Oberlin College reports that, this fall, saxophone great Sonny Rollins designated a generous gift for the purpose of establishing and maintaining the Oberlin Conservatory of Music Sonny Rollins Jazz Ensemble Fund.
His gift to Oberlin, as reported on their website, “grew out of his friendship with author and musician James McBride, a 1979 graduate of Oberlin College. The gift was made in recognition of the institution’s long legacy of access and social justice advocacy. In particular, Rollins was moved by Oberlin’s place as the first institution of higher learning to adopt a policy to admit students of color and the first to confer degrees to women, and by the contributions of alumni such as Will Marion Cook, a black violinist and composer who graduated in 1888 and who went on to become an important teacher and mentor to Duke Ellington.”
Dean of the Conservatory Andrea Kalyn writes that Rollins’ gift “has a singular power to demonstrate for our students the full dimension of their obligation as musicians in this world, to inspire them to fulfill that obligation far beyond their years as students, and so to advance Oberlin’s own legacy of impact.”
Beginning in spring 2018, Oberlin jazz studies majors may audition for the Oberlin Sonny Rollins Jazz Ensemble—“The Sonny Ensemble.” Students may be accepted into the ensemble through annual auditions at any time during their Oberlin Conservatory education. Qualified incoming students may be accepted into the ensemble upon their decision to attend Oberlin.
Each student’s candidacy will be considered on the basis of four criteria: an audition for Oberlin’s jazz faculty, evidence of academic achievement, thoughtful response to a question about the place of jazz in the world, and service to humanity.
Oberlin believes a place in this ensemble is “more than a mere spot in an elite unit, membership in the ensemble requires a commitment to service through music and willingness to give for others – core principles exemplified by Rollins through his life and career.”
To read Oberlin’s complete press release on the gift and Rollins’ vision for it, click here.