Jazz Partnership Hits the Ground Running

The international reputation of the North Carolina Central University (NCCU) Jazz Studies Program has been embellished by a collaborative partnership with the African American Jazz Caucus (AAJC), a 501c3 affiliate of the International Association for Jazz Education (IAJE). Together they have created a new University approved Jazz Research Institute which is the first at a Historically Black College/University (HBCU). The title is an acronym, NAJRI which stands for North Carolina Central University (N), African American Jazz Caucus (A), Jazz (J), Research (R), Institute (I). The first major event sponsored by this newly formed NCCU institutional component was the NCCU/AAJC HBCU Jazz Conference/Festival at NCCU, June 20–23, 2007. NCCU Jazz Studies Program Director, Dr. Ira Wiggins and AAJC Executive Director, Dr. Larry Ridley are the Co-Directors of NAJRI.

The opening Conference reception featured a Jazz Photo Exhibit by renowned jazz photographer, Mr. Jim Alexander. Welcoming addresses to the Conference attendees were given by NCCU Provost /Vice Chancellor, Dr. Beverly Jones, NCCU Assistant Vice Chancellor, Dr. Janice Harper and the Honorable Mayor of Durham, Mr. William Bell.

The four-day conference included interdisciplinary workshops, panel discussions, seminars and performances by internationally renowned guest artists: pianist Kenny Barron; trumpeter Jimmy Owens; bassist Larry Ridley and the Jazz Legacy Ensemble featuring pianist Richard Wyands, saxophonist Doug Harris, violinist Krystle Ford, drummer Greg Buford, vocalist Jackie Jones, the American Dance Festival Dancers and special guest saxophonist Ira Wiggins; vocalist Lenora Zenzalai Helm and the Zenzalai Project, featuring saxophonist Antoine Roney and pianist Brandon McCune; the NCCU performer/coordinators- trombonist Robert Trowers and pianist Arnold George.

Some of the renowned speakers and panelists were- Mr. A.B. Spellman, writer and recently retired Deputy Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts; Mr. Cedric Hendricks, Esq., Assistant to Congressman John Conyers, (D-MI); Reverend Ron Myers, M.D., Chairman, National Juneteenth Council; Dr. Willis Kirk, President Emeritus- City College of San Francisco, CA; Professor Bill Fielder, Rutgers University; Dr. Howard Harris, Texas Southern University; Professor James Patterson, Clark Atlanta University; Dr. John Lamkin, University of Maryland Eastern Shore; Dr. Jesse McCarroll, City University of New York; Mr. Cliff Bellamy, Herald Tribune; Dr. Karen Chandler, College of Charleston (SC); Dr. Irene Owens, NCCU Dean of the School of Library and Information Sciences; Ms. Edith Thorpe, WNCU-FM, General Manager; Mr. Katey Assem, NCCU Vice Chancellor of Institutional Advancement and Mr. Ron Scott, New York Amsterdam News.

The Conference/Festival speakers, panelists and performers have given written testimonials to the quality, substance, need and support for the success of NAJRI’s ongoing programs.
In addition to the Conference/Festival, the partnership was founded to establish the NAJRI Jazz Research Institute Digital Library and the NAJRI Jazz Hall of Fame. Dr. Paula Harrell, Chair of the NCCU Music Department wrote and received a $30,000 Digital Humanities Initiative Grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities for librarian training. This grant provided an opportunity for Dr. Harrell to take a course, at Cornell University, with music librarian Vernice Faison and library assistants Stephanie Fennell and Yingqi Tang. Cornell is the foremost institution for digital librarianship in the country. The first collection to be established will be comprised of the digital photographs of jazz photographer Jim Alexander of Atlanta, Georgia. This Digital Library ultimately will house photographs, oral histories, sheet and recorded music, as well as other historical documents.