The Fredonia Jazz Society was established in 2018 to provide live performance in professional venues, educational opportunities and support for the community's musicians and fans. It was started by a retired music professor who wanted to give more visibility to the rich history of jazz that existed for many years in the area, and to bring this strength into the community for all to enjoy. Jazz is a musical style that attracts people from across generations and social demographics, and the activities of the Society strive to serve this broad base with excellence and distinction.
The history of jazz in Fredonia dates back to the early swing era, and much of it emanates from the university's campus. Jazz got its start here by students taking it upon themselves to create something that the well-known School of Music didn't yet offer. One may hear from time to time about past animosity between the music school and the students' interest in jazz, but that isn't wholly accurate. The students who liked jazz were rightly proud of what they created on their own while the school stayed focused on a curriculum emphasizing classical music and teacher education. The aims, though contrasting, were symbiotic, and the two have shared a storied history together for decades.
A student association named the Fredonia Jazz Workshop (FJW) was formed in 1934 as a way to provide a dance band for social events. Essentially, the ensemble from FJW was a busy, gigging band; jazz was by far the most popular musical style throughout the golden age of swing, and the big bands of Glenn Miller and Benny Goodman consistently topped the charts. By the 1950s, as the swing era gradually gave way to rock 'n' roll, jazz increasingly became a listener's music, and for some, a musician's music. Adventurous new styles -- Latin, bebop, cool, free, etc. -- earned new followers. As jazz became more serious, so did the Fredonia Jazz Workshop.
'70s & '80s
The 1970s and '80s were good to the FJW. It attracted students to Fredonia specifically to be part of the experiment. They were fine players who wanted a chance to write music, arrange charts, and compete. The student bands often won top honors, as they did at the Notre Dame Jazz Festival for both composing and performance in 1975, '76, and '77 -- three years in a row. Many of these students went on into significant careers in music as teachers, composers or players, having benefitted from the mentorship of each other and from the first-rate artists from whom they were able to learn.
In recent years, the alumni from the '70s and '80s have regularly come back to campus, embracing the opportunity to work with the younger set of students who are currently part of the Fredonia Jazz Workshop. Jazz gradually became more common within the School of Music, and courses in the subject increased in popularity. Professors Harry Jacobson and Linda Phillips, skilled with jazz themselves, advocated for such opportunities. By the late '90s, new faculty -- including John Bacon, a Buffalo jazz percussionist, and Bruce Johnstone, a baritone saxophonist well-known as a member of the Maynard Ferguson and Woody Herman big bands -- gave all students an opportunity in jazz, no matter their background or instrument. Therefore, big bands, small combos of odd instrumentation, Latin groups, vocal jazz, and a jazz string orchestra all thrived, making jazz more mainstream in the school.
Finally in 2014, the faculty agreed to make jazz an official track as a major, and this enabled the hiring of additional specialists in jazz. The future is likely to point to an ever greater commitment to jazz on campus. The Fredonia Jazz Society links the campus asset to the community for the benefit of all the citizens of the area.
Fredonia is shaped by local creativity. Nearly a quarter of the students enrolled at the State University of New York at Fredonia study the arts, and area summer camps bring participants of all ages to study music, theatre, improvisation and more. At the Opera House downtown, the community enjoys the annual Opera Workshop performances, the Bach and Beyond Festival, and regular Metropolitan Opera Broadcasts. Only a short distance from Fredonia are all the cultural assets of Jamestown, the Chautauqua Institution, Westfield, Buffalo and more. Positioned halfway between Erie, PA and Buffalo, NY, Fredonia is in the middle of it all.
Just a few of the highly accomplished musicians emanating from the Fredonia Jazz Workshop.
- Tony Caramia: piano, Eastman School of Music
- John Coggiola: trumpet, Syracuse University
- Calabria Foti: violin, voice
- Marcus Goldhaber: vocalist, producer
- Joe Gransden: trumpet, voice, Tommy Dorsey
- Onaje Alan Gumbs: piano
- Bill Heller: piano, Rippingtons
- Bob McChesney: trombone
- Joe Magnarelli: trumpet, Lionel Hampton
- Don Menza: saxophone
- Emilio Palame: piano, writer, producer
- Howie Shear: trumpet, Woody Herman