Experiencing Jazz *

February 8May 9, 2021

A study of jazz from its African and European roots through its emergence at the turn of the 20th century as a unique and distinctive American art form. This course immerses students in a journey through time, placing the music within larger cultural and historical contexts as various styles of jazz are studied along with their primary innovators. Sixty streaming audio tracks and other materials are used to provide students with a better understanding of how jazz developed. Special topics include women in jazz and contemporary trends.

  • Improved critical and analytic skills
  • Awareness of the lineage of developments on your instrument or voice and composition/arranging in jazz.
  • Awareness of the history of jazz in terms of its place in American cultural, political, economic and social fabrics.
  • Ability to identify and discuss stylistic trends in jazz through recognition of performance and compositional characteristics.
  • Awareness of the important innovators throughout jazz history and know why they are considered as such.
  • Understand how, where and why jazz developed as it has.
  • Understand issues of race and discrimination in America as they relate to jazz music, musicians and their evolution.
  • Understand how the evolution of recording technology impacted on jazz and its development.
  • Understand the musical styles and cultural practices (including African) that influenced the evolution of jazz.
  • Improvement as a performer and composer/arranger based on a deeper appreciation and understanding of diverse jazz styles and performers. (measurable only through self-reflection)
  • Preparation to teach the course.
  • Improvement as a jazz ensemble director/teacher and public presenter who has acquired a deeper understanding of styles, performance practice and its place in the larger American fabric.
* Experiencing Jazz is offered at two course levels. Students enrolled in the MMEd program at VanderCook are eligible to enroll at the 500 level. Students not enrolled in the MMEd program who wish to earn graduate credit as a MECA Continuing Education student should register at the 7000 level. The difference in credits earned and tuition cost is attributed to the difference in tuition rates for the MMEd and MECA Continuing Education programs. If you are unsure which level is best for you, please contact us directly at meca@vandercook.edu.
Quotes from students who have taken this course:

“I've just completed my last-ever graduate course and need to say "thank you" to you personally and to Rick Lawn for last summer's jazz course. Experiencing Jazz is, in my estimation, one of the best music courses I've enjoyed in my long tenure of learning and teaching. It's designed so well that I've been motivated to revamp my own courses.”

“I acquired a more in-depth understanding of the history of jazz. I also was able to see how Rick would present the course material as he shared with us his power points.”

“I feel that I'm walking away from this course with a pretty strong knowledge of jazz history. Though I have taught jazz ensembles for a few years, this is the first time I feel I have a strong knowledge base of the history and sequence of the development of jazz over the last 150 years or so.”

“Rick did a great job of sequencing and organizing the information in a way that made a lot of sense and also spoke about jazz and its place in the culture throughout each stage of its development.”

“I have never had such a thorough course on jazz history. This course filled in MANY holes in my knowledge of jazz history.”

“Rick taught an impressive amount of jazz history with an overload of resources! It was great to immerse myself in his world for these past few weeks. I also always appreciate being allowed to work at my own pace with your online classes. BRAVO!”

“The text was informative and included some excellent online resources.”

“Outstanding course! As a result of this class, I have built a stronger base on which to expand in the future, and have improved as a listener and a teacher.”

“This course has sharpened what I already knew about jazz and helped to frame it and place it within a historical context. I now feel that when I present pieces to my jazz ensemble, I will bring a more accurate and informed know-how to my teaching, which will, in turn, create a more meaningful learning experience for them and authentic performance.”

“Overall, this course was absolutely fantastic, and the textbook is great. The instructor was very gracious and professional...always positive in his responses and more than willing to assist when needed. He responded to all emails quickly and kindly and shared his wealth of knowledge on the subject freely.”

Instructor: Rick Lawn

Lawn,_Rick_headshot_2016_REBALRichard (Rick) Lawn has received several significant composition grants from the National Endowment of the Arts, and, as a member of the Nova Saxophone Quartet, has recorded on the Musical Heritage Society, Crystal and Equilibrium labels. The Sea Breeze record label issued Unknown Soldiers, a CD recorded by the Third Coast Jazz Orchestra that features Lawn’s compositions and arrangements, including his arrangement of “Donna Lee” recorded by Bobby Sanabria’s New York Latin Big Band on his 2001 Grammy-nominated CD.  In fall 2011, Lawn’s Philadelphia-based little big band Power of Ten released Earth Tones, featuring his original compositions and arrangements. The CD received coast-to-coast radio play and favorable reviews. Publishers of his music include Kendor Music, CL Barnhouse, Walrus Music, Concept Music, Alfred Music, EJazzlines, Warwick Music, Dorn, LawnWorks Publications and UNC Press, among others. Lawn’s books The Jazz Ensemble Director's Manual (in its 4th edition), Jazz Theory and Practice (in its 2nd edition, including interactive ear-training software) and Experiencing Jazz (now in its 2nd edition) have become staples among jazz educators and students.
Lawn’s performing experiences outside of his own ensembles include extended engagements with Lionel Hampton, Chuck Mangione, the Rochester Philharmonic, and the Austin Symphony, among others. He has performed in back-up orchestras for Dizzy Gillespie, Ray Charles, Joe Williams, Natalie Cole, Marian McPartland, The Temptations, The Four Tops, Dianne Schuur, Rosemary Clooney, Aretha Franklin and a host of others. Lawn is the former Dean of the College of Performing Arts at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, where he is now professor emeritus and part-time faculty member teaching jazz history online. He was formerly affiliated with the University of Texas at Austin, serving as founding director of jazz studies, chair of the Department of Music, and Associate Dean for Academic Affairs. Additional information can be found at

VanderCook College of Music - (312) 225-6288