Hall that will pair a TV documentary with a live performance.

The 7:30 p.m. event, titled “Conservatory Without Walls,” begins with a “lost” video documentary originally created by WTIC-TV in Hartford, later to become WFSB-3. After intermission, 11-year-old drum prodigy Kojo Odu Roney will take the stage with the Antoine Roney Trio: saxophonist Antoine Roney (Kojo’s father), guitarist Billy “Spaceman” Patterson and bassist Rashaan Carter.

“I just learned of the existence of (the documentary),” said Ruff in a phone chat. “Actually, it was two half-hour shows that John Sablon and Brad Davis (had done).”

Ruff, 84, said there was a constellation of jazz stars at the event, which he organized in 1972 and led to the Ellington Jazz Series that includes this event.

“It was Duke Ellington and his whole orchestra, and 39 other people — Dizzy Gillespie, Max Roach, Ray Brown, Slam Stewart, Cootie Williams,” said Ruff. “It was 40 individuals being honored by the university with an Ellington medal. And they stayed on the campus here; actually, the events on campus lasted three days…”

Ruff said the TV station’s crew was bowled over by the talent present.

“They were overwhelmed by all those people assembled. So while Duke’s band or Eubie Blake … was playing on the stage at Woolsey Hall, they had cameras on them and cameras downstairs in the dressing room, where they were interviewing Dizzy Gillespie and Stanley Dance, the (jazz) journalist.”

Ruff and organizers had been forbidden from making a documentary for copyright reasons, but “you can’t copyright the news, so these two TV men working together and separately made a half-hour show and they had so much material left that they made another half-hour show.”

Ruff said the 1972 videotape was discovered by an archivist recently, but there was “hardly anything you could play it on.” So Yale’s Film Study Center sent the material to a California company to digitize it. And folks there were too young to know who was in the film, so Ruff was called in to help out, and he discovered a bit of lost treasure.

MORE

Published May 16, 2016
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[ concerts ]

“Conservatory Without Walls” on May 13 Celebrates Ellington Jazz Series

Conservatory-v

Pictured: Charles Mingus, Duke Ellington, and Willie Ruff

The Ellington Jazz Series at the Yale School of Music pays homage to its history on Friday, May 13 with an event titled “Conservatory Without Walls.” The event, which takes place at 7:30pm in Morse Recital Hall, pairs documentary film with an exciting live performance.

The first half of the event presents the film Conservatory Without Walls, a documentary originally created by WTIC Hartford about the eponymous event that Willie Ruff organized at Yale in 1972. That convocation of forty jazz legends directly led to the founding of the Ellington Jazz Series.

The 40-minute video, preserved by the Yale Film Study Center, includes interviews with figures such as Dizzy Gillespie and archival material of Duke Ellington — including clips of Willie Ruff playing bass with Ellington at the piano.

After intermission, eleven-year-old drum prodigy Kojo Odu Roney takes the stage with the Antoine Roney Trio: saxophonist Antoine Roney (Kojo’s father), guitarist Billy “Spaceman” Patterson, and bassist Rashaan Carter.

Willie Ruff, YSM faculty and the artistic director of the Ellington Jazz Series and the curator of this event, sees this evening in two lights: simultaneously portraying the legends of decades past, and introducing a young legend in the making, young drummer Kojo Odu Roney. This will be the last event of the 2015–2016 Ellington Jazz Series.

Tickets to this extraordinary event are only $10, $5 with student ID, and can be purchased from the Yale School of Music box office (470 College Street, New Haven), by phone at 203 432-4158, and online.

WATCH VIDEO OF KOJO

BUY TICKETS

Published May 2, 2016
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[ concerts ]

Ellington Series presents Piano Jazz Summit March 4

piano-jazz-hThe Ellington Jazz Series at the Yale School of Music presents the Piano Jazz Summit,  Friday, March 4 at 7:30 pm. The concert features three of the jazz world’s great pianists: Barry Harris, Toshiko Akiyoshi, and Aaron Diehl

The program will feature the pianists playing alone, and together as a trio, as well as speaking about their lives as performers and their relationship to jazz. The audience can also look forward to a special live video projection of the keyboard, offering the a bird’s-eye view of the pianists’ hands. Willie Ruff, artistic director of the Ellington Jazz Series, calls this concert “a rare opportunity to hear three master pianists.”

The concert takes place at Morse Recital Hall in Sprague Hall (470 College Street, New Haven). Tickets start at $20, $10 with student ID. Purchase online, call 203 432-4158, or visit the box office at 470 College Street.
BUY TICKETS
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Published February 19, 2016
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[ faculty in the press ]

Willie Ruff is called a “legend in his own time” at Arts Council Awards

ruff-willie_artscouncilawardZip06.com | By Amy J. Barry, Correspondent

Willie Ruff, a world-renowned jazz musician and educator who has lived in Branford for more than 30 years, is a “legend in his own time,” says Cynthia Clair, the executive director of the Arts Council of Greater New Haven.

During the Arts Council’s annual awards ceremony earlier this month at the New Haven Lawn Club, where Ruff was the recipient of the C. Newton Schenck III Award for Lifetime Achievement in and Contribution to the Arts, Clair pointed out that Ruff, who attended Yale School of Music as an undergraduate after serving in the Army, performed internationally for 50 years with the late pianist Dwike Mitchell. The duo shared the stage with such jazz icons as Louis Armstrong, Count Basie, Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, and Sarah Vaughan and is credited with bringing jazz to new audiences around the world, most notably in the Soviet Union in 1959 and China in 1989.

“Among the many things I find fascinating is Willie speaks seven languages,” Clair says. “And he brought the jazz greats of our time to New Haven over the past 30 years. Through the Duke Ellington Fellowship [that he established], he not only introduced them to New Haven audiences, but took them into New Haven Schools.” MORE

Published December 18, 2015
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